When I decided a couple of years ago to start looking for a job outside of journalism, several factors spurred me to action.
One was my concern about the future of the news business. Another was a feeling that I was a bit burned out.
But most of all, it was the 24/7 nature of the occupation, coming home (late) from work only to turn on my laptop and keep on working. I saw my four children growing older and realized that I was missing important events in their lives.
So, I made a choice. Even though it was going to force me to stretch well outside of my comfort zone to start a new career, I opted to go for it.
I was lucky enough to find a new job that I enjoy, working for a company that emphasizes work-life balance for its employees. And I was able to make enough money to support my family while doing it.
I reflected on my own personal experience last week when I received an email from a reader named Mike.
Mike described himself as a "casual reader" of my columns, but wrote that what he had read made him feel the need to make a point to others and to me. And that point is this: "I am in charge of my personal happiness. I am in charge of my career path. I have a say in how the job affects my family."
Like me, Mike is 44, and he wrote that he has taken some "not-so-good" jobs to get by. However, while different jobs do affect families and goals, he wrote, we all have control over our lives by the choices we make.
"I have been on the management side and the employee side," Mike wrote. "I have closed deals to make a company an extra $100,000 a year. And, in 2012-13, I bagged groceries as a clerk at a store in my neighborhood.
"For the most part, this issue is about personal responsibility. Did the company tell you to buy that new car that stretches the budget? Did the company decide that you needed a $300,000 house rather than the more modest house for $200,000?
"The employee, not the company, is in control of and has responsibility for happiness and job satisfaction. And, the balancing act is the responsibility of the employee and his/her family."
I think Mike has a good point here. For example, I often joke with my wife that, while she is a positive, "glass is half full" kind of person, I tend to be an "I don't even have a glass" type. She tries to help me overcome my negative nature by setting a good example and by telling me that my daily mood is entirely up to me. Sure, there are external forces that sometimes seem to conspire to ruin my day, but how I react to those forces is my decision.
Thanks to her, I think I've improved in this area, although I'm still pretty sure the world is out to get me on some days.
Just as I'm in charge of my daily mood, I'm also in charge of my personal quest for work-life balance. Even if I work for a company that tries to help its employees in this area, I can still choose to work from home at night or skip my children's school performances. My boss isn't going to force me to attend a fifth-grade choir concert or ninth-grade awards assembly.
So, in that sense, Mike is absolutely correct. Finding balance for myself is my responsibility, and it's all about my choices.
I knew that choosing to change careers in my 40s would be risky and could lead to lower income, fewer chances for promotion and other potential problems. However, my wife and I decided it was worth taking that risk to strengthen our family. For us, that decision has worked out better than we could have hoped.
I also believe that a wise manager, and a successful company, will try to help employees build a balanced life. By doing so, they may find that they are more successful at retaining talented workers. They also may find that employees who have better work-life balance are happier and more productive.
In his email, Mike continues by sharing a message for younger co-workers, urging them not to complain and to remember how lucky they are to have jobs at all.
"Here's how this works: You arrive at a building every day and perform a task. For this, you will be paid a certain amount of money," Mike wrote. "If you do not perform the task properly, you may be strongly encouraged to stay out of the building. (You are fired. No more money.)
"If you succeed in your task, you get to keep coming back to the building. ... If you put in extra effort, help others or make the company more money, you may be eligible for a raise. (May is the operative word here. You don't get more money just because you show up for work and complete your task for a year.)
"Take responsibility for your job and your life. ... I am going to complete my daily task now, so I can get money and return to the building again tomorrow. But, I choose to do so. It's my personal responsibility."2 comments on this story
Yes it is, Mike. And I appreciate you sharing your views, admitting as you did that they could be the rant of a curmudgeon or pearls of wisdom from someone with experience.
Either way, I agree with your core message that we must take personal responsibility for our own work-life balance based on the choices we make. I did so, and I've been blessed by the results.
I'd like to hear other readers' opinions of this, too. Do you agree with Mike? Or do you think companies should play a more active role in encouraging work-life balance for their workers?
Let me know, and I'll share some of your responses in a future column.