I’ve decided to stop feeling bad.
I’ve got a job I enjoy, with hours flexible enough that I get to spend a lot of time with my kidlets, and a dual-income household that may not afford us an extravagant lifestyle, but allows us luxuries like dinners out, newish cars, and grocery bills we don’t worry too much about. I usually get enough sleep (as much as can be expected with two small people in the house), and I don’t work weekends.
But I also have a Princeton degree, and a never-ending, nagging sense that I should be on a faster track, in a higher paying position with more responsibilities, a leadership role, room for advancement and more respect. My little internal – and it is mostly internal – voice tsk tsks me, whispering of missed opportunities and talents wasted. When someone asks what I do, I tell them, but feel like prefacing it with, “I’m just a…”
I’m not sure why staying close to my childhood hometown, not pursuing an advanced degree (at least not fully and/or not yet), and working at an average job (and one without clear social value – because at least that would be something to hang my hat on, and is, perhaps, why I now tell people who ask what my job is that I am also a mother) feels like a failure, but a lot of the time, it does.
The conversations aren’t new – Anne-Marie Slaughter, Marissa Mayer, and scores of others are influencing the recent discussions on work and life issues specifically as they pertain to women (and mostly highly educated women), but really, as they pertain to all of us – as employees, employers, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, you name it. (Because really, you can’t impact, influence or re-balance half of the population without impacting the whole, can you?)
Here’s what I want to know: when did our priorities get turned upside down? Work, goals, achievement, financial security – all good things, worthy pursuits. But this slow shift towards the worship of work? When did our self-worth, respect earned, and societal importance start being measured by long work hours – and not just long hours, incredibly long hours and constant work contact in the 8 hours a day you’re not physically at work?
“Fifty years ago, Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think banker’s hours (9 to 3). Today, the elite — journalist Chrystia Freeland calls them “the working rich” — display their extreme schedules.”
I’m crying foul.
Maybe I’m just trying to justify my own life choices here – I probably am. We all do that. And I am not blind to the fact that to even have these life and work choices was not something afforded my gender until recently and that my class and geography play a huge role in the availability of these choices, too. (K.J. Dell’Antonia touches on this today.)
But by choosing to opt out – even partially – of this world of work worship, you are necessarily choosing to give up status, give up income, give up respect, and potentially waste talents and abilities. I have done that, and though my reasons are clear, and my life fulfilling, it doesn’t always feel good. In fact, it often feels bad. It feels, well, lazy.
Friends who have opted in – have they missed milestones, family time, sleep, negatively impacted their health, and missed out on lovely, average, every day experiences? The answer is probably yes.
Friends who have opted in later in life, and tried to catch up – have they suffered discrimination for being older and out of the work force? Have they suffered an income gap that they won’t be able to make up? The answer is probably yes.
Friends who have opted out – have they taken pay cuts, felt financial burdens, felt their societal value, or self-worth somehow diminished because the opted out, and potentially wasted their talents and aptitudes? The answer is probably yes.
Who is winning?