Where Are You Rocking Work-Life Balance?

Working within a system that just. Doesn't. Work.

I am, ironically, writing this post with a baby crying himself to sleep in his crib because we’re having a sick day and our backup babysitter is out of town. Situations like this are normally the focus of the work-life balance conversation: women and childcare and gender expectations. And it’s tough, I’m not going to lie. Even with high-quality daycare, it’s tough. Notice I’m the one home with the baby in the busiest month of my year? Yeah, that. Can women really have it all? (Discuss ad nauseum.) But that’s not the conversation I really want to have.

The conversation I want to have is about the ways American culture is set up to make work-life balance near impossible for all of us. I want to talk about how other people are trying to make it work, within a system that’s set up to not work. And I want to take a moment to point out that it’s the system that’s broken, not our choices. I feel like we’re failing at work-life balance over here.

That’s not me complaining, because we have it pretty good right now. We’re no longer broke, we do work we love (finally), and we have lots of people around us that we love. This isn’t even close to our worst work-life balance situation. That would have been back when I was working sixty hours a week, plus sometimes having to pull thirty hour shifts, plus trying to run APW on the side. But it’s still not great, because the balance part is off.

It feels these days that we live lives driven by work, not centered on well, living: our home, our family, good meals, glasses of wine, time chilling out, occasional vacations. You know: the good stuff. The fundamental problem seems to be that we don’t live in a culture that values family time, or personal time, or hell, just relaxation time. We don’t think people making it home to have dinner is a priority, and we don’t value time off. We really, truly, live to work.

In my post about traveling internationally with our baby, I wrote about the wake-up call we got in London about how child-unfriendly the United States can be. But the past few years of traveling has also opened my eyes to just how focused our culture is on work, money, and the material things money can buy, at the expense of people and experiences (the stuff, I’d like to take a moment to point out, that research has shown actually contributes more to happiness). Unlike the Italians, we don’t value sitting down taking time savor a meal.  Unlike the French (or Italians, or, or, or) we don’t have regular vacations. And even the English, who in theory are more like us than many other cultures, think our work hours are fucking insane. But here we are, stuck with it.

We don’t exactly live in a culture that lets you scale back to a flexible thirty-five hours a week and still pretend you you’re on a serious career track. At our house, we’ve been trying to juggle running a business, a law career with an annual billable hours requirement, a baby, a relationship, and friends. And bless, I’m glad this is the problem. (Remember when the economy was fucking us? I do. Our work-life balance sucked then too.) But. We’re not exactly winning right now. We’d like more family time, and more just life time, and we’re stuck in a system where it’s hard to make that happen.

When I look around me, I see a lot of decisions being made that are billed as “choices.” The childfree couple working forty hours a week and still not feeling like they can find time to get to the doctor, or just have a weekend that’s not dominated by errands. The parents who’ve set up schedules so they barely see each other so they can work enough hours to pay the bills, since they can’t afford childcare. The single entrepreneur working sixty hours a week, so they can afford health insurance. The mom who’s left full-time work, with a partner with a twenty-two hundred billable hour requirement (uh, someone does indeed need to occasionally… be home). And sure, in each situation, people are doing their damnedest to do the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. But these are not “choices,” in the strictest sense. They’re an attempt to work within a system that values work, not life. A system that doesn’t have much place for balance.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a problem that can be solved by New Year’s resolutions. I can wish for “more family time,” but reality is reality, and I’m going to make the best of the family time I’ve got (and possibly dream of moving to another country). So I want to talk honestly about this. Let’s ditch the “can women have it all” conversation, and discuss how we’re trying to have enough, and what we’re doing that’s working.

How is your work-life balance right now? Where are you struggling? Where are you doing well? And what are you doing to try to make it work as best as you can? Please, let’s share tips and tricks.

(Double ironically, this post is running when I’m on a business trip, away from my family. Ha. But I’m going to try to be in the comments as travel Wi-Fi allows, because, THIS.)

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  • Mags

    Right now my work-life balance sucks. My son just turned 4 months, I went back to work when he was 2 months and in the time since I think I’ve averaged 5 min of awake time in the same room with my husband a day. I’m not even kidding. I hope it gets better when this semester is over (I work in academia).

    • I’m struggling to have a life with a nearly 10 month old, and I’m not even working!
      Yes, Husband and I get an hour or so together in the evenings most nights, but because thats all we get, I dont want to take that time away from US to do things for ME. And I really need to, because everything in my life is about baby, house and husband at the moment. I feel incredibly unbalanced.
      I both envy (for their capacity to get away and have adult conversation) and feel sorry for (even more hectic, less time with their kids) working mothers.
      It feels like I have a really poor work-life balance, but its not really work, is it? :)

      • Mrs SPB

        I completely understand this – I’m in the same boat with a 13 month old.

        Had planned to go back to work but it didn’t work out as I would have been paying to work with the commute and childcare cost.

        So now I’m a SAHM and I love it but I never get any time for myself at all! It feels selfish to take time for myself when me and Hub get so little time together and even less family time all together as Hub commutes 5 hrs a day.

        Also we are totally working IMO. I count 6.30am – 7pm as my ‘work day’ looking after my son and after 7pm I do the stuff I used to do when I got home from work pre baby.

        Good luck finding your balance!


    • Mrs SPB

      This sounds incredibly stressful and I really hope it gets better for you when the semester ends


  • Eric and I are extremely fortunate to have flexible jobs that seem to get family time and being sane (and I work from home, which is also great). Despite all that we have going for us right now, our biggest struggle is feeling like errands and chores are taking over the “life” part of “work-life.” At this point, I’m just not sure that there are enough hours in the week to cook most of your meals at home, have a clean house, and have time to relax if you both work full-time. We always feel about four hours short. One thing that helps me with that is getting up early and getting a lot of shit done before work, when I have the energy to do it. It still feels like there’s always something to be done and not enough time, but it’s helpful. (For whatever reason, I’m particularly motivated to clean my kitchen on Friday mornings so I just go with it?) And finding 15-60 minutes in the morning to have “life” — reading, relaxing, going on a breakfast date, etc. works for us too. So basically, 7 AM to 9 AM is my golden hour for the “life” part of the equation.

    I know Meg is big into unplugging on weekends, but I love the Internet and love spending the weekend catching up on reading and Pinning shit. ERRANDS are my biggest problem. They just bring me down (Houston traffic, man). Two weekends ago, I sort of unintentionally didn’t run a SINGLE errand and it was the most glorious and relaxing weekend in recent memory. (And I found that doing chores felt way less stressful when I didn’t also have to make five little trips throughout the day.) I think we need to do that once a month or so…just refuse all obligations, hole up, and hang out.

    • Coco

      ERRANDS! They take so much time! Mind you, we just bought a house and planned and had a wedding in the last year… so I’m hoping this year will have fewer errands. I work 8-5 and it’s felt like every lunch hour, every day after work and every weekend has just been filled with errands. It’s stressful!

    • Ann

      I really need to jump on the “before work” boat. I don’t have to be at work until 9am and it takes me 12 minutes to walk there so… what’s my reason for getting out of bed at 8:15am when I went to bed at 11pm? No one needs that much sleep!

      If I got my butt up at 7am I’d get that wonderful extra hour to spend having a nice breakfast, reading Game of Thrones, and browsing my work email casually (because that’s what happens when you’ve got work email on your phone 24/7 and that’s a whole different conversation).

      • Carrie

        For what it’s worth regarding the work email on the phone – I have a second work phone that stays powered off unless I know I need it. So sometime I walk around with two phones, but it’s worth it to me. The work-issued iPad, that’s another story.

        I also find that when I read my email before I get to work, sometimes I stew on something in a bad way and hype myself up for nothing. However, I haven’t been able to shake this habit.

        • Ann

          The second phone thing would be useful but my company would not pay for a second phone, they simply reimburse a part of my current phone bill. I’m pretty good about not checking the work email (my partner is definitely NOT good at that and I wish he would be better about keeping his phone in his pocket at dinner) it’s really managing the expectations of others that I find is key.

          My boss knows that I won’t respond to stuff after 6pm or so but the people we work with aren’t always that aware.

          • Jess

            I’m SUPER obnoxious when people are on the phone at dinner/in social situations. To the point of I will lean waaaaaaay over them and ask what they’re looking at.

            It bothers me.

      • Ann… I’m not sure about that. I still enjoy a nice 9 hour sleep on the regular. In the past six months, two weeks post wedding, I even went for a full 12!

        • Christina McPants

          I gotta agree with this. When I get less than 8 hours of sleep, I am a horrifying monster and am just barely coherent when I get under 9. On the weekends, I sleep 12 hours. Regularly. It got worse as I got older, but it is what it is. Exercise doesn’t affect it, diet doesn’t affect it, I just need a lot of sleep. It sucks, except that naps are delicious.

    • APracticalLaura

      On the days that I work from home I find that maintaining work-life balance is the HARDEST! Taking a walk midday invokes all sorts of guilt that I “should” be working. Then unplugging at 5(ish) to tend to the LIFE part of the equation invokes all sorts of guilt that I “should” just finish up my work! Plus, there’s no signal to my brain (i.e., no longer in the office) that tells it that it’s okay to stop thinking about work now.

      I’d love to hear more about work/life balance for all of those people who have the luxury of working from home!

      PS the only way I justify those mid-day walks/errands is by reminding myself that even when I’m at the office for 8 hours straight, chatting with co-workers and surfing the web means I’m not working for ALL 8 HOURS STRAIGHT! Sheesh, why must we be so hard on ourselves?! (Or is it just me??)

      • lady brett

        my work is seldom conducive to working from home, but when i do i find it helps the balance a *ton* because instead of taking a break to, say, chat on apw, i would take a break and throw some laundry in. same amount of break time, but when i get off work in the evening, there is a ton less housework pushing to be done (plus, i find being able to do productive, active things in my break time actually makes me less tired at the end of the work day as well).

        • Meg Keene

          God. Not me. Working for myself at home there are NO BREAKS EVER. Or that’s mostly how it plays. I’ll just work for eight hours without break. No checking FB, no gym, none of the stuff I did at work. It’s… productive. But it’s unhealthy, and I’m slowly working to fix it.

      • Uh, I’m not good at taking midday breaks AT ALL. I feel way more guilty about it, I think, because I just think everyone expects me to me at my desk at any given time, and because I can’t tell as easily when my coworkers are coming and going to run errands or go to lunch or whatever. I REALLY need to force myself to take a midday walk. Instead I usually stop working around 4 and go do yoga or just go into a different room and read because by that point, my brain hurts. I honestly don’t know why it’s so damn hard for me at lunchtime.

        BUT when I’m done for the day officially (usually between 5:30 and 6:30), I’m done. Computer is off, office light is off, and I’m out of the work mindset for the night.

      • BD

        Oh yes, I work at home on a regular basis and I have the same problem with “unplugging”, because there is no change of scenery to help me make that mental switch. I have to set down in stone for myself, no matter how much work I’ve done/not done, that I am absolutely shutting down the computer at 5pm.

      • Alison O

        I worked from home for two years and I found it really hard to set a schedule, that is, limit how much I worked. It was the kind of job where there was always more to do; a lot of jobs are like this, but I found it particularly so compared to anything else I’ve done. It was also a fairly high-pressure job in general. When it came to filling out my time card, I found it tough though because I was like, well I cleaned the kitchen for 10 minutes of that hour, then I took the dog out…etc. etc. whereas like you say, all kinds of random stuff goes on in an office that would legitimately count toward work time because you are ‘in the office’.

        I look forward to having a job in the future where I go, and then leave. I did LOVE not having a commute, though. It reduced time, frustration, and expenses. So, there was the good with the bad.

    • AnonyMo

      “I’m just not sure that there are enough hours in the week to cook most of your meals at home, have a clean house, and have time to relax if you both work full-time”

      Yep, I think there actually aren’t enough hours for that.. and I personally deal with that by only having the house clean on weekends and letting it get progressively dirty on the weekdays. ;)

      No unannounced guests here, luckily! :D

    • Laura C

      The errands-and-driving thing gets at another issue in US life: most places in this country are so car-dependent. It’s been a while since I lived where I had to drive much at all, and I love errands. Errands give me a destination to walk to, and while walking I talk on the phone or listen to music, so it’s errand + exercise + something relaxing, and I actually feel sort of bereft when I don’t have enough errands on a weekend. I will happily walk three miles to return a skirt or go to the specialty store for that one ingredient. But when I had to drive? Errands were a pain.

    • MC

      I feel you on this. I just started working full-time at the beginning of the year, and for the first time since we moved in together, Fiance and I are both working full-time and the last couple of weeks it seems like we don’t have time for ANYTHING. Between pursuing hobbies, going to the gym, eating good and healthy food, seeing friends, and wedding planning, there is just too little time. I can’t wait until the glorious day when we are married and thus done wedding planning. We will probably need fewer “forget-about-wedding-planning-let’s-just-drink-margaritas” happy hour dates, too.

      We luckily don’t live somewhere with terrible traffic (bless those who do) so we try to do as many errands as possible before/after work or during our lunch breaks, so that when we’re home, we are HOME. And doing meal prep in the mornings, especially with a crock-pot, is what keeps us from eating out every day. (I can’t imagine what we would do without our crock pot!)

    • JenClaireM

      It is NOT POSSIBLE to cook all our meals, have a clean house, and have time to relax while working full time!! Nevermind working out, engaging in hobbies, etc. I don’t know how anyone gets it all done – they must be wizards if they do. My husband and I recently shifted our diet so that we’re cooking the majority of our food at home, and it takes up soooo much time. And the cleaning? We basically don’t do enough of it and live in a messier house than I would like. But when it comes to choosing between spending an hour enjoying each other’s company, or reading a book, or watching a movie, I am loathe to pick cleaning over those things. And running errands… I can’t even. I get so depressed when they take up most of my weekend. I’ve found the best way to deal with them is to get everything I can through amazon prime and then leave a lot of stuff undone. Basically, I don’t understand how it’s possible to work full-time and fulfill all job and life expectations and have time left for anything else. (And we don’t even have kids!) It really feels like the system has been set up to keep us just running and running in an attempt to keep up.

      • KC

        With some jobs that 1. stay within 40 hours, really-and-truly and 2. have a short commute, this can sometimes be possible with a sufficiently small (but not so small you’re always spending extra time dealing with the smallness) living space and sufficiently moderate expectations. (I pulled it off for three years; I’m not totally sure *how*, though, or where exactly all that energy came from.)

        (note: the cleanliness level was not my you-could-eat-off-the-floor grandmother’s house, but was not anywhere near frat-house sticky-floor-and-nearly-sentient-bathroom-mold either. The food cooked was not infrequently pasta or omelettes or leftovers [I had a list of “we’re hungry and can’t think” quick meals, and the supplies for at least a couple of those were always on hand]. The hobbies were not big time-sinks, generally. And our relatives were far, far away, so we mostly only spoke to them once on weekends except when traveling for holidays. Spending time with husband was sometimes “enjoying our different hobbies in the same room for the evening”. And I’m sure we disappointed various expectations of assorted varieties at different times (no, we don’t send out Christmas cards; sorry, I haven’t read/watched that; nope, we didn’t go to the game on Thursday). So this might not count.)

        • lady brett

          living small is a huge part of it. i remind myself of that when i miss the simplicity of my single life – very little of it was about being single, rather, it was that i lived in a 400 square foot apartment two minutes from work, with 2 bookshelves, an air mattress and a dog. when you can deep clean your living space in 30 minutes and come home for lunch every day, there is a lot more time for life in general. and that would still be true with a spouse and family.

          • KC

            I once had a two-block walking commute. That was all-around fantastic. (although the 30-minute walking commute at a different job was also awesome; it meant exercise+unwinding-after-work+seeing-the-outdoors.)

            For a lot of people, long driving commutes aren’t just sucking that time out of peoples’ day; they’re also slurping up an amazing amount of energy. (some people decompress while driving, though; and experiences on public transit… vary)

            And yeah, the square footage and range of “stuff” really does make a difference. (I still think it’s possible to go too small; think about how much longer it takes to put clothes away when the dresser is Really Full vs. only half-full, and then apply it to the entire apartment…) But halving the time spent vacuuming? Reducing the amount of furniture you need and need to take care of? And even just having fewer options can clear up an amazing amount of brain space, because you don’t have to think about and make all those decisions over and over every day. (This is the other reason why I liked meal lists – less remembering, more just-picking-what-works!) I’m not a real Simple Living Get Rid Of Everything person, but having what you really want – and only what you really want – is so much easier than having way more stuff that is theoretically what you’re supposed to want but isn’t quite the perfect fit for you, etc.

            (I say this as I look at the multitude of not-quite-right clothes in the closet. My body type and shopping do not really get along well, so I end up with more things that don’t quite work ideally instead of fewer things that work in more cases. Harrumph.)

      • Not Sarah

        This doesn’t work for everyone, but my boyfriend and I clean together. It makes laundry way less annoying! We get a lot of stuff on amazon prime as well, and subscribe & save (hello never running out of condoms again!) and we’re also trying Amazon Fresh since we live in Seattle. That’s really helped with the experiment of cooking most of our food at home (so much less time grocery shopping). We’ve also been trying to cook more on weekends and then eat leftovers more during the week. Or meals that take < 30 minutes to cook. I got a copy of Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen for Christmas and it has been a lifesaver! Plus it's kind of fun to cook together.

        I totally agree with you though. I don't clean the apartment except for the daily stuff nearly as often as my mom always has.

  • Shiri

    APW team, I’m seeing the “suggested readings” vertically and obscuring the comments, and my ability to comment, in Chrome.

    • Kathleen

      That happened to me for a minute (in Firefox), but went away when I reloaded.

      • KC

        Thank you! I was having the problem, but due to your comment I tried refreshing the page and it now works. :-)

    • Laura C

      Me too. I switched to Firefox to be able to comment here at all.

    • Amy

      This just happened to me, also in Chrome, but a refresh fixed it.

      • Laura C

        Refreshing didn’t work in Chrome but I just did a hard reload and that did.

    • I’m on firefox and was having the same issue. I did a reload with F5 and that fixed it. Something with cookies, but I’m still logged in to comment…

    • Eenie

      Internet explorer (I’m on a surface tablet) does this as well. It also happens on my windows phone.

    • I had the problem earlier on Chrome and shift + reload fixed it.

    • Me too.

    • Molly

      Me too. I’m using Chrome at work and at home.

    • Meg Keene

      If you’re having this problem, shift and refresh. It’s a cached issues from some changes we made yesterday.

    • Meg Keene

      Shift and refresh to clear your cache. It’s a left over bug from a change we made yesterday, you’re still seeing if your cache isn’t cleared.

  • Laura C

    So important. We’re actually not too badly off right now — I work from home, reasonable hours most of the time (election seasons can get rough), and A is in law school so he’s busy but fairly flexible. But I look down the road, and he’s going to be doing firm work or clerkships, in either case probably working 60-hour weeks bare minimum, and I just get really mad at the system that says this is what you have to do to be successful. And the system that then tells elite people that this unreasonably, unnecessarily hard work is why they deserve to be so much richer than the vast majority of people. We have this system where, at the top, you give up several years of your life in hopes that you’ll get to where you’re playing golf while ostensibly overseeing the people giving up years of their lives. And meanwhile it’s less and less possible for everyone else to have a basic, comfortable life without serious financial worries and with enough time to have a life. I am so, so lucky to have a boss who worries about his employees burning out and urges us to take the time off we need to avoid that. But that’s not enough because I will be married to a man who is part of work-like-your-life-doesn’t-matter system, at least for a few years. So if we have a baby, he won’t be able to be there most of the time. And I’ll be mad at him a lot of the time when really I’m mad at the system. Forty hours a week shouldn’t mean you’re opting out of success in so many fields. And on the flip, 40 hours a week should be available to more people who are unemployed or stuck in part-time work.

  • AnonyMo

    Ok, so I live and work in the UK and I think that the US work culture is some kind of crazy. I visit the US for work every year and catch up with lots of friends.. and they generally have less than half my annual leave allowance (31 days), work much longer hours (I’m juuuust 9-5) and have shittier benefits (no healthcare!). One of them gets healthcare insurance from work and he works weekends (for free) because he feels obliged to.

    Also, no maternity leave.. what is up with that? Seriously? We’re fighting for parental leave here so mums don’t HAVE to be the ones at home for a year but no guaranteed paid leave for either parent? HOW do people have kids in the US?

    I totally get that there are many people in the UK too with awful working hours (hello, baking sector!).. and work life balance is always an issue.. but it seems to be particularly an issue with (what I perceive of as) normal accepted working conditions in the US. I might be way off here but it really looks like the system is rigged. Feel free to correct me though.

    • Emily Ardoin

      Ah! I just saw your comment after I posted mine. You are 100% correct about our parental leave policies. Just awful.

    • Laura C

      You’re not wrong. It’s a crazy, terrible system that is rough even on many of the people who are theoretically succeeding within it.

    • MisterEHolmes

      You’re totally right. My friend in the UK was able to breezily take a week off work when I went to visit, like it was no big deal…because he had a month time he HAD to use anyway. Whereas I used all my vacation time for the same trip. It’s crazy. What’s worse is the active people who lobby against the vacation time/maternity leave we DO have. It’s like a speeding train, and there are lots of people who want to jump off but there are also people who want the train to go faster…even if it’s gonna explode.

    • I am “given” 12 weeks of leave. But they aren’t paid. Or rather, I CAN take 12 weeks, but only if I have the time earned. I earn 12 vacation hours a month, and 6 sick hours a month, so to earn a whole 12 weeks I’d have to work here a pretty substantial amount of time without taking time for anything else ever. As it stands, I’ve worked at this job since November 2012 and am expecting a baby in July. If I don’t take ANY leave between now and then, I’ll have 6 weeks of paid time off (I had to use all my vacation time last year for IVF, otherwise I’d have that rollover). I could take 12, but would only get paid for 6 of them.

      • AnonyMo

        That’s mind blowing to me. You’ve worked since Nov ’12 and you get 6 weeks paid time off. Unbelievable. These companies need to do better!

        • I work for the government, just to add insult to injury. (The city counsel gets to vote on whether I get days like Christmas Eve off!)

    • H

      I feel as though it’s engrained into the US lifestyle to work for everything, including our down time. It has to be “earned”, whereas other countries treat it as a basic human need that can be met with paid vacations. My family in Europe and Canada like to say that the difference between the US and other places comes down to views on long term investment. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. In Europe, a paid vacation is seen as an investment in the future of the company, because a happy employee is a better, more stable asset. In the US, vacations and maternity leave are seen as nothing more than lost man-hours. Why agree to pay for someone’s absence when you can replace them?

      I work from home doing the job I got my degree for, which contrary to popular belief is very stressful. If I’m not working every second of the day I feel as though I’ve let myself down, and I never know when to go ahead and end my workday/take lunch. And I still can’t afford to pay myself healthcare in this system! I’ve had neighbors approach me and say “I always see your car out front, do you stay home?” (implying housewife) And when I say I work from home, they always ALWAYS respond with “Oh, THAT must be nice!” >_<

      • D

        I was going to say this as well – I live in a very conservative area in the ol’ US of A, and around here, expecting time off without “earning” it is considered something close to freeloading. If you complain about not getting enough vacation time, then you’re are ungrateful or even lazy. It’s f*cked up, I know, but I get that vibe from people all the time! Paid vacation time, universal healthcare, maternity leave, and of course welfare – it’s all viewed this way.

        • KC

          I don’t understand why wanting more money is considered fine, but wanting more time off isn’t (especially when getting more time off often improves productivity while you are in the office!). But people are mysterious creatures.

        • Kaitlyn

          This. Just…this.

      • V

        Thank you for this comment. I do non-profit operations, which means being sort of a jack of all trades. One of my many roles in my current position is to be the HR department. I’ve been editing our personnel policies and something about them has been sitting wrong with me. Your comment finally crystallized it for me – our personnel policies, like those of most organizations, are written on the assumption that employees are trying to take from the organization rather than give. That assumption demonstrates just how poorly labor is viewed in the US, but it’s particularly crazy in the case of non-profit organizations. You’ve inspired me to talk with my boss about changing away from an earned vacation system (and probably making a few other changes as well). I’m even going to show him your comment as part of my argument for the changes.

    • carolynprobably

      Agreed on the skewed US culture. I grew up in the States and moved to Canada last year. I was really shocked how differently vacation time, family time, and just “private” time generally is not only accepted but expected. It’s adorably inconceivable to my coworkers how the rigorous US mindset is tolerated!

    • Posting this from the office

      Yep, that’s totally right. I work at a large corporate law firm and have spent significant time in both the US and UK offices (I was seconded to London for a year and a half). And even within the same company, the differences were remarkable. A lot of associates do not even take the vacation that they are entitled to in the US — which seems cra-cra — but it’s what you have to do to prove you are serious about the job.

      On a side note with respect to something that Meg said before, a law firm with an official 2200 hour requirement must be a nightmare. At most, the expectation on paper is 2000, with a higher target being the actual expectation.

    • Grace

      We are so lucky in the UK. I started reading this thread thinking I might be able to relate but nope, the two countries are absolutely worlds apart in this area. My big dilemma is when I have a baby to I take the year I’m entitled to or just the first, best-paid 6 months?! Even if you’re unemployed the government gives you a maternity allowance… and 6 weeks off is post partum is a legal requirement!!

  • jhs

    My main issue (“issue,” because let’s face it, my life is very good compared to lots of alternatives) is trying to make the work part match the life part. I have a great life, full of friends and family and a wonderful partner. Wedding planning has its moments but is still pretty low stress, and I find time to travel and eat and pursue my hobbies and lots more. However, right now my career is the thing that’s lacking. I’m doing something that’s fine, that I can do without being stressed, but I spend most of the day bored or frustrated. I’m trying to transition into doing something I love, but I either go all out and stretch myself too thin, or I get intimidated. Maybe I should hold off until after the wedding, when I can actually focus on one thing at a time. But anyway, that’s where my balance is.

  • Emily Ardoin

    Last semester I did a research project for my Management class that focused on Maternity/Paternity/Familial Leave for working parents. Yea, the US is awful. In fact we are only one of TWO countries IN THE WORLD that do not require paid time off for (at least) mothers who have children. Most countries require at least 8-12 weeks off PAID that either/both the mother and father can take. If you’re a recent mom and fortunate to work at a company that offers programs that allow for paid time off, you usually encounter the “family track” in which companies are less likely to promote you because you are a female with a family.

    Many countries are also adding time off for adoption and miscarriage specifically, while in the US, those situations have to be taken out of insurance policies (if you are lucky enough to have one of those) for emergency medical leave.

    The system in the US definitely does nothing to help mothers and fathers with a work/life balance.

  • Kats

    Work-life balance is one of those topics that just to talk about makes me feel like I’m being whiny and self-absorbed. Because, as a newly married, no kids, good job with relatively predictable 9-6(ish) hours after years of billing 2400+ hour years, one time-consuming hobby, decent social life, gal (no, it doesn’t
    acronym well ala the Stranger letters), I really don’t have much to complain about.

    And yet. I’d like to get to a place where the idea of sitting-on-the-couch-with-trashy-reading and not checking email doesn’t feel like I am giving up on the house-cleaning, going to the gym, brushing the dog, seeing my husband, making pickles from scratch, cop-out. I’d like to get to aplace where the OMG-if-we-going-to-have-kids-we-have-to-try-THIS-week stress doesn’t make intimacy feel like an obligation. Or when sleeping in on a Sunday instead of going for a run doesn’t feel like I’d wasted away my day. In other words, it’s not just work-life balance, it’s life-life balance that I feel like I’m struggling with in trying to find the space in between the multitask and must do. I’m sure that not having the mobile buzzing in the evenings with work questions is part of it. But I think the bigger part is figuring out how to separate into doing just one-thing, rather than trying to jam it all in.

    • Georgina

      I relate wholeheartedly! My situation is similar to yours and yes, I feel harried every single day!

      Yet I feel like I have no ‘right’ to voice these sentiments when my mother, for example, is a full-time carer to my father who is paraplegic or my sister who holds down a full-time role as a diplomatic in Japan (as does her husband) while trying to raise 2 toddlers. When my sister says “I can’t even go the toilet on my own” I feel unjustified in saying “I don’t have time to meditate AND clean the house”.

      I agree that the system is broken and it is frustrating to hear organisation’s pay lip service to the concept of work/life balance and mental wellness….but an organisation saying they value these things doesn’t make it so. With this realisation, I’m increasingly coming to accept that it’s up to me to change my attitudes and behaviours… and that may mean accepting a job with less money because I KNOW that I can walk out the door at 5pm, turn off my work phone and go to the gym, living in a smaller apartment/house which is (a) less expensive (b) less time consuming to maintain. And then, making decisions about what I do with that extra time. Do I fritter it away on social media? (sometimes) Do I meditate? (daily) Do I lie on the couch with my husband enjoying a glass of wine? (not often enough).

      I watched a presentation recently about making changes: just one small change, one minor decision every day is a good place to start.

    • Liz

      I can also relate! I struggle with life-life balance too, and just chilling out on the weekends or in the evening. I think this is directly related to our culture of work and how we feel like we’re intrinsically less valuable if we’re not “doing something productive.”

      The only thing I keep reminding myself of is that those quieter moments and the space to relax ARE productive. They give us a break and let us come back to our work – whatever kind of work it is – refreshed and motivated. I need to make a poster of that or something though, because I forget it on the daily.

  • When I was 23 I was working madhouse hours in an office job and dating a touring musician. Our schedules were a relatively terrible match. We didn’t end up married with babies, but I am still grateful for that relationship because I learned about the work life I wanted for myself – flexible, self-created, god-damn hard but full of travel and art and passion.

    I’m currently single, which always makes me nervous when I chime in here, but I’m thankful that my hard work now will put me in a good position to have the kind of balance that’s right for me when I do find the right partner and we have those babies. I will be able to stay home with them, sometimes, still working madhouse hours I’m sure but maybe from the next room, where I can walk ten feet and lean against the doorframe as I watch a sweet little thing take an afternoon nap.

  • Kat Robertson

    Right now my main issue isn’t even work/life balance, it’s work/work balance. I’m in a situation where most of my money and hours in the week are spent at the Day Job, and the Dream Job is a part-time, low paying experience type thing. The struggle is making the financial sacrifices in the present (like taking off two Fridays a month and two weeks off in the summer without pay from the Day Job to do extra hours without pay at the Dream Job) knowing that it will make the future a lot better for my family. Delaying gratification is hard. Fortunately my partner is more flexible, and we grab the life time together where we can.

  • Alison O

    I think this article would add to this discussion. As I continue to figure out what the eff I want to ‘do with my life’ work-wise, it was a helpful dose of perspective.

    In the Name of Love
    by Miya Tokumitsu

     “Do what you love” is the mantra for today’s worker. Why should we assert our class interests if, according to DWYL elites like Steve Jobs, there’s no such thing as work?


    • Laura C

      Yes yes yes yes yes. Best piece I’ve read recently, and now that you’ve reminded me I’m tempted to quote the whole thing in this context, because it gets at both sides: what “do what you love” does to people who are theoretically doing what they love and what it does to people who don’t have the option to do what they love and are working to survive.

    • Sara P

      Thank you for that article!

    • Meg Keene

      So I have a whole, really complicated series of thoughts on this subject, which would be a whole other piece. But lemmie throw some out in a disorganized fashion: I think the “do what you love” advice is bullshit. I mean, bless, when it happens, ENJOY IT. But as someone who spent a whole lot of time as a secretary, or paying my bills in NYC on minimum wage—rent must be paid. (And sometimes you’re way happier not having your passion be your work, too.) Now that I’ve landed doing something I generally love, I can attest that *much* of the work of running a company you love is not very fun at all. I’m so grateful every day that I don’t have to be a secretary anymore (or right now), but work is still work, at least 85% of the time.

      But then there is a flip side to this. As someone who grew up in one of the poorest cities in the country, I am really uncomfortable with the idea that somehow, only rich people get to love their jobs. I grew up around people who were damn PROUD of their jobs, even though they were making very little money. The school receptionist at my mom’s school, say. Proud of her job. Loved her job. Had very little privilege, to say the least.

      So I guess, what I’ve learned in a 10 (well, ok, I’ve been working at least part time since I was 12, so really 20) year work history is: if we can be PROUD of our jobs, that’s what matters. And you can be proud of your job no matter what it is. I was damn proud of the work I did as a secretary, in fact.

      • KC

        That is a much more articulate way of saying what I felt about that article. I’ve known and respected janitors who loved what they did; not because they loved the *actions* but the *results*, and they were proud of doing good work, even though that work was sometimes really gross. You can look at what you enjoy doing most and try to make a job out of it, and it’s great when people can do that; or you can look at almost any menial or complicated job you’re doing and try to see whatever real value there is in it.

        (Admittedly, there are jobs where that doesn’t work so well, where you *don’t* agree in any way with the eventual goal that your effort contributes towards, and you still gotta pay rent and you might end up having to work one of those jobs… but the outlook can be beneficial in many jobs. Just maybe not quite all?)

      • Maddie Eisenhart

        I’ve been wanting to comment on this conversation for a few days. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the article above (I actually found it a bit hard to comprehend, the way it was written), but I think the Do What You Love mantra is troubling for a few reasons:

        1. As Meg said, it’s often set up in a way that devalues work that is presumed to not be something you’d love. Which means that Do What You Love is usually elevated above Blue Collar work, and the people in those jobs are usually excluded from the conversation (I think if we made the conversation more holisitic and included more of these voices, it would actually be really interesting. Because then we could talk about what makes work something you might love? I, for example, LOVED being a waitress. I used to say that if I could find a way to be professionally nice to people, I’d take that job in a heartbeat. I hated my white collar jobs. So what makes us love one job over another? And how does that relate to the current workforce?

        2. I think, more importantly, that our culture is seriously fucked when it comes to work life balance. Doing what you love doesn’t have to be the goal. Michael, for example, works to live, not the other way around. But we’re demanding so much of our current workforce (long hours, underpaid work, understaffed teams, etc.) that it’s becoming less of a possibility to be able to just work for the sake of working. You HAVE to love it when it’s your life.

        3. And finally, while I 100% agree that being proud of your work is what matters, I also think the responsibility shouldn’t fall to workers to enjoy work. Like Meg, said, BILLS Y’ALL. But we for sure should be striving to create working environments that produce workers who are proud of what they do. And I think a lot of that comes from systems that place value on the employees.

        So. Lots of thoughts. Very complicated thoughts.

        • KC

          Hooray for companies valuing employees!

          And I also think that if we more broadly, culturally valued blue collar work (aka, generally, the work without which our society would completely fall to pieces; seriously, do you *really* want to imagine a world in which no potholes are fixed, no restaurants or stores are open, no public space is cleaned, no sewage systems or water mains or electricity poles are repaired, etc.?) we’d be in a better place, I think. But no, jobs are culturally important if they’re known and/or if they come with a lot of money. Buncha weirdos, us Americans.

        • Alison O

          I read the article several days ago and I don’t have time to re-read it right now, so I may be off on the details, but I understood it as largely in line with the points you make, particularly 2 and 3.

        • Yes yes a thousand times yes.

      • BD

        Agreed. I can’t honestly say that I LOVE my job (no, I LOVE reading a good book with a cup of tea on a rainy day, but no one is gonna pay me to do that), however I am very proud of my work and its results, and I think that’s more than enough. I don’t feel like life is passing me by just because I’m not in love with my job.

      • Alison O

        I don’t recall how the article addressed (directly or indirectly, or at all) the question of what work is possible to love. I do think it supports the notion that most/all work is valuable, and we can make the jump that work that is valuable is inherently something to take pride in. (Of course, just ’cause something is valuable to someone else or majority society doesn’t mean one has to agree, including the person doing the work.) I don’t think it got super in depth about what “loving” one’s job really means, either, which obviously could be parsed out basically endlessly. I doubt many people love every aspect of their job (salary, schedule, activities, impact, etc.), so there are different things to ‘love’ (value/appreciate) depending on your own values and what you do.

        But to your central point that people can love blue collar work, I would definitely agree (and on the other side I know a lot of people who actively sought and hold prestigious lucrative white collar jobs who absolutely hate them), but I also get concerned about privileged people reading your statement and romanticizing blue collar work on behalf of the people in it. I work in education/human services, and an analogous phenomenon is when people try to make the case that “college isn’t for everyone”. I agree with the idea that people should have different opportunities available to meet their individual potential. However, the people who say that college isn’t for everyone are usually upper class educated people who take it for granted that their own peers/children overwhelmingly, definitely should go to college. It’s those kids on the other side of the tracks (who, guess what, haven’t received a four star K-12 education) who are destined to ‘thrive’ elsewhere? Self-fulfilling prophecy. So, I totally agree that people can love any kind of work, even if it’s work they don’t choose. But I also want to guard against the paternalism that sanctions the fact that a lot of people don’t have choices about what they do, and, while I think happiness is in large part a mindset, I do think choice is important to happiness and more people should have more choices about what they do.

        • Meg Keene

          Well. I mean. The idea that college isn’t for everyone might be bandied about in white upper middle class circles, but it didn’t come from there, or only from there. In my very poor high school with a 60% drop out rate, vocational education was super important… because most people didn’t go to college. Plenty of my still close friends were super smart and their families had very very little money, and they did go to college. But some of our best friends (actual best friends, I’m not exaggerating) were terrible matches for college and have done really well at vocational schools. That doesn’t mean public education in poor schools isn’t a travesty and doesn’t need to be improved. But the idea that we should all go to college to be successful is… a dangerous one, to me.

          So I mean, it’s a HUGELY complex conversation. And growing up in a really poor public high school I’ve got nothin’ but fight for underprivileged kids getting the chances they goddamn deserve. But college *isn’t* for everyone, and respecting blue collar work shouldn’t mean romanticizing it. I’ve done those jobs. They’re harder than anything else I’ve ever done. But there is work to be proud of there.

          • Alison O

            Hmm I replied but doesn’t look like it went thru so sorry if it shows up twice.

            I wanted to say, I’m not sure if you’re just expanding on the subject or thought I was saying that college is for everyone and/or that college is necessary to for ‘success’, both of which I want to be clear I don’t believe. It goes both ways; there are people who go to college who based on their strengths or interests or whatever circumstances would be better off following a different path. It’s problematic particularly if they rack up college loans that then burden them when they try to retrain, start a business, etc.

            The fact that college isn’t for everyone is actually an obvious truth to me, but the phrase in particular is often used by people in policy/political contexts who are advocating for NOT improving education, financial aid, etc. so that more people would have the opportunity to attend college IF they wanted to. It is not generally expressed in that way by people who are arguing for better voke schools, community colleges, other worker training programs, etc., even though the work they are doing is consistent with the straightforward meaning of “college isn’t for everyone”.

      • Sheila

        One of my favorite bloggers is Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown who also blogs about all sorts of interesting things. For awhile he had a series about the idea of “following your passion” and how it was not great advice, for several reasons. I would suggest reading several of his articles, but this one talks about the idea you bring up: being passionate about your job has more to do with your own attitude towards work than towards any attributes of the job itself. Very compelling reading: http://calnewport.com/blog/2010/09/10/the-danger-of-the-dream-job-delusion/.

        • Meg Keene

          This article is amazing, everyone read it!!!

          Also it hits somewhat on a real truth: if you quit your job to follow your passion, you might well love it (if you really love business stuff. I spend a lot of time talking to my accountant or my lawyer or being a manager or responding to email or hell, doing powerpoint). But it’s still going to be work. So even then, it’s going to have a lot to do with the attitude you bring to it. I just bring a better attitude to running my own shop, because I’m cut out that way. But that’s so far from necessarily being true for most people.

          Anyway. Super smart thought provoking work.

      • Kestrel

        This reminds me a lot of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs – basically, if you haven’t seen the show, he goes around doing ‘dirty jobs’ – typically manual labor that’s hard and difficult and … dirty.

        But he has a TED talk that I found very interesting – basically saying how we’ve demonized manual labor, despite the fact that many, many people are actually quite happy doing that job and feel accomplished and proud of them. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend it: http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html

    • Emma Klues

      I am also super conflicted on this phrase. I think “do what you love” applies to your life in general, but you can choose whether that means to seek out a hobby, job, relationship, community or other activity to do things you love doing. However, “love what you do” is, in my opinion, an INCREDIBLE way to see whatever it is you’re doing. To Meg’s point, take pride in your job, learn to love some aspect of how you spend your time. It doesn’t need to be a dream job that is your passion to let you be fulfilled by it.

      Sometimes when I am doing something mundane for the umpteenth time, I look around at my beloved co-workers and think about how I am contributing to creating an incredible workplace and 15 really amazing fun jobs in the city I love, and how we have group lunches and a ping pong table and a panda costume. And it’s okay if my latest tweet didn’t change the world because I found a way to find meaning elsewhere. I love what I do, but not because my job search started with “do what you love”.

  • emilyg25

    Our work-life balance is actually pretty good right now, mainly because I work in a field and an office with a pretty good culture (higher ed staff), and because we both have good jobs in an area with a low cost of living. I do worry that I might be hurting my career as I prepare to pull back on it a bit and focus on having a family, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I worked hard to get myself to a place that I’m comfortable plateau-ing for a bit. I’m still planning to work full time, but we’re each hoping to convince our bosses to let us work from home one day a week. Mainly, I’m just trying to be flexible and open-minded and do what I need to do. We agree that we want to prioritize home life, even though we both take a lot of pride in our work.

  • Amy

    My work-life balance has just changed dramatically, I think, though I’m not sure if it’s for the better.

    Monday was my first day of working remotely, 350 miles from my office. I can now wake up, get out of bed, and walk across the hall to be “at work”. It’s nice. I’m a fan of working in pajamas.

    But yesterday evening, I felt the need to work for just “five more minutes” to finish something up — and then I looked up, and it was 7pm. I feel odd setting “work hours” for myself, knowing that I can basically work anytime that I want. I feel guilty saying that I will only work until 5pm, when I routinely stayed in the office until 6:30 previously. But I can already tell that my time in this home office will be more productive now that I’m not surrounded by other goings-on and getting sucked into other peoples’ problems (I was the office fixer). Now that I can actually focus on my work, I am probably going to spend less time doing it. And… is that okay? I have no doubt that my boss would tell me “I don’t care when you work or how much you do, as long as everything is done when it needs to be” (because that’s how our office has worked for years) but I feel like I need to give myself permission to work this way.

    • KC

      Work that way! Seriously. Those who can be efficient working at home (which is admittedly not everyone) have been, in my experience, waaay more efficient at home than in the office. There is a substantial communications tradeoff, so do try to find ways to keep yourself in the loop, but there are so many office-y distractions that just aren’t an issue at home.

      Either set your task list for the day and stop when you get to the end of it (if your work is task-list friendly as opposed to “but I could polish this paragraph just a bit more…”) or set your timers (with potential extensions if you have deadlines or whatever; but if you set a kitchen timer to go off every 15 minutes after 5pm [or whatever your “closing time” is], you’ll be more aware how much time is vanishing down the computer rabbit hole).

      You can do it!

      • Ganymede

        Yes. I telecommute and it was a very hard transition those first few months. I routinely worked until 7 pm or later, not because I needed to, but because I could, and one of my bosses was two hours behind me, so I’d get emails at 5:30 and just stay to address them. I’m much better about setting boundaries now (in part because my husband and kids get home at 5:45 and I stop whatever I’m doing then, unless I have a deadline or something). Now, I do sometimes log back in after the kids go to sleep, but I try to do so only if I have a big project or deadline.

        I am a firm believer that people treat you like you let them. I’ve been at this company for 5 1/2 years, and since the beginning I made it clear that I don’t work or respond to my email on weekends (I might check it just to make sure there are no fires, but I don’t respond to non-emergency things so my bosses won’t think I’m constantly available). I have one boss who works all the time and one who never seems to work. My biggest problem is a constant low-level anxiety because my task list is never-ending. No matter how much I do, there is always more. I’m never caught up. On the bright side, I’ve not been chastised by my bosses about it. I’m doing all that I can, and they know I am. If I worked 12 hours a day, I could do more, but it wouldn’t really move the ball, it would just make me crazy.

        I have a great job that is challenging and interesting, and telecommuting gives me flexibility that makes a pretty damn good life possible. I can take a 10 minute break and do some cleaning. I can start cooking dinner when I break for lunch. I can run an errand, or take a kid (or myself!) to the doctor. I realize how lucky I am. But I still feel overwhelmed much of the time. I work from 8:30 to almost 6 every day. Even their teacher at day care (who is awesome and was not trying to be mean) commented that we only see them about two hours a day. That’s fine now, my kids are little, and honestly two hours a day is a lot with a difficult toddler some days. But when they get older, I want to be able to go to their school activities and soccer games and help them with homework. I don’t see how that’s possible at the rate I’m working now. I’m not sure if my bosses would let me reduce my hours, or how that would even work (I am screaming right now that I’m overloaded and not much is happening about it).

        Sidenote: my husband started his own company three years ago and I was the sole breadwinner until recently when it’s finally started producing income. I felt pressure like I could not have imagined during that time. I felt no guilt about not seeing my kids more, because somebody had to pay the bills, and that somebody was me. Now that the business is doing well I keep joking I’m ready to retire. But I don’t really want to stop working, or take a job I find less interesting, I just wish there was a way for me to keep doing what I’m doing now, just for fewer hours / less anxiety.

  • A.

    The biggest threat to my work-life balance is letting other people’s opinions have too much sway over it. My company is very supportive of flexible work hours (I got in at 9:30 this morning after a dentist appointment and will be working late; my officemate works 6 AM-3 PM to avoid traffic on his 55 minute commute) and I’ve seen us support people who were struggling (co-worker with a preemie baby took weeks off, came back, took more weeks off when she needed surgery, is now back and has a healthy 1yr old girl, hooray!) So, we walk the walk. BUT, all those coworker examples I mentioned? All men. And my field? Engineering, specifically consulting, a field not known for supporting a balanced life. Things are good now, and I keep them that way by drawing some hard lines; I work usually 40 hours a week and more only when circumstances demand, not for the sake of things like raises or promotions, I don’t check work email at home unless I have a specific reason, I don’t work from home because I want to be able to leave work at the office. These are the right choices for me, but I always wonder if people see me as less committed because I don’t send emails at 9 PM at night, or over the weekend. I know I’ll second-guess myself even more in the future.

    I’ve chosen, over the past four years, to work more on passion projects than lucrative ones, and I now have a seat at the table I want to be sitting at with other people who are passionate about the same projects. But I’m getting married in May and we will hopefully have our first child within two years. Will I still have a seat at that table? Will I still be seen as committed to my work? I hope to work 30 hours/week after we have kids (and I am so blessed to have that option available to me) but I know I will pay a price for that choice, and I suspect it will be a larger price than my male coworkers, who are lauded for making the choices that are expected of me. Will working from home be helpful when I have a baby? Will my coworkers cover for me sometimes, like I have covered for them? I hope so, but I don’t know. I do know that I work to live, not the other way around, and I believe that 30 hours will be the right choice for me and for our family, but I’ll have to do many, many battles with the voices in my head saying that I’m not as good as they are because of the choices that I have made.

  • KC

    Yeah, I feel like companies in the US whose employees work more than 40hrs a week on a reasonably regular basis should hire enough people such that no one needs to work more than 40 hrs a week. Then more people can have enough to live on, *and* time for the rest of life.

    That said, there are some jobs where there’s more of a maximum-sequential-hours-of-productivity-per-day, after which additional time doesn’t really result in much additional successful work done, and others where that’s less the case, so that could potentially be taken into account. But almost everyone does better and makes fewer mistakes with enough sleep, enough breaks, etc. (it seems that the hospital system is particularly insane; oh, people make more mistakes in medications, etc. when they’ve been rushing around on their feet for 10 hours? Well, let’s have nurses and such work 12 hour (or longer) shifts…)

    The one exception that I can think of to this would be “the zone” for creatives/programmers, but if you put in 10 hours of sequential photo editing or music jamming or programming or whatever, you then need to let your brain have more than a little down time.

    It may also be of note that some professions have built-in “rotation”, where you’re swapping between different kinds of tasks (mental and physical) and hence don’t burn through as easily.

    But all of that is just “how our systems are even hampering us from decent time/results efficiency”, not “how to have enough life-space outside of work”. I do think that different people have different preferences for how work fits into their life (in addition to different realities), but there are a lot of illogical penalties currently in place with work/life balance (like workplaces where you are perceived as a “better worker” if they see you always at your desk… never mind that you’d be more productive if you left your desk for breaks and gave your brain a rest so it could re-examine the problem…). It bugs me.

    • Elle

      I nominally work 40 hours a week, but what that really means is that I have to bill for 40 hours of productive client work weekly. It seems as if no one in my workplace has any problems meeting this requirement within the standard 08:30 to 17:00 office hours, but I do. I think the rule is that we can take a five-minute break every hour, but even then, I’m just not that relentlessly productive.

      All of which is to say, I think there is a qualitative difference between being present at work for 40 hours and being “on,” impeccably producing meaningful work, for the same number of hours. I don’t know how to quantify or codify that. Then again, given that I’m the only person here who seems to have issues with it, perhaps the real problem is just that I’m undisciplined and lazy. In this age that seems to be the most damning insult you can lob at someone, possibly after “socialist” and “liberal.”

      • KC

        I would suspect that if you are actually the only person having trouble billing 40 hours in 42.5 hours within office doors, the adjective you are looking for is probably “honest”. Unless all your co-workers are eating lunch while being billably productive and going to the bathroom while being billably productive, attending any internal meetings or reading company-but-not-client email and all that while being biillably productive, etc., I don’t really see how you can fit 40 hours/week of billable into 42.5 hours/week while still having the basic “office overhead” stuff.

        (unless you’re all knitting socks by the hour for clients, which seems unlikely. I think you can knit socks in meetings and while reading email, except for the toe and heel, probably, and if you drank smoothies for lunch, that might work, too. I wouldn’t suggest hauling them to the bathroom, though, for sanitary reasons…)(oh! if you were providing your clients with webcam footage of office employees existing, that might also work, if you ate lunch at your desk?)(note: I am kidding. These seem unlikely to be actual industries.)

        • Elle

          Ha, no, not quite. I’m in consulting. The 8:30 to 5 includes half an hour for lunch, so the remaining eight hours are supposed to be billable. I’m luckier than my legal assistant friend in that I get to bill in half-hour increments and not six-minute ones; bathroom breaks (or any other breaks of less than 10-15 minutes) do not need to be accounted for. More senior people get time allotted for business development and have a lower billable requirement, but I don’t really ever have meetings that are not project-related.

          I think I struggle with it in part because most of my work is detail-oriented and technical, so if I’m ever feeling less than stellar (might be catching a cold, office too hot after lunch and I’m getting sleepy, just finished a high-pressure assignment and need to decompress, etc.) there’s no administrative busywork to break up the statistical programming and database-building and whatever. It’s ALL HIGH-LEVEL COGNITIVE PROCESSING ALL THE TIME and I just find it exhausting.

          I need a new job, I think. I like the work itself but the billing is a nightmare.

          • KC

            Yes on the needing to break up the high-level cognitive processing. Any way you can ask to be assigned some tasks that you could intersperse throughout your day to help you be more efficient when you are working on the Big Brain Stuff? (i.e. writing documentation, proofreading, doing basic testing [turn the brain *off* and just see if things work; you can test with your whole brain or with not-so-much brain], etc.?)

            Glad bathroom breaks don’t need to be accounted for; hooray! But yes, humans need to decompress at intervals. Really truly, they do.

          • Elle

            Those are all very good ideas and definitely something I will look into. It’s my first real job post-college so I’m never sure what’s reasonable to ask for or expect, but I think making the argument from efficiency has a better chance of working. Thank you!

          • KC

            I’m really glad it’s been helpful!

            What jobs consider reasonable for an employee to ask for or expect varies quite widely, unfortunately. But it’s worth a shot, I think, if there are options?

            There’s research on this stuff, so depending on your field, it may help your argument if you pull in journal articles. Noting that you want to be really giving the clients your very best work (and look, journal article says that for every amount of time spent actively working, brain needs time subconsciously processing and then recovering) may also help. If the people you’re talking to are more business-y, the Pomodoro book might be useful (check it out from the library, check its business references for why it suggests the cycle it does, use those references instead of cognitive science journal articles).

            Their response may be that the cognitive processing time and decompressing time *are* billable hours, or they may say that other people don’t need it and it’s up to you to figure out how to change, or they may give you some more varied assignments (emphasize that you like to do the Intense things you like to do; just, as in any intense sport, you need sprint-walk cycles to be most effective on the sprints), or they may be Really Big Jerks. (hoping not the last!)

            Glassdoor.com may or may not be helpful as to probable expectations, as may having an informational interview with someone else in the organization, depending on the size. You can also look for a potential mentor slightly higher in the org chart for advice/guidance and ask about the possibility of an informational interview.

            (I assume you want to be doing good work for the clients/company. If they are all puppy-kicking meanie stinky-pants people and you hate them and everything you do for them, it will be harder to argue that you want to do your best for the company and want to work with them to figure out how to manage that more efficiently. But it sounds like you want to do good work? :-) )

          • Elle

            Oh, yes, I definitely want to do good work. If I were willing to submit anything sloppy and half-assed I wouldn’t be having these problems. :) I don’t think I could get approved to charge projects for downtime; the government shutdown hit us hard and project budgets are shrinking, so to an extent you take what you can get and don’t complain. Asking for more varied tasks seems more likely to succeed. Most of my managers are PhDs as opposed to MBAs, so an argument grounded in cognitive research may be persuasive. It’s worth a try! Thanks again for the excellent suggestions.

          • jashshea

            I manage 10 people and will say this as a manager – my employees that ask for different tasks are the ones that get them.

            Now, it’s not as if I have a bevy of interesting projects percolating over on the backburner, so if you ask, you may end up with “attend this meeting in my place and tell me what next steps need to happen.” But it’s something different and may take you out of the purely analytical.

            ETA – As an bored employee, I’ll just ask around until I find something that seems interesting and pick it up for a few weeks worth of brain breaks.

  • KatharineSwan

    Argh this, we were doing the hybrid work thing because we couldn’t afford daycare but it was ruining our marriage because we never saw each other so my husband took a job in Seattle that would allow me the flexibility to work from home part time. However this “family friendly” company expects him to work 60-80 hours a week and doesn’t allow 2 days off in a row and our 1 year old has special needs and we have no friends in this dreary city and I am trying to work during nap time. It doesn’t feel like a choice, it feels like we are trapped in a system we can’t thrive in and my level of frustration makes me want a revolution but I am too damn tired to want to participate in one. Blegh!!!

    • disqus_VP2CZ2FN9a

      Hang in there!

      I’ve only known two people who could successfully work during nap time, and their kids consistently slept 16 hours/day (12-13 hours overnight, 3-4 nap). My son didn’t got the memo about this sleep schedule.

      I don’t know what your husband does, but it could be worth a conversation about looking for a job at Microsoft. The benefits are amazing – both for child care and medical (not as good as they were a few years ago, but still good).

      And here’s some more unsolicited advice:
      Have you found your neighborhood’s blog or mom-listserv? (most of the Seattle neighborhoods have these)
      Also, there are a lot of co-op preschools that your daughter is the right age for. They’re usually less expensive than preschool, and it’s a way to meet other families.

    • KC

      That sounds insane and very, very hard. I hope you find the resources and answers you need soon!

      (I’m going to throw in an unsolicited recommendation that I toss at anyone who moves to the PNW: Vitamin D supplementation and/or a sunlamp may make some things better. Seasonal Affective Disorder really hits a lot of people hard.)

  • Elle

    I moved to the U.S. from Sweden because of my parents’ work, attended an American middle and high school, graduated, stayed for college even though I knew my family would be moving home. I think it seemed like an exciting place to live while I was still a student, but I only lasted a few months as an employee before starting to panic that this was all a huge mistake. I’d have been ready to pack my bags right then except, predictably, I’d fallen for an American in college and I wasn’t ready to break up. Now my family’s back in Stockholm, I share a life with a U.S. citizen who has no desire to ever live abroad, and I’m stuck in a job that stresses me half to death but that I’m afraid to leave because the benefits are generous by American standards.

    I have three weeks’ vacation and I’m supposed to feel lucky. In Sweden I’d be guaranteed a minimum of five. I’d like to work for myself someday but here I have to worry about health insurance; in Sweden I wouldn’t. Politics are sane there. There’s a modern rail network. Gender roles aren’t medieval. Social policies are better in just about every respect. And I’d see my sister, my best friend, more than once a year (twice if I’m lucky).

    Love keeps me here, but I’ve been wondering more often lately if love is enough. I want to spend my life with him, but I’m constantly suppressing doubts about whether I’m another idiot woman giving everything up for a man (and to think I always assumed I’d be single well into my thirties), if it’s the worst mistake of my life and I’m bound to regret it (I’m afraid to be a parent here), or if in the end it will have been worth it.

    • BreckW

      Hugs to you. That’s a lot to be working through. Just wondering, and you absolutely don’t have to answer, why doesn’t he want to live abroad ever?

      • Elle

        One reason I fell for him initially was that he read The Economist and spoke intelligently about foreign affairs, which I thought indicated curiosity about and interest in the wider world. That was true to the extent that he appreciates the world an intellectual exercise, but he finds actual, physical travel stressful and the idea of moving (even within a city, never mind state or country) many times more so. He’s also doubtful about his ability to find employment outside the U.S., which is a fair concern considering he chose as his specialty (three or four years into our relationship, after we’d already agreed we wanted to get married) a domestic subfield within public policy with few international applications.

        I sound bitter when I explain this, but I do understand his choices and don’t resent them as such. It’s more a question of whether our lives are fundamentally reconcilable. I want them to be, but I don’t have absolute and unwavering faith in it, and that scares me.

        But I don’t have absolute and unwavering faith that I’d be happy in Stockholm either, so until I have some sort of divine revelation (and I’m an atheist, so it’s unlikely) I’ll be wavering between the two.

    • B

      If you’re miserable here, why isn’t he willing to consider moving abroad for love? I think that we often see love as something that women should sacrifice for without asking the men if they’d consider it.

      • Elle

        I just answered this in my comment to BreckW, but in short, he dislikes change and he chose a career specialty (a subfield of American public policy) that isn’t easily transferable anywhere else. I didn’t see that side of his personality until we’d been together several years, and he spent three years studying international development before switching to the domestic. It didn’t seem like something we should break up over when everything else was going so well, but it is probably a pretty fundamental incompatibility. We’re making it work but it would certainly be easier if my family were from Hartford or Long Island.

        The other part of it is that there’s a perfectly rational argument why we should stay here. I’m fluent in English while he speaks very little Swedish (I’m not a good teacher). We have degrees from somewhere quite prestigious in the U.S. but barely known anywhere else. I’ve been here since middle school; all my friends are American.

        I think on some level it just seems very abstract to leave a country where you have an otherwise decent life because of politics and attitudes toward work and gender. I’d feel guilty forcing it, even if in some respects it would feel like moving half a century into the future.

        That wasn’t short, sorry. It’s not something I can really talk about with many people, so I find myself word-vomiting.

        • B

          *hug * Maybe try some time long-distance and then come back together? You’ll have seen if you’re actually happy in Stolkholm and he can start taking Swedish lessons in the meantime so you’ll both come to the discussion table with more? Just thoughts. It’s a crappy situation and I’m sorry. Good luck. You have someone crossing her fingers for you.

          • Elle

            That’s very good advice, and it’s actually something I am considering, just going over by myself for six months or a year. It would be difficult for him but I think it may be necessary. Having been gone so long I do have an idealized image of what life in Sweden might actually be like, so I think I might need a reality check in that regard. As difficult as long-distance is, I think this might be the kind of thing I’ll drive myself crazy wondering about if I never try.

            Thanks for the hugs and sympathy. I hate to talk about it because I’m aware I sound like the stereotypical America-hating European with a superiority complex (for the record, the number of things I love about America are why I’ve stayed this long despite the negatives!), but I’ve really been struggling with it in the last year.

          • B

            You do not sound like you have a superiority complex to me. You sound like someone who wants to be able to see family and who has a better chance than most of making the move to a country that has a lot of the social support we lack here in the US.

            Then again, I’m someone who actively lobbies my reps for better family leave even though I don’t want kids myself because I think those benefits are in the best interest of society!

        • Sarah

          I would gently say that the definition “decent” is wildly variable. To me decent is a modern rail network, a hard 5 p.m. stop time for work, life that lends itself to walking and high quality food. By many American standards my life is “decent” but I would give it up in heart beat to live in a tiny Swiss studio with my husband. Basically: You shouldn’t let others definition of decent define your own. *hugs*

  • So, one way I handle the total blur of work life balance is by having a super supportive significant other, who tends to remind me frequently that I do a lot of work, even though most of it is unpaid. The thing I think that is overwhelming about the current economic climate is that there are a lot of us, not just me, doing unpaid work, and I am not just talking the unpaid work of stay-at-home partnering/parenting. I am talking the side projects we do to boost our resumes, the unpaid 30 hour per week internships a lot of my younger friends pick up in addition to their bartending jobs just to eventually, maybe, get the job they sort of want.

    I think sometimes too we see people with artistic passions as never working, so as an often unpaid writer, is my writing work or a hobby? Where does improving my talents fall on the work life balance? What about writing for journals and other well-known blogs? Is that work? Is that life?

    And what about school? The graduate degree I am getting isn’t exactly an MBA (it’s in literature). Is that play? Is that work?

    I think we have to have more of these nuanced discussions about work/life balance because the subject is often, to our detriment, portrayed as something much simpler than it is.

    All that is to say, I try to do five min. of yoga a day, and usually I succeed, so I think I’ve got this thing down!

    • ruth

      AutumnE, this is a really great point! I’ve been struggling with this right now, while righting a book (an immense amount of, albeit enjoyable, work, which I’m not getting paid for – but hopefully will in the future). I’ve encountered judgement or perceived judgement from others that my work is not “real” because I don’t have any money to show for it yet, but as long as I can take myself seriously, and my own passions as “real” and valid, that helps quiet the cultural voices. Having a supportive partner helps a lot too.

  • lady brett

    it’s not just that our culture so values work; it’s that most of our non-monetary benefits that could come through a social safety net are attached to work. so i can look at my *income* and say that, really, we could make it if i worked 30 hours a week instead of 40. but drop down from full-time and *poof* you don’t lose 3/4 of your benefits for working 3/4 time, you lose everything (along with which you probably take way more that a 1/4 pay cut).

    it’s not something i *did,* but i think one of the biggest benefits to my “work-life balance” has been that my boss had a kid about a year before we did. he’s a good guy, but i can guarantee the personal experience has made him a lot more understanding of sick kids and doctor’s appointments and not working late.

    the other secret to our current “work-life balance” is that we’ve scrapped almost everything in the “life” category except for family. which is not what i would call balance. but we are actively working toward a becoming a one-job household, which is the only way i can envision us having a real balance between work and life as a family.

    • KC

      Yeah, health insurance, vacation time, sick days, etc., if you’re not full time, they’re *your* problem, not the company’s.

      Freelancing or working part-time, this is work-around-able for some people and not for others. (and people grump about why contractors charge more for “doing the exact same thing” that they earn a lower salary for. Because the contractor is not charging for hours they aren’t working; for the hours spent advertising, negotiating, and doing the “business” side of things like taxes and invoicing; they aren’t getting any benefits; and there’s no guaranteed income – each job might be the “last”, you still need to pay rent, and I don’t think you get unemployment if you’re self-employed and just don’t manage to land another contract!).

    • Meg Keene

      I mean, it’s worse than just benefits: you scrap your CAREER if you move to less than 40 hours… and everything that might go with it. We can’t even talk about David going down to a 35 hour work week because… it’s not a thing you can do if you ever want to move up ever.

      Is. Sucks.

      • Kestrel

        Yup. I’m an engineer and while you can find places that are 40 hour week jobs, that is the absolute minimum, and the majority of places expect you to be at work for longer than that. So most people have at least a 45-50 hour work week. Sure, an extra hour a day doesn’t seem like much, but when you start adding that up…

        There are literally no part time options I have ever seen. I’ve heard of one once, and one women I worked with in an internship did get to come back as part time during her ‘maternity leave’.

        So particularly because it’s a male dominated field and I feel as if I have to do more to be seen as equal, I cannot work for less than 45 hours a week.

        • Kaitlyn

          I am an engineer, too! I have found the same thing to be true. In my first career oriented position, I was working 50 hours a week and being trained by a female/engineer/mother who WAS part time. Guess what? She got laid off 6 months later. So much for that idea. I switched jobs recently and the hours are more reasonable (40-ish?) and I always wonder if my new company would allow a full time option…. Those extra hours DO add up – I even see it between 45 hours and 40 hours, I feel more free! And talk about shaving 10-15 minutes off my commute. It’s sad these little things that make me feel like I got a good deal going…

      • lady brett

        right. that. careers are so far off my radar right now that my brain entirely skipped that tidbit. ugh.

  • ruth

    I recently reached the point where I realized the ‘corporate ladder’ just wasn’t worth climbing for me (because the people “higher up” just seemed even more stressed out and miserable than I was). When I was laid off from my old corporate job (which seemed like a tragedy at the time, but ended up being the best thing that’s ever happened to me) I ended up leaving the corporate world entirely. I am now self-employed, pursuing the career I’d always dreamed of. The money isn’t much yet. I am very lucky to have a partner who is willing to support me while I get on my feet. The biggest lessons I’ve been learning about work-life balance is to let go of my fears of what others will think of me and how they will judge me because of my life path. There are days that I feel like a failure because I’m not “working hard enough,” since I work less hours as a self-employed person – however, I am actually far more productive, because I work less hours, but am more mentally clear and present during the time I do work. I also have to let go of the fear that I am a “failure of feminism” because my husband is financially supporting us. Maybe one day the roles will reverse. But right now, we agree that this path is best for our sanity. I feel extremely lucky that we are even able to have such options; far too many don’t. But I think it takes great courage in America to say ‘enough of the rat race; it’s not for me. I choose a different path.’

    • JenClaireM

      This: “But I think it takes great courage in America to say ‘enough of the rat race; it’s not for me. I choose a different path.'” This is so true, and I really applaud you for doing it. More and more, I think self-employment is the right path for me, although never having done it, I can barely imagine it. It’s encouraging to read comments like this – and all of Meg’s posts – and know how many women have taken the leap and succeeded.

      • ruth

        JenClaire, thank you. I’m still figuring it out. I think it realistically may take a few years before my self-employed career becomes a viable income, and I’m lucky to have the support of my partner in the meantime. I think the biggest lesson has been that it takes time, longer than I ever would have thought – but if I keep pursuing my dream with concrete steps every day, eventually it will happen

    • A.

      YES. This is exactly what I was trying to say in my comment, only you said it better :-) I don’t WANT to be the biggest dog at the office. I am willing to pay that price, I just wish the only penalty was in a lower salary and longer time between raises, instead of people taking me less seriously as a professional. I don’t want to feel bad about making what is the right choice for me and my family. I wish my (female) boss’ eyes didn’t bug out when I told her in my review meeting that “I might be pregnant in a year” (at which time I will be married, 28, and gainfully employed; why is it so shocking that I might be having/wanting to have a baby??) I see very few women in my field, and even fewer whose work-life balances I want. I don’t want it all, but I do want to make my own choices and have them be respected.

      Also, if you haven’t seen the comic below (it went viral a few months back) it’s pretty much covers all my feelings on work-life balance. “Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement” and I am getting a sense that a huge part of it is being able to say, ‘F*$! it, this is the right decision for me and my family’ and then just DOING IT. Easier said than done though, especially for me!

      • A

        Her eyes may have bugged not at the idea of you being pregnant, but at the idea that you would bring it up at work. It’s never really something I’ve seen discussed much in offices since it can be difficult to get pregnant and end up not happening, you know?

    • BreckW

      I’m so glad to read your comment. When we get back to the states in March, I’m going to be pursuing self employment, and I’m a little terrified. I have a tough time with balance–I either go way over board or end up marathoning 30 Rock, when left to my own devices–so this is going to be a huge test. My boyfriend and I are actually going to be investing a not-small amount of money into my dream business, so I’m also shitting a brick about frittering away our hard-earned savings. I’m going to keep your comment in mind in the coming months, so thanks.

    • Exactly. Currently, I work fewer “hours” than I used to at my corporate job. But unsurprisingly it doesn’t feel like less, because I’m as productive or more productive than I used to be, unchained from the desk. The bonus being that my house is (somewhat) cleaner.

      • Meg Keene

        LUCY IS A PRODUCTIVE MONSTER. We should all be scared. She’s going to eat the world and do everyone’s job in 8 hours soon.

        • *cues up the Jaws theme*

    • Yes, this! I’m a librarian II (that’s professional-degreed but not upper management, fyi) and I honestly don’t *want* to move up to being a librarian III. I don’t *want* to, say, be in charge when the library director is out of town. I don’t *want* half my day to be meetings. I genuinely enjoy being more of a on-the-floor librarian than a behind-the-scenes librarian. I’m happy staying at the II level, even if it means not getting higher pay long-term (“higher” being relative in library-land anyway!). I know my strengths and likes, and being the person running more things just doesn’t appeal to me!

      • KISig

        Yay for librarians! I recently had a conversation with my manager where I said pretty much the same thing. I like being a librarian and the further up I move, the further away I move from what I like about my job. Maybe at some point I’ll want the added responsibility (and bigger paycheck), but I’m certainly in no rush to move up just because I can.

      • Elle Bee

        Librarian love! I just started my career, making a change from the corporate world. I spent two and a half years going to grad school (while working full time) to get a job that pays slightly (not much) less than I was making. And honestly. Totally worth it. Actually enjoying my job has made all the difference in how I feel about waking up every day.

        And good for you in knowing where you will be happy and therefore probably work best. Too many people keep going up because they think they’re supposed to rather than they want to. This does not lead to having positive and motivating management.

  • Lisha

    Great topic! And I see that some posts have already mentioned maternal/parental leave so I will pick up on that. I was shocked to recently discover that the US has poor maternal/parental leave policies especially in this day and age. I didn’t know it was that bad and can only imagine how hard it must be to go back to work with a newborn and come home and still make time for your family plus chores, appointments, etc.

    I feel fortunate to have the option to take a paid year off (I’m in Canada). As a upcoming mom, this is one of the area’s where I’m left confused about how my work/life balance is going to be after I have my baby and even when I return to work. Right now, it’s pretty ok. Yes, life is busy but I’m able to work and still have time to spend with my family and friends. In a way, I guess it all comes down to career choices. I highly value work/life balance but lets be honest, some careers have a better work life balance than others.

    My question to new moms, do you have any tips or advice on how to balance work/life with a baby? Everyone tells me my whole world is going to change but I guess I won’t know until I get there. How do you make it work? Does your spouse an integral role and how? Do you feel like you still get time for yourself?

    • Glen

      I don’t think there is such a thing as work/life balance with a baby (at least not in the 10 months I’ve experienced). :-) Work is, well, work, and life now is now mostly baby-time. Admittedly I have a bit of skewed situation in that we don’t have a good support network of family/friends in our area. I was home mostly alone the first 3 months on maternity leave (paid: 8 weeks from company, 2 weeks from vacation time, 2 weeks from state of CA — I later learned I could have had another 4 weeks, but by the time my company figured that out, I had already committed to being back at work on a certain day). I learned to take showers at night when hubby was home, to sleep when she slept in the morning, and to do things when she napped in the afternoon. We’re lucky that my husband is a teacher and his vacation started around when my maternity leave ended. When school started, she began going to an excellent daycare. Because he’s a teacher and gets more vacation than I do, he stays home when she’s sick, or daycare’s closed, or she has a check-up to go to.

      My thoughts:
      (1) as parents, we’re a team: I make dinner, he takes her for a walk; he washes dishes, I play with her (to be honest, he’s probably better with her than I am);
      (2) we negotiate time for ourselves the same way (and we occasionally hire a babysitter for a date night, but that’s only been in the past few months);
      (3) I don’t know how I’d survive without Amazon prime (oh, and zulily);
      (4) my house cleaning service is so worth it;
      (5) I try to go to bed no more than 1 hr after she does and to sleep as much as possible on weekends (I can’t remember the last time I slept through the night — early pregnancy?);
      (6) our doctor recommended taking her for walks twice a day to get natural light (even filtered through a light blanket), which helped adjust her internal clock and was nice for me too;
      (7) getting into a routine helps, even if it’s a very loose one;
      (8) I’m amazed at how much my heart sings when she smiles — it makes it all worth it and then some

      • Lisha

        Thanks for responding! You two seem to have a great system that works! I need to talk more with my hubby and reemphasize team work… I guess that’s what I’m afraid of, that everything will be placed on me. I love your doctors advice! Will definitely try that! :)

  • Lauren from NH

    Two things that I think do wonders is our short commute and small apartment. Less time commenting and less time cleaning. It almost makes me never want a house or want to jump on the tiny house movement. Makes us have less stuff and be more organized. The space feels more cozy too since it’s all lived in. I realize where one lives isn’t exactly a stratagy people can choose to adopt, but I think it helps.

    • Kaitlyn

      This idea is what I envision, but I bought a house (which I love and want and can maintain) but I got a job that is 30 minutes away on the best days. I admire your choice and ability to live the way you are!

  • ruth

    Two other things I found incredibly helpful for the work life balance (both while working in the corporate world, and now being self employed): 1) Taking a smart-phone “Sabbath” on at least one weekend day (i.e. every Saturday, I turn my phone off for a full 24 hours and don’t even look at it – no voicemails, no emails, nothing. It is amazing how much this decreases my stress!) 2) Relaxing my domestic standards. No one is going to die because our apartment is a little messy. I think there’s this huge pressure on women to have these Martha Stewart like homes – which is great, if you enjoy it – but I realized ‘basically sanitary’ is enough for me, it doesn’t need to be ‘neat and tidy’ – that’s just never going to be me. Also, cooking when I genuinely feel inspired to, but other times eating “picnic food” – vegetable crudites, fruit, healthy meats, cheeses, whole grain toast, yogurt – instead of dirtying up the kitchen to cook a big meal. It’s amazing how much more free time I have to read since I started relaxing my domestic standards.

    • YES to “picnic food”!!

    • emilyg25

      We do “single lady dinner” sometimes. (It’s what I ate a lot when I was single.) Olives, meat, cheese, and bread or crackers, with a glass of wine. :)

      • Laura C

        I wish I could do this! It would be so convenient, but that kind of food just never leaves me feeling like I’ve had a meal. So I eat and eat and eat and I’m still unsatisfied. My single lady dinner is slapping a chicken breast and some sliced peppers in a pan to eat with barbecue sauce or honey mustard, and making a salad while they cook.

      • BD

        Oooh I do this a lot too! Really an excellent dinner.

      • Kaitlyn

        This is my favorite dinner and always will be. I ate it when I was a single lady and my kids will probably eat it one day too – I’m okay with that :)

    • KC

      I *really* like hot food, but breakfast-for-dinner (not much prep, not many pans) and/or big fat pots of easy soup/stew/chili/curry that’ll make leftovers for the next few lunches or dinners are some of the ways I get that done without having to use recipes or measuring cups/spoons. But yeah, even the goal of a balanced diet is really *generally* balanced; you can have a meal of popcorn occasionally, and that’s fine!

      (and picnic food is even a balanced diet!)

      (also: no Martha Stewart home here. It is homey and generally clean and we like it, but not so much on the matchy-matchy [and *really* not so much on the Seasonal Decorations], and there is often dust and/or clutter on the end table, and that’s not really that big of a deal, frankly.)

    • Kelly

      I am lucky to have a supervisor and work environment that promotes a fairly healthy work-life balance. I’m in Student Affairs at a university (hint: students don’t stop at 5pm) and we work crazy amounts of nights and weekends, but if I need to comp some hours, I can. It also helps that we all do our work because we love it and are passionate about our students (because lets be real, this paycheck isn’t doing it)

      However… I’m a self-sabotager. When I go home, I have lots of time. So why, oh why, am I ever on facebook!?? I do NOT need to check my email past 5pm. Screens have become a huge time-waster for me and I get very little substance or fulfillment out of it.

      New goal: use my time wisely. On things that need to get done, but mostly on things that I love. This quote/image has helped me a lot: http://thegiraffelife.blogspot.com/2013/05/dust-if-you-must.html

      “Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better to paint a picture or write a letter or bake a cake, plant a seed? Wonder the difference between want and need” -rose milligan

      • Caitlin_DD

        Oh what a fantastic quote! Thank you for sharing that. I can heartily relate to the unfulfilling screen time problem (and also, up until recently, being a student)!

      • CJ

        My eyes were bothering me from windburn at the beginning of this week and it made me start to think of how much time I’m spending on my computer all day. Hours at work. Then home I’m on facebook or Twitter or answering e-mails. Why? I just did that all day at work! It’s definitely something I need to work on!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Huge changes (socialized medicine? mandatory maternity leave?) are beyond me. Some small changes-

    Bosses, dump face time! At my old firm, I might exchange 3 words a day with my co-workers, and really only work a few hours, but I was a valued employee because I was THERE all the time. Really, I could review those documents faster comfy at home than stiff and cold at my desk at the office, and I’d have 2 more hours a day to work if I didn’t have to commute.

    Everyone, do less! Smaller homes take less time to clean. (Americans also have huge homes.) Redbook magazine suggests an hour and fifteen minutes of exercise daily, but the American Heart Association recommends only 20 minutes. I’m sure most of us can be healthy somewhere in between. Cap your children’s extracurriculars. Cleanliness is not next to godliness. Etc.

    • KB

      A-freaking-men to the “no-facetime” plea. I could be picking my nose in my office all day and night and I’d be considered more valuable than if I reviewed 2000+ docs a day at home. It’s a completely twisted system where people assume that “working from home” is code for “eating bonbons and being lazy.” I think it’s a mindset perpetuated by the very people who don’t work from home when they say they are – so they’re assuming you’re not working either :-p

    • JenClaireM

      Yes to smaller homes! I was just thinking this morning about how I could not imagine being in charge of more space. My husband and I rent a comfortably sized two bedroom, and sometimes it feels a little small to me – but then I remember that it’s because 1. we have too much stuff and 2. we don’t need that stuff or more space – we just need to use what we have more wisely. I think as a society we’d all be so much better off if we focused on having less and making better use of it, instead of acquiring more stuff, and then more space to put it in, all of which necessitates more money, which we have to spend more hours working to earn. Less can definitely be more – which is not an idea I think Americans are much accustomed to anymore.

    • YES to dumping face time. Or at least the notion that being at my office X hours a day = ideal productivity. Part of what made me so good as a corporate designer was the fact that I am EFFICIENT AS FUCK, which is not at all rewarded. Oh, you can get twice the work done that your coworkers can in 8 hours? Great, have three times the work for less pay.

      • Sarah E

        Exactly. It works the other way, too. If I sit in one space all day long, I am not efficient At. All. I need to move around, to go get coffee, change my surroundings, eat lunch out occasionally, in order to stay inspired and motivated. I definitely need face-time, but it doesn’t count if it’s my face staring at my office walls.

    • MC

      “Redbook magazine suggests an hour and fifteen minutes of exercise daily, but the American Heart Association recommends only 20 minutes. I’m sure most of us can be healthy somewhere in between.”

      This is a great reminder. My friend told me one day about a woman in her biking group that had gone on a run in the morning, done a spin class during her lunch break, and then went on a very hilly bike ride that evening – all in one day! I, on the other hand, am perfectly content only doing a long run/work-out two or three times a week and just walking around everywhere the rest of the days. If exercising an hour and fifteen minutes every day (or more!) is a priority for someone, go for it, but I don’t know where I would find that kind of time.

      • Laura C

        Or the seven-minute workout! Which I was like, whatever, it’s an app, it’s not for real, but apparently it comes from an actual sports medicine journal. So now when I’m not going to make it to the gym or for a long walk (like, say, when it’s too damn cold) I do it. Better than nothing, anyway.

        • BreckW

          I actually started doing circuit work outs a few weeks ago so that I could get some sneaky strength training in (just doing bicep curls is so. freaking. boring. for me), and I’m really loving them! All the ones I’ve tried take less than 20 minutes and leave me WIPED. I’ve been working my way through this page:


    • Lily

      I have to say, I’m very conflicted about the dump facetime/up with flex-time mantra.

      In my old job as an associate at a large firm, face time couldn’t have mattered less. If you got your work done, no one cared if you were doing it from home, on the couch, at odd hours, whatever. I knew people who never came in before 10am. BUT the big flip-side of that flexibility is this: if you can work from anywhere, any time … there’s no reason you can’t be working *all the time.* (Except, you know, staying sane and living a life. Details.)

      In any case, I now work for a much smaller non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to low-income individuals. It’s pretty much a 9-to-5 gig, with a late night or working weekend here and there. But my boss is fanatical about face time, and my office is directly across the hall from hers, so there’s no flying under the radar.

      In most ways, my work-life balance now is undeniably better. Not once have I been awoken by work emailing or calling after 9pm, which used to happen routinely in my old job. I can usually fit in a trip to the gym and/or cooking dinner after work. At the same time, I find it much harder to fit in oil changes, dentist appointments, trips to the post office … all those 9-to-5 errands, as it is much harder to get away from the office during the day than it used to be. And when I have to burn an hour of sick or personal time to do those things, even though I know I’m still going to work 8 hours that day, it drives me nuts.

      So, I’m not sure what the perfect balance is. Or whether there is one. And I second (or third or whatever) the sentiment so many have voiced: I’m currently childless but WANT kids and have NO IDEA how my fiance (also a lawyer) will make it work once we have them.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        My old job that so valued face time also did wacky things about 24/7 availability. I particularly hated the calls that came as I was stepping onto the subway. What did they expect me to do away from pen and paper, let alone a computer? They also didn’t provide laptops or smart phones or any remote connectivity.

        But I had some success in training the partners, and I don’t think it hurt me. Every time I came in on Monday morning and they asked about a weekend email, I repeated, “I can’t access work email outside the office.” When they called while I was running errands on Sunday, I said, “I don’t have my office calendar with me. I’ll let you know Monday morning.” Eventually, their expectations adjusted, and I still got interesting assignments.

  • Guest

    I’ll be graduating in May, and I’m worried about how this is going to evolve. I’m still on the job hunt (terrifying!). I’m not immediately worried about work-life balance, as it’ll be just me (God only knows where I’ll be). But I am worried about establishing my place in a career and still taking the opportunity to see the world and explore. I can’t decide whether it’ll be easier or harder a year or two down the road when me and my SO are married.

  • B

    I wonder if we would be willing to make the choices that would support a better overall work/life balance in the US. It would involve a fundamental change in our culture I think — supporting businesses and companies that actually have work/life balance, voting for higher taxes to support the ability to require that companies all provide leave, etc. It’s also something we’re often afraid to talk about because we feel like we have no agency.

    I had one job where I should have known going in that it would be bad, but it was a field about which I was passionate (animal welfare). The CEO of the shelter interviewed me and asked if I was committed to getting things done. I said that I was. She asked something about hours and that this wouldn’t be a 9-5 job. I said that I understood that one couldn’t always have 40 hour work weeks, that there would be weeks when there was more than normal happening. She laughed and said that she couldn’t remember her last 40 hour week. I thought that she was joking and also worked more hours as our CEO, plus that she likely meant she averaged around 45-50 which I didn’t think was too bad. She was also earning more than $205,000 a year ($50,000+ more than the head of a respected national group that also runs a sanctuary and multiple shelters around the country) when the majority of animal care staff were on SNAP to feed their families, so no, at that amount of money, I didn’t expect her to work only 40 hours a week given the need for improvements at the shelter.

    I took the job and a few months in realized that I was almost always working 60-75 hour weeks, exhausting myself, and with such low pay that I couldn’t even use the money to cope with the lost time (hiring a cheap cleaning service or ordering high quality food — I was barely able to afford a tiny studio apartment with my boyfriend due to how low my salary was). I kept track of my time for two weeks and then brought it to a meeting I’d requested with my boss and asked if there was anything where she thought I was spending too much time. She identified a 30 minute task (spending time with dogs before taking them to adoption events to ensure that they would be appropriate for the venue and expected crowd) that she thought I could get rid of and said that everything else seemed fine and about the amount of time that I should be working.

    I started looking that day and just stopped doing the tasks that weren’t in my core job description and didn’t directly contribute to getting animals adopted and out of that shelter (for example, taking dogs to last-minute fundraising events with crowds who historically hadn’t adopted on my days off that I was told about with less than 24 hours notice) so that I was working 50 hours a week and no more. I was soon fired. I’m still glad I stood up for myself — I ended up with a better job elsewhere in animal welfare for more money and a boss who regularly reminded me to take time off and to not overwork myself because I couldn’t help animals if I burned out.

    • Amy

      Wow. Just… wow.

      Good for you for moving on to bigger, better, and more balanced things!

      • B

        Thanks. It was hard but a good lesson for me. I worked a few months in between as a dog walker and saw a very different side of life! My favorite was a house where I wasn’t allowed to use the main bathroom but had to use the staff bathroom :)

        I want to be passionate about my work, but I also want to have enough where I’m not constantly struggling to pay rent :) It taught me a lot about balance even though it was a crappy lesson!

  • I’m really struggling with coming to terms with how potentially demanding of me it’s going to be to have this baby (I’ve spent the last 2 years struggling with infertility and rambling on about it here & elsewhere and finally, IVF worked!) — after moving to a new rural place far away from all friends/family for my career, he was unable to get something that paid well. So I’m the head breadwinner by leaps and bounds. This means that when this baby comes, it’s cheaper for us for him to stay home with him/her rather than continue at his barely-above-minimum-wage PT job (we used to earn similar incomes!), and for me to continue working. This also means we only get the ~luxury~ of my using 6 weeks of my earned PTO, and that’s all I get before going back to work full-time. To make ends meet, he’ll have to find something with a few hours per week, whenever I get home from work, since my salary alone also can’t 100% float us.

    I love my career. To be honest, I feel really frustrated because I love my job, but also feel very pressured. If ANYTHING happens between now and July that takes away sick time from me, that’s maternity leave I directly lose, because I’m the sole breadwinner and can’t rely on his income to tide us over if I want more time post-birth. And of course he’s busy feeling guilty that he’s not “being a provider” and dealing with a certain amount of not-being-a-MAN judgements/social pressures he feels as a result of our situation even though I keep telling him staying at home IS providing for us, because it’s the only way we can swing childcare without him just working FT to make us break even given the job opportunities or lack thereof out here. And of course since we’re all alone away from friends and family, I’m also scared shitless because we are totally totally on our own for this. If we need help, TOO BAD. Balance? I’m worried about just staying afloat.

    I *want* us to have more balance. I want us both to get that time with the baby, and not have one of us feel mostly all the financial burden of making sure we eat, or guilty about not meeting the social expectations of Being A Man. But that’s the way it is. It kind of sucks. I’m not sure what to do about it. I love my job and I’m doing what I love, but it’s come at such a price — my husband struggling to get a better job out here, being away from family and friends at this time when we’d love to be near, massive financial stress since I just feel enormously at fault whenever things are tight, which is a bit irrational… In short, I’m struggling with even envisioning how this will be anything other than a total clusterfuck. :-S Does everyone feel this way about managing childcare though? Maybe everyone goes through this panic.

    (On a sidenote, whenever I want to comment using Google Chrome as my browser, APW loads all the other post images below the post but above the comments in such a way that it looks wonky and blocks me from commenting because the images hover wildly over the wrong parts of the page. Does that make sense? I had to switch to Safari.)

    I hate that I have no guaranteed paid leave. If I, say, get in a car crash between now and then, and still have a baby to have….yeah, I don’t know what would happen. Not eat, but stay home? Go back to work the day after? Who fucking knows.

    • Catherine McK

      Hugs lady. I’m due in 9 weeks and while overall the situation is totally different I think that yes, perhaps everyone feels that way about managing childcare. At least to some extent. I mean, for one thing we’re trying to figure it all out for a person we don’t even know yet! Best of luck as you two (then three) navigate the waters ahead. And I’m sure there’s a post or two in there somewhere.

      • Yeah, so much is planning on things I can’t really guarantee. I don’t know if, maybe, we’ll end up in the NICU, or I’ll need to take leave earlier than the time I go into labor, or if there are other complications that are going to make me really want/need more time. It’s hard to be calm about these total unknowables!

    • KC

      Family emergency medical leave? I don’t remember what exactly all the conditions are, and I don’t think it comes with money, and it depends on how large your employer is, etc., etc., but it might be worth checking into for some peace of mind.

      The other thing is that it’d be great to build some local community now if you can. Mom groups, community groups, church groups, etc. can all lend a hand. Meet local students to see about possible emergency babysitting options.

      (also, sometimes parents/relatives plan to travel to help with/see the new baby. This is sometimes more helpful than other times. If you have a student in the family/friend connection somewhere, though, who you can tolerate living with, it might be worth shipping him/her out during the summer (until fall semester starts), before your PTO runs out – travel expenses and board and lodging in exchange for some errand running and/or some diaper-changing/babysitting? It doesn’t sound like you’re in a Fascinating and Thriving Metropolis, but it still might be interesting for some students to experience a different spot. And that might increase the amount of time you have available for adjusting and figuring things out?)

      (and yes! staying at home *is* providing for you in this case! absolutely!)

      • Unfortunately we live in a one-bedroom, and really aren’t equipped with the space for a student to be in-home help (even our parents can’t stay with us when the visit after the baby is born!) :( That, and I really don’t know any teenagers — it’s weird, my friends from my old city are all about my age with little ones, or else….my age without little ones. I may ask around my job though to see if anybody has recommendations for emergency babysitting.

        We’ve definitely been trying to create a village for ourselves, but it’s been slow-going since it’s, as you put it, not a thriving metropolis, and it doesn’t pull in young professionals to meet and make friends with. (The UU church my atheist husband and I tried was waaaaay more Jesus-centric than the one in our old big city had been, too! That’s the south for you!)

        • KC

          There may be groups organized around different things (polka? knitting?) whereby you can adopt a group of retired ladies or similar? (there are often groups around that are “aging out” and they tend to be thrilled with younger people and also very, very excited about babies. If there’s a community center, you may be able to look at their full calendar to see what’s going on, including the things that people have given up on advertising.) It’s not the same as peer friends, but an adopted extended family is an awesome force.

        • L

          Finding a church can be challenging, especially when you are struggling to define your own faith. However, I do think churches (especially in the South!) are a great way to meet people who are willing to help. Although I am not the most religious person, when my fiance and I moved across the country from our families, finding a supportive (and liberal) church was something that really helped make us feel at home. Our church has monthly childcare nights, where the deacons offer free childcare for parents who want a bit of time on their own. It’s a great way to meet people who are thrilled to help out a young couple.

    • Claire

      Internet Explorer does the same wonky thing with me – sometimes but not always.

  • Kayjayoh

    I have an OK (for an American) work-life balance, because I have a 37.5 hour a week office job with decent time off. (not amazing time off, but decent)

    My fiance, on the other hand, works remotely and frequently pulls all-nighters and working on the weekend in order to make deadlines. Part of it is his own fault. Since he works remotely he isn’t as on-task during the workday as he could be. Part of it is people in his company sending him huge editing jobs that need to be done Monday morning at the end of the day on Friday. I am dealing with it while we are in WI, but when we move back to MA and he will be in his office on a regular basis again, I have told him that we/he will need to re-address how and when he has to work, for a better balance.

    As for me, I realized while on my recent trip to Seattle that I want to travel more. I’m always going to need to do the Madison-Boston loop on a regular basis, not matter which on I am living in, but I’d like to be able to also go other places without hoarding my vacation time. I need to figure out how to do this.
    One way would be find a job that travels, but I’m not sure I want to travel for a job. From what I’ve seen from friends, it can end up being, “Oh, you wanted to do something in town? Well sorry, we need you to spend three days in the middle of Bumblefuck.” Blerg.

    The other options I can think of are find a job where I can work from anywhere, work for myself (in a way that also allows me to work from anywhere and/or travel to work and/or set aside time off when I need it, or find a job with hella big vacation days.

    • KC

      A “job that travels” is indeed probably not going to meet your needs, unless they’re also solely Madison-Boston (and even then, potentially not). A place that allows you to, say, work from home one day a week or other flexibility options might also be willing to try out a “working from Madison this week” option (with cancellation by either party if it doesn’t seem to be panning out – it can be *HARD* visiting-while-working, since you’re trying to squeeze things in to weird hours and people don’t understand that you’re not really on vacation)(if all the people you’re visiting have to work during work hours, that’s different. But retired relatives/people in college/people on vacation can have a really hard time grasping that you’re not necessarily available.)

      I also know someone who arranged for a salary cut in exchange for an extra chunk of vacation per year. Again, that requires employers (and generally not just your boss, but all the way into accounting/HR) who are willing to think outside the box, though. (I’m sorry, our database can’t deal with that…)

      • Kayjayoh

        Exactly. I am hoping I can make “jobs that start with a lot of time off” a priority in looking for work in Boston, and then hope I can finally stay in one place long enough to accumulate more hours.

        • KC

          Note: if possible, verify with current employees whether they actually take that time off; not so helpful getting time off if your boss won’t approve any of your vacations because they’re not at convenient times for the company, and oddly enough there’s never a convenient time…

          I would also note that some bosses have the “if I have to suffer, everyone has to suffer” sort of mentality; if people don’t feel comfortable leaving the office until the boss leaves the office, that is likely to affect how you feel about taking vacation as well. (And, just, they’re sucky bosses.)

          (but good places that will give you more vacation time in exchange for a lower salary do exist! Or that just plain start with more vacation time! These are just things to keep an eye out for. Best wishes!)

          • Kayjayoh

            My current job sphere is administrative support in academia, so it does come with some build in slow times.

          • KC

            Hooray! As long as the slow times coincide with when you’d want to be jetting out of there, that might work really well.

            With academia, even in administration, there are also often options open for professional development/education, etc., so you might be able to locate short-term classes or conferences or informational visits (picking the brain of someone who does what you do in a different school) or similar that happen to be in the other city, to be not-entirely-on-vacation but spend your evenings/weekends with your people? (this would undoubtedly be easier in the finding-conferences-in-Boston-working-from-Madison direction, though; not quite as many schools in and around Madison as in-and-around Boston, I think?)

  • Jessica

    I thank my lucky stars very frequently that I have 2 part-time hourly jobs. I have more flexibility with one to go over my allotted time per week, so I usually end up working around 40 hours. But between the jobs I get to go to the gym, run errands, or sit and eat lunch in peace if I want.

    The downside to this is that I don’t have a lot of control over the programs and work that I do actually do, am limited in how much I can do at work, and can’t really fill any “extra” time with work–something I kind of want to do right now because the husband is overseas and going out with friends means spending some form of money (whether it’s feeding them or getting to their place for night in, it costs some money, whereas popcorn for dinner is cheap!)

    I also don’t get any paid time off at one job and God forbid I get pregnant while holding these two jobs, I’d be massively screwed.

  • Granola

    At this moment, I feel so out of balance. I just started a new job that I love but that’s got a ton of responsibilities to fulfill and I feel like there aren’t enough hours to do it all, especially since I have a 3-hour round-trip commute because I live so far away. Plus I’m trying to find us an apartment in New York City, which is it’s own kind of hell, even though I love apartment hunting. I know this is temporary but all the sudden it just hit me that I’m so stressed and tired and I can’t wait for it to end. Right now a social life is a direct trade-off with sleep because of the commute. I only make it to the gym on weekends, which I also spend running errands. “This too shall pass” is my mantra right now.

  • Kathleen

    I currently have what would probably be described as a good work.life situation. I work 9-5, am rarely if ever required to work or check e-mail from home, my job is not particularly stressful, my coworkers are great, time off is pretty flexible, and I currently get 3 (next year 4) weeks of paid vacation. And yet I still get home from work, barely have time to get dinner made much less any other chores done before bed, and try to cram all chores and errands in on the weekends – unless we’d like to go see our families, which then means no clean clothes for work and a dirty bathroom going into the next week. Now that I’m expecting a baby, I just can’t figure out where a baby is going to fit into all of this! Add in a commute, and even my 40-hour-a-week job means I’m out of the house for 10 hours a day. It doesn’t seem like it’s even possible for a full-time job to be balanced with a life that includes a baby.

    Assuming s/he will at some point be sleeping through the night (~10 hours, right?), and I am out of the house 10 hours a day, I’ll be spending 2x as many waking hours with my coworkers as with my child daily. A childcare worker will be spending 2x as many waking hours with my child as I will. That doesn’t seem “balanced” at all, not unless work is substantially more important than family – and yet I don’t have a demanding job that requires long hours!

    And while I’m not devoting as much mental energy to thinking about when I will do laundry as to thinking about how much I’ll get to see my child, I simply don’t know when it will happen. How does anyone do it?

  • Gina

    This this this. I have such a hard time with this without kids, I can’t imagine how any one does it WITH. Kudos to all y’all.

    I was hoping and praying we’d get some work-life balance when we we went in on a ski condo with some friends for the winter. But with me working weekends and my husband working at least 80-hour weeks (often in other cities) I can’t see anything but my own stress. I think we’ve gotten up to the condo twice all winter. I hate it, but I don’t know how to fix it! Very interested to read the comments about how others are making it work.

    I think so much of it is who (or what company) you work for. Both my boss and my husband’s boss are super-inflexible, squeeze-the-last-drop-out-of-us types. And I hate myself when I take out my work stress out on my husband, since he’s obviously overworked too. It’s no good for a marriage!

    • lizperk23

      I’m a bit late here, but wanted to say yes, I think the company makes a huge difference. I work in non profit arts, and my company is flexible and artist/family amenable (if not downright oriented). So I can work my 40 hours but flexibly, which lets me go be an artist 15 hrs a week too. Pretty great (though in any given month, I have 3-5 awesome “love-my-job” days, 2-4 terrible “wtf” days, and all the rest are the usual – emailing, spreadsheets, wrangling people internally, externally etc.)

      Where I get a little nervous is – stuff’s going to change. Recently engaged means planning an awesome party but also moving in (city? Suburbs? keeping schools in mind is both premature and necessary…). He works a lot, outside the city. We met through a hobby, so I’m sure we’ll keep that up, but I’m not sure how it all works, if and when we start a family (which we plan to do).

  • carolynprobably

    I think there’s a misconception that your work is not only “what you do” but “who you are.” This is not to say that I’m not passionate about my work, or that I don’t enjoy it, but I refuse to be defined by it. I’ve spent my whole life trying to achieve the next thing, the next degree, the next promotion, whatever. For the first time in my life I’m accepting the fact that I enjoy what I do, and if I stall here (professionally, financially) that that is ok. Perhaps people will wonder why I haven’t gunned for the extra academic publications or tenure professorship, but fuck em. My husband and I are happy.

    • Apples

      The who you are sentiment goes double for owning/running a farm. There is also the general structure that the man runs the farm, whatever hours it takes, and the woman gets the kids dinner and to and from their activities. While there are a few days where emergencies occur and I will definitely work 2 or 3 hours past 5, there’s also days where I can take off 2 hours early to pick up my kid for soccer practice, etc. And neighbors take pride in their long work days, while I rarely talk about the balance I intend to have because I’m afraid it’ll make me seem “less serious”. Like Meg, I’ve chosen the more flexible career of my partnership, which means I’ll be saddled with a lot of sick days, especially ones that involve the kid getting sick once already at school.

    • Jacky Speck

      My fiance loves repeating a story about his high school German teacher, who was from Germany. A major cultural difference she noticed when she came to America? People’s answers to the question, “What do you do?” She said that in Germany, people responded to that question by listing hobbies: “I like to swim,” or “I play chess,” or whatever. In America, people say, “I’m an accountant” or “I’m an engineer.”

      In America we’re trained to “dream big” and always want more. I’m trying to think more like you and be happy where I am. I make enough money to have the lifestyle I want, and save for the future. My job is satisfying, without being overwhelming. That should be enough, as far as work is concerned. The rest should just be living my life.

  • Kathryn

    I’m in a teacher at a pretty intense extended day/extended year school and the workload is a lot… Figuring out how to put in all the necessary hours has been challenging. I’ve found a system that works for me in that I get to work at an ungodly hour in the morning so that I can be home for dinner.

    Here’s the most surprising thing- the toughest part has not necessarily been how to get 70 hrs of work in, but it’s the mental presence I have throughout the day, every day. When I’m with my husband, I feel like I should be getting work done. When I’m working, I feel guilty for not spending quality time with my husband. And also… just because I’m home, doesn’t mean I’m home mentally, or at least in the headspace to enjoy my real life.

    My therapist said to practice mindfulness. Start small. When I’m brushing my teeth, I ONLY think about brushing my teeth. When I cook, I ONLY think about my recipe, the ingredients, how I’m chopping, etc. The practice has bled over into other areas… so I’m slowly learning a new way to think and work, but it’s tough.

    • Alexandra

      I’m a teacher, too, and I wonder if you are in the first five years of your career? I found it incredibly overwhelming and stressful for many years, but at this point I have files and files of lessons and have gotten very efficient at grading papers. I don’t have nearly as many parent calls as I used to, either, because I know how to avoid the types of problems that my inexperience used to create. I just wanted to let you know that it gets much less time and energy consuming after a while to be a teacher. I’ve been at it eleven years and will be having a baby in September, and I’m pretty sure I’m at the point where I could teach in my sleep. I can actually grade papers and have a conversation with my husband at the same time. So I’m hoping to be able to work and be a mom at the same time, and I think I’ll be able to pull it off as long as the baby doesn’t have special needs.

      It gets better! You actually picked a career that CAN lend itself to work/life balance–it just takes a while.

  • Jenni Kissinger

    Everyone in my immediate family are in long-distance relationships, solely due to our jobs. There is no balance, because the best part of life–being with the person you love–isn’t currently an option.

    I feel worst for my parents. They’re trapped with few choices–one can’t just quit their job to be with another. My dad drives 8-10 hours every Friday to see my mom … and then drives those 8-10 hours back on Sunday. Every weekend. I don’t know how he does it. He’s looking for jobs back home, but potential employers can calculate his age and see the writing on the wall. Mom wishes she could get a job that could support them both and bring him back home.

    My sisters live at home, one in college who’s boyfriend is in the same town as my dad, the other has an hour and a half commute to work and her boyfriend 3 hours away–my roommate, actually. Three locations, three couples, and no one where they want to be.

    And me? Well, my fiance and I have been long-distance for 6.5 years. I’m lucky enough that my current job allows me to telecommute, so I make my own 8-hour drive every few weeks or so and spend a week working from the couch in the house we bought. You’d be surprised at how many postdocs and science researchers are in long-distance relationships. The two-body problem confounds everyone’s attempts at balance. Academia/research seems particularly inflexible.

    It’s exhausting applying to job after job … putting all your effort into that cover letter … and hearing nothing. Or interviewing two to three times at one place, and finding out you’re the second choice. The mental strain is draining on all of us.

    My roommate [sister’s boyfriend] has a theory that once one of our situations improve, the rest will follow quickly after. I’m still waiting for a call about a job …. and I sure hope he’s right.

    • Rachael

      Agreed on academia/research being particularly inflexible. One of the researchers in my previous lab was living in the US with the kids while her husband was living and working in Germany. They did that for two years. I can’t even imagine.

      As for me, the two-body issue was a major issue in relationships I had with other scientist/researchers during graduate school. How can you both take the best opportunity each time and still have a relationship? Most of the people I knew who were making it “work” were taking turns on opportunities. Of course, we all know that science/engineering women who are in relationships with science/engineering men (which is the majority of science/engineering women who are actually married – and the marriage rates are pretty low) are usually the ones in the relationship who forsake career making opportunities.

      It’s so hard, I know. I wish you the best of luck and hope your situation improves!

      • malkavian

        It’s really ridiculous how inflexible academia actually IS, especially when all of my professors sold it as ‘you will have a flexible schedule even if you work a lot!’

  • Pamela

    I think for me, having balance comes down to doing less and lowering my standards. I think as others have said, we (women, mostly, I think) have these ridiculous standards that we hold ourselves to – perfect houses, perfect careers, perfect bodies, etc etc. For example, it’s not enough to for women to be healthy and well groomed as a man would be (daily shower + haircut), no we must be hot. And in style. And fit into skinny jeans. It’s not enough to have a comfortable home free of pests and mold – we have to have it decorated and super clean. Not to mention having a career that pays in the 6 figures and is deemed socially acceptable. And on and on and on. Arguably, this quest for perfection in things that might not actually matter to us keep us from having time/energy to focus on the stuff that would *really* help us – better child care options, more affordable healthcare, stronger communities.
    Anyway, here are things that have really worked for me – keep in mind we don’t have kids yet, but my husband is…a bit reluctant on the chore-sharing front:
    1. A short commute – I used to have a 30-45 min commute (each way – not bad AT ALL in CA, I might add). Then we moved closer to where we work (luckily our jobs are in the same area) and my commute went down to about 5 mins. I realize I’m super lucky, and that this is not practical for everyone, but it’s definately something to think about.
    2. Simple meals. I’m a damn good cook, but does that mean I need to put a fancy dinner on the table every day? No. Leftovers are your friends. So is take out, and Papa Murphy’s, taco night, and Trader Joe’s. Canned beans are delicious. Salmon, cous cous (whole wheat if you like), and bagged salad make a great dinner. Your co-workers won’t care if the birthday cake came from a mix. In fact, maybe they’d prefer it if you got a great cake from the grocery store instead of making the cake yourself. I plan meals a week in advance and go to the store once, on Saturdays. Use the fresh stuff (lettuce, fish, berries) at the beginning of the week and the heartier stuff (canned beans, spinach, kale, squash) at the end of the week to reduce waste/spoilage.
    3. Only clean stuff when it’s actually dirty. If you see dirt in your toilet, spray and wipe with the brush. Sweep the floor when you see crud on it. Those disinfecting wipes are genius. Otherwise, ignore it. Does anyone these days want “kept the floor clean enough to eat off of” on her tombstone? No.
    4. Simplify your wardrobe – if you can, find a “uniform” that works for you. For me, it’s dresses. I don’t have to try to match two pieces, I can accessorize if I feel like it, and I look good. Done and done. Also, find a tailor. That way when you find an item that you love that just needs a little adjustment, you know who to take it to, rather than scouring the mall for the perfect thing.
    5. Online shopping. Amazon rocks. Enough said.
    6. Set boundaries. We’ve “trained” our families that family dinners and other get-togethers happen on Saturday nights, period (except for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day). We like to keep our Sundays free of outside obligations. Similarly, if you can, set boundaries at work. Could I work 50, 60 hours a week? Sure, there’s plenty to do. Do I actually have to? No. (obv, your mileage may vary with your boss/circumstances, but think about it)
    7. Let it go. We don’t have to be rockstars in every area of our lives. Really.
    Of course, this is all a work in progress and it’s what works for me right now. I also know that because money isn’t super duper tight, I have more wiggle room to, say, just order something off Amazon rather than looking for the best possible deal. But I do notice if I start drifting away from the stuff above, I get WAY more stressed out and I have less time for fun stuff. So it’s what I do to stay sane.

    • Jacky Speck

      Yes to all of this, especially #6. Work will always be there, and you could probably advance faster if you put in tons of extra effort. But we’re talking about “having enough,” not “having it all,” and that means setting boundaries.

      If you’re a valuable contributor at your company then you probably have more leverage than you think when it comes to standing up for your work/life balance. Training new employees costs money, and companies don’t want to lose people who already have the necessary experience. If you’ve been there long enough, your employer probably knows that 40 hours of your time is better than 60 hours from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.

      If your employer isn’t ok with your setting reasonable boundaries? Look for another job. I know it’s easier said than done for many people in this economy, but it’s worth it to at least try. I went from a job that took over my life to one that actually encourages employees to “have a life.” Good work/life balance = happy employees, and happy employees = more productive employees. I can’t believe more employers don’t recognize that.

  • Tania

    I have 6 work days left at the job I’ve poured my life into for 10 years before my husband and I leave London and take a year-long sabbatical in the mountains in Albania growing grapes and making wine. I am blissed out at the thought that I will have 52 consecutive Mondays where I won’t wake up dreading going to work. We’ve worked our asses off to be able to pull this off. It’s going to be so worth it! Now that’s work/life balance!

    • Kathleen

      It’s a good point that balance doesn’t necessarily have to mean it all happens at once – devoting yourself to work for a while so you can devote yourself to life for a while after that can count, too, if you can handle it.

    • L

      Congratulations! That sounds absolutely incredible.

  • Anon

    It sucks. I’m the breadwinner and I feel obligated to keep pushing and climbing. (We made a decision that I would go after my career because it’s more lucrative and has relatively more normal hours.)

    I manage two offices and usually only take a normal lunch once a month and work from home at least 2 nights a week. I am trying to achieve better work-life balance, but it seems impossible when Congress keeps screwing with budgets so that we are constantly in a rush period.

    I hit a new low on Monday, which was a holiday in the US and my husband’s birthday. I worked form home. I felt like such an a$$. My husband says he feels like he only has a wife on weekends.

  • Sara P

    My work-life balance is acceptable right now, I guess. I work 40, and I could work more, but there’s not much pressure to do so. We work out just about every night (very important to the man) and pull some sort of dinner together just about every night (which is very important to me, I’m working on ways to make it better/easier). And we usually go to bed at nine (non-negotiable for the man)! Hobbies and going out are the two things that get pushed aside, except for the weekends (still working on this). I try to only run errands on my way home from work, which is pretty easy since I drive right from one side of town to another side of town, but it can take a lot of extra time. We’re trying to be creative in our plans for the future – ideally we’d both prefer to work part time. And, of course, I would like kids to be part of the mix someday.

    I’d also just like to share this: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/22/getting-rich-from-zero-to-hero-in-one-blog-post/ (are there rules? if the link doesn’t work, it’s the Mr Money Mustache blog)

    The style is certainly not for everybody, and it can be a little abrasive. It’s also worth pointing out that the blogger started out in a great income bracket, which won’t apply to everyone. And it’s not all about getting rich, despite the title. Still, reading this stuff has radically changed how I think about money, and how I spend money, and given me a lot of hope that I won’t be stuck in the corporate grind for 40 more years. So worth reading, at least.

    • Not Sarah

      Honestly, I don’t see myself remotely ever considering having children until I have a partner and together we are at least very far along the MMM path. I get stressed out enough as it is with two 50 hour work weeks. MMM can be a bit extreme, but the % math still stands for those who spend more than he suggests.

      Sounds like you and I have very similar systems in place :)

      • Sara P

        It does! Good luck with yours :)

    • Apples

      I have also read that blog! While my fiance and I will not retire early (at least I won’t-running a family farm business-and buying it-suck a lot of your capital) it does give a good reminder about how you’re spending your money. For us, financial freedom will be a priority throughout our lives, and fortunately the farm means that most of the year I have flexible-ish hours. Except apple season, where I work 60 hour weeks 16 weeks straight and rarely socialize with the world. But MMM blog is great!

      • Sara P

        My secret dream is having my own family farm! That is very cool.

    • Erin E

      I’m a fan of the MMM blog as well – isn’t it strange when two online worlds intersect? That blog has been helpful in reminding me that one’s “lifestyle” is really filled with many choices. How do you want to spend your time? What things have you grown up thinking were essential, but really may not be? I like that the blog challenges you to think honestly about how you spend your time and money. It’s helping me move toward a more balanced life.

  • Not Sarah

    Ugh I am totally feeling this. I work ~8-6, my boyfriend works ~10-8, and we don’t live together, so we are maintaining and cleaning two apartments. I’ve stopped calling my mom as much because if I call her at 8 pm and she asks what I ate for dinner and I tell her I haven’t eaten yet, she freaks out at me. Or when I tell her I only do the laundry or vacuuming or other cleaning sometimes once a month. Or that instead of picking up groceries, we order groceries to be delivered.

    My mom lived in a world where you worked 35 hours a week and were home by 4:30 pm for good. My dad has always been self-employed, worked 12-15 hour days in the summer and 0-4 hour days in the winter. My mom just doesn’t get how impossible it is to have two careers that require you to work 45-60 hours a week and do all the cleaning every week. I’m good at laundry, but everything else? It will get done when it does.

    I just started a new job a few weeks ago and fitting hobbies back in is HARD. I am so looking forward to summer when at least I can go running in the evenings. And now? I at least walk commute, which is 30 minutes each way. Life is alright, in my way. I just hate listening to other people tell you what your life and your relationship should look like.

    • KC

      My mom always swept the kitchen floor every day. Here… that is not going to happen. Once a week, probably; as-needed, sure. (of course, part of that is that we don’t have kids and are not cooking like she does, so the floor does not get dirty as quickly. But part is just, y’know, as long as there aren’t any bugs or mice or mold or other health hazards, a small amount of mess isn’t going to kill anyone, and there are other things, like sleeping and communicating with people and whatnot, that I would rather use that time for.)

      • Alison O

        And arguably, a lack of mess might kill you.

        Okay, not scientific. But more and more it’s suspected that the overly sanitized environments in ‘developed’ places contributes to high prevalence of allergies. And there’s bacterial resistance and other problems with triclosan in antibacterial products, etc…… (http://www.salon.com/2014/01/08/5_reasons_to_stop_using_antibacterial_soap_partner/)

        • KC

          I don’t understand using triclosan in hand soap (and whatever else they toss it in to). 1. it probably doesn’t do anything positive, 2. it’s probably contributing to bacterial resistance, and 3. it’s just one more thing in there!

          (I do sanitize things with alcohol when either I or my husband have a cold or whatever, though, since, no, I do not want to get sick, and have fairly rigorous rules about raw chicken and it Not Touching Anything That Will Be Eaten Raw.)

      • Not Sarah

        My mom never swept the floor because she never made it dirty in the first place! She washed the sheets and towels on Tuesdays, cleaned the bathrooms on Mondays, vacuumed on Fridays. I. Can. Not. Do. That. Every. Week. I don’t even clean one of the showers since I never use it. I can, however, do the dishes after eating and do the laundry when there are no clean clothes.

        • KC

          I have no idea how my mom does it (bits of things falling off cutting boards? carrying crumby toast from the toaster to the table? not honestly sure.), but she does need to clean the floor all the time.

          But, yes on the rest of it. Here, housework-y things get done when they actually visibly need to get done, or sometimes slightly before (unless one person in the household is sick, in which case everything that gets touched gets sanitized like crazy because no we do not want each others’ colds/flus/whatevers).

          Quote from L.M. Montgomery’s “Blue Castle”, bemoaning the apparent sudden-onset insanity of her 30-years-old-ish spinster daughter, in regards to the parlor (which was a room they didn’t actually use at all except for Special Occasions):

          “…But she wouldn’t sweep the parlour yesterday morning, though we
          ALWAYS sweep it on Thursdays. She said she’d wait till it was
          dirty. ‘Would you rather sweep a dirty room than a clean one?’ I
          asked her. She said, ‘Of course. I’d see something for my labour
          then.’ Think of it!”

          • Christina McPants

            OMG, my 11 year old self felt SO MUCH kinship with Valancy Jane Stirling. In my adolescent brain, this was the narrative that happened to shy people, so it was OK that was alternately extremely outgoing and extremely reserved.

          • KC

            YAY! Someone else who has read that book! It generally doesn’t come up.

            I loved it (and, um, still kind of love it)(except I generally skipped the John Foster parts, because there is only so much Fancy Woodland Description I could take; looking at a tree for an hour, sure; spending a paragraph on a tree in Montgomery’s highest-flown style, not so much). Not the most realistic plot ever, but I don’t tend to demand that in my escapist fiction, and most of the characters behave in ways consistent with their character, so I figured it got some latitude for the plot twists. :-)

          • Christina McPants

            I still read that book (and Tamora Pierce novels) when I need to feel better about the world.

          • KC

            That’s awesome. I haven’t read any Tamora Pierce, but she’s on the list (any specific recommendations?).

            Medicinal reading. :-) (I really like Jane of Lantern Hill, too; the personal growth and flourishing but also just the sheer *nesting* of it all!)

          • Christina McPants

            I love both her universes, but the Tortall books are my favorite and probably the Protector of the Small series most of all. There are callbacks to previous heroines in that series, but not enough that you’d be lost without the background. The Circle books are good too, with Will of the Empress as my favorite (it has gay people!!! in YA lit!!!), but it’s the last of 9 books, so… you know…

  • I’m married, no kids, and I am during the week from my regular job, and then working out in the evenings. Once I get home, it’s about cooking dinner, walking the dog, and preparing for the next day (cleaning up the kitchen, packing my lunch, etc). SO I have about an hour to relax in the evenings, by watching a TV show or chilling on the iPad. ANd I LOVE that hour. I need it for my sanity. So the idea of having kids–while I REALLY want to–is terrifying. Am I ever going to be able to enjoy my time alone again? Will I ever be able to read a full issue of UsWeekly in peace? Do I have to give up my monthly pedicures, my 5x a week workouts, my “ME” time??? I barely have a hold of it now, how am I possibly going to manage with children…

    • Alexandra

      I KNOW! I just got pregnant (not planned!) and this is all I can think about…but I think I’m going to try to work part-time, and I suppose a person can get used to anything, even the lack of UsWeekly and pedicures. And you know, life goes in seasons. Sometimes things get out of balance for a while, but it doesn’t last forever. Maybe I’ll have a daughter and in a few years we can go get pedicures together! Or maybe I’ll have a son and my husband can take him outside to play football while I get a pedicure. I’m sure it will all work out.

  • beelitenotfab

    O.M.G I love you so much for saying this.

    We have a really horrifically bad culture around work. I went to an elite institution and I have friends who HAVE TUMORS from the stress of work, we are all only in our mid-twenties. I’m a teacher and we keep getting asked to do more and more with less and less, and often times people are like: “you must do it because you love it.” As if love somehow negates the fact that I have no time to do anything well.

    I have a serious disability that I just found out about (I was born with it, but things started to deteriorate), and I know that in the current climate there is no way I can stay in my job. When I do well, I get told to do more and I just can’t work the hours anymore, it is tearing my body (which is already fragile) apart. And I’m lucky, because I will be able to go back and get my PhD and contribute that way, but my family isn’t. We’ve created a culture where if you are unable to work 80 hours a week you are useless and we’ve created a culture where you are lazy if you don’t want to run your body into the ground for organizations that treat you poorly anyway. The consequences are severe, I have friends who have made themselves seriously ill only to be told that it is their own fault that they are weak. We have no concept of family or life. In fact the whole “work-life’ conversation shouldn’t have to happen because there is no reason why those things have to be in conflict, other than the fact that we’ve just bought into the lie that if you don’t have enough then it is your own fault and that the market is perfectly fair and therefore if you are struggling it is because you are weak or lazy. Work and life should never be mutually exclusive.

    This isn’t good for anyone and the thing is, I don’t think anyone does their best work under these conditions, I know I am not doing my best work. But that shouldn’t even matter because fundamentally what good is a society that isn’t making life better for the humans in it? What is the point? Is that not fundamentally the reason we choose to enter into the social contract?

    • Jenny

      Doing a PhD is NOT less stressful than what you have doing now. I’m not saying that to make light of your situation but the emphasize the stress of a PhD – during my grad school and now as a prof I easily am working 60-80 hours per week. Be very careful about the PhD track. Moreover it is incredibly easy to have insurance gaps in the later years of the PhD – and then no insurance if you end up working as an adjunct.

      • beelitenotfab

        I am aware, it is not physically demanding in the same way. The hours are not my problem, I went to an elite school from a very poor background undergraduate,, I’ve been working those hours my entire life, I started caring for children when I was five…. what it doesn’t require is moving furniture, lifting heavy things, circulating through rooms, standing for 6 hours a day. My doctors, my mentors and anyone who has done both high school teaching and a PhD and knows my medical situation agrees that it is the better route for me. I have a disorder that doesn’t allow me to do physically demanding work. High school teaching is physically demanding.

  • May

    One huge eye opener for me is the difference between mothers in Asia and mothers where I live (Australia). Every time we go to Asia, I am amazed at how flexible the mothers are and how many of them are still in hot pursuit of their careers. There’s not much discussion around work/life balance, because everyone has help. A nanny, sometimes two nannies – it’s extremely common not just amongst the rich folk but also the middle class, due to its affordability (~AUD400/month for a full time nanny). As a result, the culture of motherhood in Asia could not be further away from Australia – nobody judges you if you want to stay at home or if you want to work full time, which is the no-win situation I see a lot of women go through here (damned if you do, damned if you don’t). Attitudes in the workplace also seem different – employers are less antsy about hiring mothers because they know that they can still put in the hours. Not saying that it’s a perfect system, but it’s really astonishing what a difference an extra pair of hands can make.

  • LR

    I currently work something close to a 40 hour week once you subtract the ~45 minutes per day that I spend pumping and the ~15 minutes I spend eating lunch at my desk (sometimes I multitask with those activities but then the little closet where I pump smells like food in a not-good way for a few days). My husband is a full-time student and also works part-time and looks after the baby one day per week.
    Most of our “Are we doing okay?” talks right now revolve around checkbook balance, not work-life balance.

    It’s frustrating. We’d like the home repair projects to go a little faster, and I’d be happy to have more time with my son, but honestly, the only thing that I am completely dissatisfied with is the job itself. It’s in my field. My coworkers are lovely. I feel pretty good about the social, environmental, and economic impact of what we do. But it is BOOORING. For a recovering workaholic, pressure-and-responsibility junkie like myself, it’s a little hard to swallow. But I don’t feel great about asking for more responsibility or more interesting work because I don’t know how I would integrate that with my new reality. The best I can do is remind myself that there is a season for everything and the season I’m in now involves more time spend stacking things up and knocking them over with a six month old and less time being an office badass.

    So no big conclusions here except to say that indeed the system is fucked in this country. But I am a wholehearted product of that system and have an internal mirror of it written on my psyche. Probably the best thing I could do for my son would be to move to southern Spain now so he doesn’t end up the same way, right?

  • Sarah

    This is going to be short(because, ironically, it’s 10 p.m. and I still have a sh** ton of work to do for both the pay the bills job and pay the soul job) but This. yes.
    I am working my ass off at a job I basically hate a lot of days. Because my husbands in school, we need health insurance (which I have no time to f*** use and I’m pretty sure I have walking pneumonia.) and I’m trying to work hard at building a business that would feed my soul and pay my bills. I also, occasionally, like to hang out with my husband or go to bible study.
    I would really like to see the day where I can watch two hours of Veronica Mars on a week night and not feel like shit because I’m not “doing” something.
    I have said for years that I want to raise my children anywhere but the states. And this is a huge part of it. I love my country, but we suck so hard at realizing that life is short and for the living. Not for killing yourself at a job you hate.

  • Rachael

    I’m late on weighing in on this because the idea of work-life balance has been very much on my mind lately and I’m really feeling quite raw and confused about it. It seems absolutely hopeless to expect some reasonable balance AND move ahead, at least in my line of work or in any of the career paths I’ve investigated. I’m struggling with this idea of how success is measured, both professionally and personally. I’m struggling with how to reconcile the reality of my husband’s and my work schedules with the fact that we are still deciding whether or not to have children. As it is, with me looking to make a career move that might include yet another advanced degree and the requisite ridiculous schedule that would entail and my husband’s exceedingly crazy detective hours that aren’t even during the same time of day two days in a row, I just can’t see how this lifestyle can possibly work with children involved. I oscillate between believing there is more to life than work and wanting to give everything to work in order to be successful. I can’t see that middle ground path yet.

  • Liz

    I honestly feel like the culture of being stressed out and unbalance permeates my life no matter where I’m at. I used to work a full time job with a two hour commute, plus marathon training, volunteering, and still finding time for my social life, husband, and hobbies. I was stressed and constantly feeling like I didn’t have enough time – I was always running from one activity to the next. Now, I’m a student and my time is more flexible, but I still feel stressed and anxious about how to get everything done.

    Each situation came with it’s own challenges and when I was working full time in an office, I wanted flexibility. Now that I have flexibility, I am actually realizing I need more structure. So my next task is to find a middle ground where there’s enough structure so I feel motivated and productive, but enough flex time where I feel like I can be spontaneous.

    But I think the stress and anxiety around it are more cultural than situational. There are times where I actually feel guilty that my life is more balanced than other people I know. I feel like I should be working working working all the time and living on little sleep and struggling. Another commenter mentioned feeling guilty taking a break in the middle of the day and I can relate! I think it’s actually challenging to maintain balance once you find it, in a culture that so values work and overworking.

    At the same time, I have a tendency toward inertia, so I need some level of momentum to keep me moving forward so I don’t stall. Reading through these comments has been so helpful to know I’m not the only one that struggles!

    • Anon

      Yes, “it’s actually challenging to maintain balance once you find it, in a culture that so values work and overworking.”

      I’m grateful for having met my husband, who helped me affirm that my job is not my #1 in my life, because our marriage and life together is. That is freeing at times like the present when juggling two careers is looking less and less straightforward. So I feel ok in knowing that as long as we live somewhere we can get to visit family on the weekends, and we have enough money to survive/thrive, my job doesn’t have to be the thing that keeps me afloat.

      That said, we both have to keep fighting to stay in this mindset because the current against it is so strong. He is in academia, and I’m looking at opportunities in the non-profit world where working more and longer hours is what gets you ahead. So what is a bright, passionate lady who wants a livable life to do? Sit back and let the opportunities pass by to have a balanced life? And amazingly, that is truly the question of the hour, and not just a complaint. Because maybe the answer is yes. And in a world where we so often get our self esteem from our accomplishments, and the world celebrates work accomplishments (and babies, but we’re not on that train), it’s hard to remember that victories for things like building community and learning new talents and enjoying your downtime are worth celebrating too.

  • Sarah E

    A large piece of my struggle with finding a long-term job (i.e. more than 13 months), is that I have zero patience for jobs that aren’t serving my life. Why the hell do we work in the first place if not to afford good food, to live well? So I refuse to feel dead inside for. . .what? Some pieces of paper? SO I hop from job to job.

    However, what allows me to do this is that I currently live in a modest Midwestern city, where my cost of living is ridiculously low. I live with a committed partner who is paid a reasonable stipend to attend graduate school, with his tuition waived. His stipend is reasonable enough that he can support himself just fine, and pay my share of rent and groceries for a month or so if necessary. I don’t have health insurance (yet), but I will either be getting it through the ACA or through marriage. I’ll probably be screwed in the future, because I don’t have any retirement savings even started. Thank goodness my partner has a 401k from his previous job. At least it’s a start.

    So, while there are several privileges that allow my attitude (my grandma gifted me her car, both sets of our parents can help us out financially to varying degrees and are willing to do so if necessary), I refuse to buy in to being a haggard human being for the sake of a paycheck. This will probably always limit me to some degree: what city I can afford to live it, what kind of house or apt I can live in, but I’ve read enough and seen enough that I’m still hanging on to the optimism that we can a simple life work for us and still feel like we’re living richly.

  • Heather

    I think this is an important discussion to have, because literally men and women in our culture, are working themselves to death and for what? More money. I am consistently frustrated with the cultural resistance to work life balance. I work in a university setting that in theory has an excellent work life balance. Our Human resources page boasts tons of work life balance options: flexible work schedule, childcare, etc. However, accessing these options is not widely accepted from department to department. Mainly because the supervisors that need to approve these options came up during a time in which these options did not exist. I find myself feeling uncomfortable asking to leave 15 mins. early to go to an exercise class. Which is not a frivolous request because my health should be a priority. It is disconcerting because I am new in my career and I am definitely a hard worker but I value my time outside of work. Every chance I get, I vocalize my opinion about our office, setting the tone for an appropriate work life balance. It is difficult but I hope for the best and often dream of living in another country just to see what its like.

  • Catherine

    I’m having a hard time relating to this discussion, in terms of my own life. (First up, some background- I’m 23, in the UK, and I’m at nursing school living with my partner) I don’t want a job, or a career or to earn money. Naive, sheltered, stupid, whatever you want to call me- it’s just my thoughts on the topic. There are things I’d like to get involved with but I don’t care if I’m paid or not, and I want it on my terms to always opt in or out. I just want my children- to meet them soon. I’m happy to work to stock up some money until they come along but then I want to just live with them- explore their interests. My partner is currently up for a job that would actually allow this to happen in a couple of years. I just have no career aspirations, at all.. I wonder if anyone else feels that way.

  • Kelley

    This post was so timely for me! Just spent a morning packing baby for daycare, pumping, laundry, lunches, wow! I have a more flexible schedule than my husband, but lately this seems to mean that more of the life responsibilities fall on me and my work isn’t getting the attention it deserves. Who has good recommendations for resources, books, blogs, that have helped (or entertained) you on this topic?

  • Hope

    After a three day weekend and a snow day in the middle of the week I finally feel like I’m rested and almost caught up on household responsibilities.

  • revooca

    My work-life balance improved tremendously after the start-up I worked for for years was bought by a giant corporation. I went from 50+-hour weeks (and often weekends) with decent pay and few traditional benefits to a loose 40-hour week with more pay, benefits, personal time and vacation. However, the nature of my work (and the company culture) has changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable to me…which is how I realized that doing something you don’t enjoy that much can be surprisingly liberating as long as you have enough personal time to enjoy your life more fully. Especially as I’m starting to focus on starting a new family, this seems even more important.

    I would be content to stick around in this new position indefinitely except that I’m working for an industry and a company that I find to be more than a bit morally reprehensible. Now I’m beginning to wonder if seeking work-life balance and/or financial success necessarily has to mean sacrificing my personal values.