Judging by the title of this alone, you would think I’m a baby boomer pontificating about why today’s generations have it so easy and attempting to justify the metaphorical dumps I take on my overworked and underpaid employees. But you would be wrong. As many readers have hopefully seen by now, Caroline Gould posted two excellent articles elaborating on a problem faced by a majority of our generation: lack of work-life balance. If you haven’t read them, go do it now. After you do, come back and finish listening to me on my soapbox – I’m here to offer a different perspective.
I don’t begrudge anyone wishing they had more time to spend doing things they enjoy instead of spending Friday nights with Microsoft Outlook and a box of Chinese takeout. Seriously, who in their right mind wants to spend more time in the office? But for the love of all that is good and holy (frozen margs and Willie Nelson) quit whining about your lack of work-life balance.
I’ll admit it: I wish I had more time to spend playing golf and sitting on my couch watching The Office. In fact, we would all probably lead healthier lives, both physically and mentally, if we worked around 40 hours a week and had time to spend on our families and hobbies that we care about. Sure, many of our parents had it pretty easy: they fell backwards into a comfortable job back in the eighties, worked forty to fifty hours a week, and are now on the verge of a comfortable retirement. Not so for our generation. Look through Caroline’s articles if you want to see how our current work situation got to where it is and some of the negative effects it has on us.
While this is an unfortunate turn our society has taken, it’s also something we have to live with. I hear friends and family complain constantly that their work demands too much time of them and that they should be able to have a better work-life balance. Sure, I sympathize with that sentiment. But every time this topic comes up, God forbid you suggest the complainer find another option. Here’s how a conversation might go:
Complainer: “My boss rides me so hard, I can’t stand working there. It’s total bullshit.”
Me: “That’s what she said. Also, have you considered looking for another place to work?”
Complainer: “Are you kidding? I’m not going to risk not having a job!”
And so on. It reeks of entitlement. Why do we feel entitled to an easy job with high pay?
Maybe the general aura of entitlement our generation gives off comes as a result of listening to our parents’ experiences and assuming we will have it just as easy. Maybe our parents raised us all as special snowflakes under the illusion that we would graduate college with a six-figure salary and make it into that corner office by 30. Maybe we see the laughably artificial and obscenely misleading social media presence of our friends and acquaintances and jealously wonder why our lives aren’t as exciting or fun-filled. Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t matter. You’re not entitled to a work-life balance. You’re not entitled to a six-figure salary. You’re not entitled to a corner office.
I work in a field where “work-life balance” is either A) a punch line, B) a lie recruiters tell starry-eyed law students at cocktail hours, or C) both of those. My colleagues and I rarely leave the office before 9:00 p.m. Even most of the partners in the office work twelve-hour days, one way or another. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the hours. Like all my colleagues, I knew what I was getting myself into entering this field. And like all my colleagues, I know that if I want a better work-life balance down the road, I will have to make sacrifices for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are on the committee deciding who is going to be promoted to partner: would you pick the grinder who spends most of his/her time in the office working 90 hours per week or the person with the good work-life balance that works 50 hours a week (assuming that this person hasn’t been canned already)? In other words, you can’t have it all, and if you think you can, you’re full of shit. This is the real world, not a Disney movie.
But this doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. There is a solution to working too many hours: find another job. Or scale back your hours and accept the fact that your future prospects with whatever firm or company you work for will be limited. You can’t assume that you will get paid nearly as much, or that your career advancement prospects will improve, but at least you can have a more ideal work-life balance.
I’m sure some of you will whine and say, “But Winger, we have student loans to pay and it’s not fair that we have to work a hard job to pay them off.” Sure, I believe the student loan system is a racket that rewards universities and screws students, but try telling that to your loan servicer. Life isn’t fair, and we all have to make sacrifices. Tough titties.
This is where (I think) Caroline and I can agree: you are in control of your work-life balance. Sure, your balance right now may not be ideal due to any number of circumstances, but in the end, your place of employment is up to you. Remember: in 2015 corporate America, you’re not entitled to anything; you have to earn the things you want. Just quit the goddamned whining. .
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