I ran across an article talking about a pair of viral posts (here and here ) from a couple who lost their sweet eight-year-old boy when he died in his sleep. My heart aches for them, as I know very well the loss they are experiencing; they’ve joined this terrible club that no one should have to be a member of.
The very eloquent and heartbreaking posts were about how these parents regret their work schedules, and that they often pushed off planning things their children wanted to do if it meant time away from work. They wish now they had spent more time with their kids, and less time on meetings and emails. These are important and true insights.
I’m writing this at my desk at 8:00 pm. I just finished all the urgent tasks planned for today—at least as many as I could finish. My brain is dead, my back hurts and I am tired. I just got four more emails, on top of the couple of hundred I already processed today.
I’ve spent a grand total of 15 minutes with my kids today, as I heated up a frozen pizza before heading back to my office.
See, the thing is, I’ve already learned this lesson. I wish I had spent more time with my sister before she died. I wish I had visited my mom more often before she passed. And oh, how I deeply and bitterly regret every single business trip, meeting and deadline that made me say more often than I liked, “Not now, Charlie sweetie, I have to work.”
The universe has already dropped an anvil on my head to get me to pay attention to what’s truly important…and yet, here I sit.
Because right now, my job requires this kind of commitment. I need my job to put a roof over your head and food on my table. Despite my best efforts, I can’t control my work/life balance right now.
American society is not set up to honor work/life balance. We still believe that more hours results in increased productivity. Research shows Americans put in more hours a week than other, more productive countries. There have been many articles written about how more hours does not equal more output—and certainly not quality output. Rivers of digital ink have been spilled about what the expectation for instant responses and being always on is doing to us.
These are white collar problems. I can’t imagine what dealing with loss and grief is like for people living in poverty, or a single parent. They, too, must ache to spend more time with their children and loved ones, but need to spend all of their energy and time just trying to keep their heads above water.
I know I have choices. I have a job, not a prison sentence. But I like where I work and what I do. I’m really good at it. I find deep satisfaction in the contributions I make. It’s great for my kids to know that work can be satisfying.
And yet. A job doesn’t love you. A job won’t shriek with laughter when you throw an impromptu dance party. A job can’t hold your hand and confide secrets while you walk the dog. A job won’t light up when you help with homework, or teach how to make an omelette.
You won’t lie on your death bed, sad because you didn’t send enough emails or hold enough meetings. Most importantly, your heart won’t break if you never get to see your job again.
The fact is, the world we live in doesn’t support work/life balance. You can’t go on disability because there’s a yawning hole in your soul where your son used to be, or because you’ve been flattened by the universe’s anvil. And like most people, I don’t have the financial luxury of quitting work, or working part-time.
Just because I learned my lesson doesn’t mean I get to apply it. I shouldn’t have to choose between my job and work/life balance. But when it comes down to it, the lesson is always to choose love. I just need to figure out how to do that.
P.S. This is NOT about my place of employment; it’s about the industry I work in and specific job I have. I could not ask for more supportive and caring people to work with.