Work-life balance: it’s something that’s at the forefront of discussion about careers and wellness– especially for millenials and especially, I’ve noticed, for women.
Certain careers, like teaching, not only encourage staying late and working at home, but often require it in order to meet the standard set for employees. And yet, since I’ve begun my career, I’ve experienced conflicting messages about this idea. On one hand, my colleagues say things like, “don’t stay too late!”, “make sure you’re practicing self-care,” “it’s key to find that work-life balance,” etc., etc. On the other hand, there have been days where I’ve stayed at work two hours late and seen many of them still working. The voices of tenured reason often contradict the actions and the norm of colleagues in my workplace.
In the same vein, I received a ton of advice from experienced teachers telling me that I shouldn’t put too much on my plate; I shouldn’t join or lead or volunteer for anything. This was tough for me, because I wanted to be involved and take on responsibility. For a while, I followed the advice and stuck to just focusing on classroom instruction, planning, and grading. And for a while, it certainly kept me busy enough.
The conflicting advice about “work-life balance,” however, goes far deeper than the career field. We all grow up going to school for 8 hours a day, only to go home and complete more work. Then, we go to college, pull all-nighters, and foster our robust caffeine addictions. Plus, if you’re like me, you also probably threw a couple of part-time jobs on top of your coursework, and spent summers working full-time. All the while, we hear messages about self-care and balance in a culture that, in reality, values workaholism.
It’s difficult. It’s tiring. It means putting work in front of others sometimes. It means putting work in front of yourself a lot of the time.
And I love it.
I love being good at my job. I love taking on leadership positions. I love being involved in my work community and putting “too much” on my plate. I always have.
This used to come with endless guilt and excuses– “I need the money,” or “I can’t get behind,” or “I need straight A’s.” I didn’t need any of this. I wanted it all badly enough to go and get it.
But more than wanting to work hard (or long) to achieve my goals, I really just love the journey; the process. It’s an important part of who I am, and embracing it has ironically been far more crucial to my “self-care” than spending less time working ever has.
It’s not for everyone, but it is for me. And if you’re anything like me, stop feeling guilty and stop making excuses for other people. Lean in and take on more than everyone thinks you should, because you are the only person who gets to determine what you can handle.
Be unbalanced. More importantly, be unapologetic.