This week I have been thinking a lot about how to achieve some balance between work, personal/familial necessities, and fun/relaxation. I think that my generation (Millennials) has blurred the lines between work and other aspects of life almost completely….and I am undecided about whether I think that is good or bad (for us and for the world). In this post I will point out some of the reasons I believe this burring is happening and then to offer some reflections on why it might be either good and bad.
I believe the cause of this blurring has several dimensions.
First, Millennials have grown up without boundaries between their school and social lives. Facebook (and the internet as a whole) has done away with the idea that you can have separate spheres of relationships in your life. Instead, you must present yourself, in your entirety, to all audiences. Unless you are meticulous about your privacy settings, your Facebook profile is the same to all of your “Friends”– your aunts and uncles, your best friends, your teachers, and your students. Zuckerberg engineered Facebook this way intentionally as a way to bring about “radical transparency.” In summary, since our online lives do not have work/play boundaries, neither do our offline lives.
Second, we live in a world where capitalism rules supreme. Success is measured by your salary, the cost of your suit, and the brand of your car. Or, if you aren’t quite there yet, success is measure by how many classes you can teach in a semester, whether you shop at the J.Crew Outlet or at Goodwill, and whether you can afford to go out to eat on Saturday night. Either way, the point is that your worth as a person is determined by your participation in capitalism…and if you aren’t making much now, you are working toward that goal. Furthermore, your health only matters if it makes you look hot, because that sells. Your mental stability only matters if it means you can be more productive. Your relationships only matter in so far as they are called “networking” and can get you promoted.
Third, we inherited an expectation that we could have it all. A few articles have been written about this alright. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a really good one in The Atlantic. You should read it. Her point is that we have been told by the feminists and powerful women before us, that we can have everything– success in our careers, loving partners, well behaved children, own a beautiful home, and have enough money to vacation at a beach every year. So, we went out after those dreams. And since our self-worth was riding on it, when we learned that those things were hard to obtain, we just worked longer hours or took an extra job.
Fourth, just as Millenials began entering the workforce, the nation faced the worst recession in living memory. This resulted in pushing people to more firmly believe that they would need to work more hours for less pay in order to get (or keep) a job. And Millenials absorbed this message more than most. We didn’t yet kids and our schedules were fairly open, so we jumped in to any job we could get with all we had…. because if we didn’t, we thought we wouldn’t have the job for very long…and we were probably right because everyone else was also willing to work far too long for far too little.
Thus are perhaps some of the causes of this blurring the boundaries between work and personal life…. but is this blurring good or bad?
The above description seems to suggest that it is bad. Here are some reasons this blurring might be bad:
- We might get in trouble at our jobs for being unprofessional in our personal lives.
- People in the past may have been able to say, “I failed at my career, but my life as a whole was still successful because of….” But when there is no longer a separation between work and the rest of life, we might judge our whole lives based on the success or failure of our careers.
- Our physical, mental, and relational health is ignored, or at least drastically undervalued. And we therefore find ourselves with stress related health conditions.
- We are constantly disappointed in ourselves for not being able to have it all.
- We work constantly…. every hour of every day. And if there is an hour where you can’t or don’t work, you feel bad about it.
But I didn’t really intend to write the above description with a negative slant, and my more thoughtful reflections are more ambiguous. Here are some reasons that this blurring might actually be helpful and good:
- It offers us a chance to be our authentic selves with everyone. We no longer have to put on our professional persona at work and our nurturing persona at home. We can be an integrated persona in both places. My students can see my in my sweaty running clothes and know that I am a whole person with whom they can relate. And my (hypothetical) children could see me use my intellect and professionalism at home. All audiences can see my whole person, and I think that is good.
- There is flexibility between work and personal life so that if one needs to take precedence at a given moment, it can. Staying home for a sick child or stopping work to go to yoga may not be such a big deal.
- Success can be defined in a multi-demensional way that includes various aspects of life. Winning a professional award or getting a promotion is great, but maintaining a close friendship for ten years or getting a new personal best time for a half marathon is also great.
- If we stop thinking about work as a separate part of life (re: drudgery that must be endured) then maybe we can enjoy our work more thoroughly. We can see work as a part of life that does not need to be minimized, but a part of life that we love (and ideally would do for free).
I have a lot more to say about these topics. I’m now thinking about possibly redefining what I mean by “work”…. but for now, I think I’ll stop. And I’d like to hear from you: