Whether it's our national worship of busyness, too-casual attire in the workplace, or the decision to take charge of one's own personal happiness, the topics I've addressed in the last few months have drawn strong responses from several readers.
Because I think those responses advance the discussions to which they pertain, I want to share some of them this week.
First, I wrote a couple of months ago about our U.S. culture that seems to prize busyness as a virtue, regardless of its potential negative side effects.
A reader named Pam sent me an email to say that column resonated with her.
"I truly applauded your article on busyness," Pam wrote. "Several years ago I decided the same things you were talking about and as a first step decided that my Christmas letter would no longer be a 'how busy we are' and instead would focus on a few brief accomplishments ... about each family member. Our family evaluated the impact of potential activities on our family life and then decided what mattered and what didn't.
"It's amazing what you CAN reduce in your life! I have decided that the whole 'busyness' thing for some people is truly an addiction ... one that I am grateful to have finally escaped!"
Congratulations, Pam, on prying free from the busyness trap. But what if you're so busy that you never manage to get a Christmas letter out on time, if at all?
Never mind. That's my problem to fix.
A reader named James sent me an email to say he is not a fan of casual dress in the workplace.
"As a child of the 1950s whose third-grade educated, blue-collar father wore a white shirt and tie to the beach (I grew up in Southern California), I deplore casual dress of any kind in the workplace," James wrote. "When I see the president of the USA in (a) sports jacket and open-collared shirt, I know that Armageddon is around the corner!"
Another reader, named JoAnn, expressed similar feelings.
"If the current workers get any more 'casual,' they will be coming to work in their PJs! Try to remember that you not only represent yourself, but your company," JoAnn wrote. "Are you dependable, honest and professional? It will show in your dress. If you care about yourself, others will also.
"This idea of 'take me as I am' is getting on my nerves. You only have one chance to make a first impression. I have a neighbor who barely dresses up, doesn't have any kind of a hairstyle and a negative attitude, yet cannot understand why she is never called back? Time to start some 'preparing for work in the real world' classes."
A reader posting a comment online wrote that how someone dresses at work can influence not only that person's chances for promotion, but also whether customers will do business with the person.
"I'm much more inclined to go to a place of business in which the employees have enough respect for me to dress appropriately," this reader wrote. "I especially don't like to go to a place of business where the women are dressed seductively or where the employees are covered with tattoos. Just my cultural bias."
I'm guessing many other readers would agree with at least some of these sentiments. As for me, I believe it's important to dress appropriately for your specific workplace. I'm glad that, in my current job, that means I am free of the scourge of neckties!
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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