Dear (other) male friends (and female friends, too, now that I think about it),
You are not Jack Donaghy. I’ve never seen you in a tuxedo, before or after 6 (what are you, a farmer?). You don’t have his rapier wit, or the piercing blue eyes of a Siberian Husky, which just makes you a standard issue workaholic. Blind ambition is fun on TV when it’s satirizing Republicanism and capitalism and some third -ism I can’t think of right now, but it is significantly less hilarious in real life.
Ambition and drive are all well and good, great even. But where are they taking you? You can spend your whole life working to be the chairman of GE only to have your hopes taken away by the vagaries of corporate dealings. And when that happens, and you’ve spent your entire career putting off your personal life, never seeking real happiness outside the office, what happens when you don’t have your job to cling to anymore? If you’re a TV character and you have the charisma of Alec Baldwin, you can get away with waiting until your mid-50’s to have kids with a much younger woman. Otherwise, if you never leave your desk, you’re just going to wake up at 40 and realize that you forgot to have a life.
I don’t blame you. I don’t even blame Jack. I blame our insane culture of overwork. I blame each and every article that tells me I should be working both harder and longer in order to get ahead. Where, exactly, is this ahead? A slightly better position that pays a little more for me to work even more hours? Should everyone’s goal really be to make so much money and work so hard that we can, and need to, have a nursery custom built into our corner office? At what point are we just acquiring power and money for power and money’s sake? And at what point do we stop?
Studies have shown that money does buy happiness, but not above $75,000 a year. What’s the point of having three vacation homes and a yacht if you’re working too much to ever use them? If you’re climbing the corporate ladder because you love it, then fine, but if you’re climbing it just because it’s there, well, so is Everest.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to succeed in our careers and excel at our jobs, but there comes a time when one needs to step back from one’s desk and look at the bigger picture. Have you let your health, your hobbies, your relationships with friends and family, fall by the wayside in the name of work? And is this worth it?
The answer isn’t to throw in the towel and slide straight into deadbeat-dom. I believe there is a balance. I just don’t know what that looks like. I blame the fact that the one character (on the shows I watch) who aggressively pursues work-life balance is a character who’s ceaselessly mocked by his peers (don’t listen to them, Jerry Gergich. You have an amazing life and a wonderful family.) The sad truth is that the real life Leslie Knopes aren’t always lucky enough to meet a Ben Wyatt at work; the chances of ending up married to your job are all too real.
None of this applies, of course, if you are married to your job and truly happy in that relationship. For some people, that’s just how it is. For a lot of us, I think the reality is that we get so caught up in the rat race that we forget to check and see if we’re happy until it’s too late. It’s hard to remember your personal goals and things you enjoy when you’re so busy with work you can’t even think straight. Work-life balance isn’t just going to magically happen after this deadline or that promotion; there will always be some other reason to be too busy to go to the gym or call your parents.
There are no magical solutions; jobs are always going to demand the most of us. Only you can decide if you really want to be a Six Sigma black belt, or if you’d rather leave work an hour earlier and go to an actual karate class.