Reading 03: Work-Life Balance and “having it all”

From the readings and from your experience, can men and women have it all? That is, can parents have successful and fulfilling careers while also raising a family and meeting other non-work related goals?

I personally believe that men and women can have fulfilling careers, although “having it all” is a bit lofty of a goal. At Notre Dame, I have the privilege of being able to explore career paths that might not otherwise be available to me. I understand that many people will never have access to these same opportunities to have fulfilling experiences, so, unfortunately, I don’t believe that everyone can “have it all” at the same time. Keynes’ vision of a future where society would be so rich that people only have to work 10 or 15 hours per week is incredibly optimistic. There will always be a need to compete with others while working, although I don’t believe that it’s impossible to have fulfilling careers. Instead, it comes down to finding the right career path for each person.

 

What does it mean to have it all to you? What examples from real life do you draw from in order to define what having a balance is?

When it comes to deciding what exactly I want to get out of a career, it’s hard for me to articulate what I actually want beyond just “having it all.” Everyone wants a life where they can live comfortably and raise a family, never having to worry about losing their jobs or not having enough time off from work to raise a family, spend time with others, etc. The reality, however, is that most people are forced to compete with others on similar career paths, which I believe is the biggest hindrance to living the Keynesian vision of a comfortable life. So, rather than defining “having it all” in a career on an individual basis, I believe it has more to do with the labor force as a whole. When people are forced to compete with one another, no matter the career level, they will be naturally inclined to compare themselves to others in their field. We talked about this idea briefly during the discussion about negotiating salary. No matter what, you will compare yourself to others and feel compelled to be a better worker than they are. In light of this, “having it all” would mean total freedom from this idea of being forced to compete with people on the same career path, as this pressure appears to be the driving cause behind why we still continue to work so hard for the most prestigious, highest-paying positions, even if we don’t really want them. “Having it all” means the opportunity to explore career paths, spend time with family, and not being forced to compete for and work in jobs that I would despise just because they are more prestigious than my alternatives.

This idea of a work-life balance varies from person to person, and I don’t draw my personal ideas from anyone in particular. My most concrete vision for what the ideal working parent’s life comes from Keynes’ original prediction of the 10-hour work week. That is, nobody should be forced to work more than they have to, since advances in technology should automate the difficult parts of our lives, we should have the ability to spend time with our families and travelling and focusing on the life portion of the work-life balance. On top of that, when I’m not working, I should not be expected to think about or deal with anything relating to work.

 

Have you ever dealt with burnout or guilt over missing out on some portion of your life? If so, describe how you dealt with this situation and what helped you overcome these difficulties.

Burnout was one of the driving factors in choosing to switch from a strictly technical career path that my computer science degree would normally grant me to an actuarial career path. I’ve discovered over the course of my college career that there are certain kinds of stress that I can deal with more easily than I can deal with others. I can’t point to an exact time when I suffered academic or professional burnout in computer science, but the idea of having to compete with people just to keep my career moving along at a good pace was enough to drive me away from computer-related careers in general. I felt that this need to be competitive would end up consuming me, so I wanted to find a career that would allow me to use technical skills in a less competitive industry, even if that meant accepting a lower salary than many of my peers who have the same education and background as I do.

I ended up going with actuarial work because I felt that it would give me a clearly defined and much more manageable career path. While it’s still a competitive industry, I feel that this is a much healthier stress for me than the stress I would have felt from working in the tech industry. Actuarial work grants much more freedom than a more technical role, as I’m not forced to keep up with daily changes in my industry or worry that someone more talented might walk in tomorrow and take my job from me. Insurance is a much more gradual and less commoditized industry, and any stress that I have is stress that I put on myself. While I still have to take professional exams for many years after I graduate college, the company I’ll be working for grants me paid time off to study for exams, and there’s incentive for me to explore other careers within the company on my own time. I think of this career switch as a great sigh of relief for me; where I used to be haunted by the vision of competing with all of my peers and coworkers to stay on top of the industry, I’m now much more focused on my personal career growth, which has very little to do with the career paths of the people around me.

 

What can companies do to support their workers to find this balance and are they ethically obliged to do so? Was the opportunity for balance something that factored into your choice of career or job opportunity? Why or why not?

Helping workers to find this balance of life and work should be one of the highest priorities for a company, as far as internal relations go. While they might not be ethically or morally obligated to provide these opportunities, it would very clearly be in their best interest to do so. With the ability to move around to different jobs and find new jobs easily, it would be unreasonable for any company to think that and employee would stick with them just out of a sense of loyalty to the company or some small perks that might come along with working for them. If an employee in unsatisfied with how the company is treating them, it’s easier than ever before for that employee to switch companies. In order for a company to succeed in this fluid of a labor market, it’s important that they provide benefits to ensure that employees won’t want to leave the company.

This was another important factor in choosing my career and the company I eventually signed with. While my base salary was just around what I was expecting to get, the main driver behind why I took the offer was the benefits that the company offers to its employees, such as 401(k) matching that is much higher than the industry standard, discounts on life insurance, stocks, and financial services products, 6 weeks of paid paternity leave, etc. This is in addition to many of the perks that actuarial workers get already involving paid study time off and bonuses awarded based on company and individual performance. Essentially, I interpreted this offer as granting me peace of mind and the comfort of feeling secure in my position. I have the great fortune of not having to worry about my career for the foreseeable future, which I believe is the most important component of a work-life balance.

 

Finally, is this balance important to you and if so, how do you hope to maintain it? What life-style changes or activities have you put in place to deal with finding a balance in your life and preventing burnout?

I’ve touched on all of these topics at least a little bit so far, but I’ll reiterate that I believe work-life balance is the most important part of choosing a career and a company to work for. Although I don’t have any immediate plans or ideas of how to maintain this balance for my entire career, I feel that I’m in a much more comfortable position in my actuarial career now than I would have in a strictly technical position. Moving forward, I don’t have any more changes in mind that would make my career more fulfilling than it is now. I love the work that I’m doing and the ability to take my mind off of it when I’m not at work. With all these taken into account, I believe I’ve found the balance of work and life that will grant me not only a more fulfilling career, but one in which I’m much less likely to suffer from burnout.