does work/life balance exist?
Reading the NYTimes over my Puffins (yes, I failed at staving off that addiction), I noticed this article: In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop. The article is painfully sensationalist and fails to really highlight the core issue regarding blog culture: bloggers do it cuz they wanna and cuz they lurve it. By and large, blogging is part of geek culture. Just like those who code, bloggers go late into the night doing their thing out of passion. Personally, my health improved when I switched from coding to blogging. I no longer down 2 2-liter bottles of Mt. Dew every day. I now have a gym membership and visit semi-often. And if you think that I’m pale now…
Underneath the sensationalism, there’s a core point here: those who are passionate about what they do do it to extremes. And when there’s the perception of a race (even if it’s self-imposed), it’s far too easy to take the extremes over the edge. I certainly spent my 20s running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying not to miss a single thing. It wasn’t for my blog per say – it was for “research.” I had to know everything the moment that it happened and I followed web developments like a hawk. My blog turned into the space where I spewed all of my pent-up energy out.
I can’t help but wonder if all of this is leading us down a dangerous path. The young and highly motivated turn into self-competing workaholics, often fueled by stimulants – legal (e.g., coffee), illegal (e.g., cocaine), and prescription (e.g., Provigil). Older folks and those who want to “have a life” look at this insanity with horror and back quietly away trying not to startled the hopped up beasts.
This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t playing into professional culture more broadly. Increasingly, only those bent on workaholism are valued as employees. Those who don’t push it to extremes are disregarded as lazy in many industries. There is pressure to work 24/7 and there are plenty of folks who take this seriously, even if it’s not in their best interests let alone the rest of society’s. I get so ravingly mad at my (primarily male) colleagues who work 14 hour days even though they have small children that they never see. It’s one thing to be a workaholic as a single 20-something; it’s another thing to be a workaholic as a parent. I get to see the flipside of that one – teens starved for attention, desperate to please in the hopes of being given attention and validation.
The problem is that the corporate world values workaholism. Those who do pull away from 24/7 lifestyles “because they’re getting older” find that there is huge ageism in many sectors of American business. If you can’t work 24/7, you aren’t getting that promotion. Fuck your kids, fuck your family, fuck your life. That ain’t so good for any of us and it seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s one thing to get paid many millions of dollars as a sports star, knowing that you’ll burn out by the end of your 20s and can then “retire.” It’s another thing to get paid an upper middle class wage only to burn out with no savings.
Of course, I’m saying this from the POV of a workaholic who is trying to ween her way off of that lifestyle. Or rather, is hoping to ween her way off of that lifestyle once the dissertation is over. And who realizes that she’s said that at every stage like an addict – I’ll do it when XYZ. But still, I can’t help but wonder – is it possible to really be in the flow and have work/life balance? Or will I find that, at the end of the day, I have to walk away from my work culture to have a life?