It is okay to live for your work. “No one on her deathbed ever said, ‘I should have spent more time at the office,’ ” the saying goes. But I’d wager that many have looked back on their lives and been damn proud of what they accomplished at work. Isn’t the goal to find something you are so passionate about (and so talented at) that you want to be doing it all the time?
You probably won’t feel that way every day, or even every year. A working life is not linear. We used to think it was, back in the days when you put in 40 years at the same job and got a gold watch when you retired. But the workplace has changed — job security is more about months than decades now — and that has freed workers to change, too.
Embrace that. Ping pong around, zig and zag — not only from one job to the next, but from one state of mind to another. Go full throttle straight out of school. Take a more scenic side road during the years while you raise children. Roar back again when those kids are grown. Or, maybe, the other way around. It doesn’t make you an inconsistent worker, but rather a better human being.
6. Stop feeling guilty about the gel time. The best place to find inspiration, perspective, enthusiasm or direction in your job is outside of it. “I would very soon become threadbare if I were only lurching from one film set to another without any nourishment,” Daniel Day-Lewis said recently of why he insisted on waiting a year, and just living his life, before playing Lincoln. For those of us who don’t have a year? Take a walk, read a book, play with your kids. When I get stuck in my writing, I take a shower.
Sheryl Sandberg is right. Too many women “leave before they leave,” moving emotionally away from work when they start to have families, failing to “raise their hands” for promotions and big projects.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is right, too. Women can raise their hands day and night, but there are logistical barriers in the current outdated workplace, that are far higher than any “ambition gap.” The reason women are “leaning out,” rather than “leaning in,” is largely because they are overwhelmed by the impossibility of “doing it all.”
I know more than an eager 20-something. I am wiser. I have made more mistakes, hence learned more lessons. I know that what seems like a crisis, or a debacle, or a triumph, will probably look far less dramatic by tomorrow, and it’s better to take the long view of life rather than riding the roller coaster day to day.
They know more than I. Every day they teach me something about technology, or pop culture, or optimism, or how things need not be done the way they’ve always been done. Mostly they have taught me about balance. Everything I just wrote I learned by trying to articulate it for the now-21-year-old who once scribbled on a pad at breakfast. His generation deserves a better mix of what Freud called the “cornerstones of our humanness,” love and work. Mine can’t build that for him, but we can take hard-won knowledge and point the way.”