As a graphic designer, pursuing work that I love and working for the most part from home, the question of how to handle work/life balance is constantly on my mind. And the more I think about it, the more questions arise: what is “work”? Does cleaning the house sit on the work or the life side? What is “life”? Is writing this blog post work or life? When is there balance? When it’s 50/50? And the biggest question of all is, how do I find 1 more hour in the day?
Women talk a lot about with each other about work and life, particularly (but not exclusively) after they’ve had children. Finding the right balance isn’t easy. I’ve sat on a bench with a successful journalist while she cried about not being there for her children. I’ve had drinks with a friend who had spent a year away from her family for work. I know more than one lawyer who happily quit work to stay home and raise children. And I know women who have itched to get back to work, finding the perfect nanny or daycare situation to help make that possible for her. Of course, my experience is as a woman and mother, and I’ve spent most of my time discussing these questions with other mothers. In Between Interruptions Edited by Cori Howard, 30 women tell their stories of trying to find the balance between careers and family, the joys and sadness, triumphs and challenges of their choices. Chantal Kreviasuk reflects on moving from her one self to the other:
"I've always been a "career person." I thought my work would be even more important to me after I became a mom. There would be clear black and white lines between our house and our home studio. Black and white lines between Chantal the mom and Chantal the musician. But those black and white lines are very grey, and most days they are stained with tears and heartache."
But not every woman is a mother, and children are not the only thing that makes up the life part of the equation. Before the industrial revolution, work was what everyone did to run the home, and it was constant. Work was in the home, and this meant that dinner was eaten together, or if a child was sick and needed to stay home from school there were people around to help care for her. Caring for the home and the people there was part of the work, and the divide between work and life was small. Work was life.
The idea that we have a life outside of work arrived with work outside of life. Work was what was required to sustain us—we worked to make money so that we could buy food to eat (that someone else grew) and pay for the roof over our heads (that someone else built). Somewhere along the line the idea that we were entitled to leisure time and activities took hold, and now we’ve decided that work needs to be something that we love.
The movement of “Do what you love, love what you do,” has ensnared a generation and is devaluing work that has to be done even though nobody wants to do it. I worked in a hotel for six years, and I’m sure that none of the housekeeping staff loved cleaning toilets. Miya Tokumitsu talks about the elites’ mantra “do what you love” in this article, saying:
"DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation but it is an act of love. If profit doesn't happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker's passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace."
But when did I become the focus of my work? This is a narcissistic worldview. We get paid to work, in part, because it’s something we wouldn’t necessarily do for free, and because we are doing something that someone else needs done.
And if we are doing what we love, and loving what we do, how do we tell our employers (assuming we are getting paid, and not doing an unpaid internship) that we need to stop work and go home to our families and our lives?
We all find a way to do it differently. Perhaps it isn’t about finding the answers, but having the conversations, continuing to think about how we spend our days, and what we value—making conscious decisions about how we manage our time. And, perhaps, as much as I enjoy writing this blog, I really should go clean that toilet.
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