Finally, several people responded to my column about a casual reader named Mike, who wrote in to offer this personal philosophy: "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."
A reader named Ana, writing from the United Kingdom, sent me an email in which she said she has found that the idea of choice is sometimes narrower than we would like to think.
Ana wrote that she is a job seeker who is hoping to build better work-life balance, and she and her family already live modest lives.
"My partner's wider family are mildly mortified that we don't own a car or go on holiday every year, or go on the requisite shopping sprees," she wrote. "In spite of putting in the hours, saving our companies money, maximizing our talents to the utmost, we have both been made redundant. The last employers I worked for were the 9-7, work weekends/public holidays-types and yet preached that you had to 'have a life.'
"Having energetically gone back into the world of job seeking and canvassing friends and people in the industry, the resounding conclusion is this: Long hours are the norm; you will be seen as suspect for sticking to your contracted timetable and going home to your life. You must always give more than you will possibly receive in terms of remuneration and career progression."
Ana wrote that she would like to say she is in control of her life, but in her case, that means she will be targeting low-paying jobs so she can see her 6-year-old in the evenings.
"By low paid, I don't mean romantically so, where you manage on basic spaghetti meals and walks in the park for entertainment," she wrote. "I mean, not enough to cover basic utility and travel costs that inflate ever upward, unchecked and unregulated. Here our jobs and salaries are unprotected and thrown to the wolves, while the government expects us to spend ourselves silly to strengthen the economy again. Oh, the dichotomy!
"Do forgive my rant, but simplicity in outlook is not cutting it these days. Meritocracy is the opiate of today's masses. What if its rewards were more selective than we thought? Let's be brave enough to call things as they are, even if they are temporarily so; and let us be strong enough to admit that we can be derailed by economic forces and punishing cultural mores."
I appreciate your thoughtful response, Ana, and I hope things work out better for you than you imagine they will.
I also hope that all of us will keep trying to build a work world in which balanced lives are truly valued and achievable.
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