More on Balance.

Owen and I took a road trip last week to visit my sister and other assorted friends and family. And, like most things, conversations turned to work and career and balancing all of it, especially as parents of young children. Even my retired aunt and uncle talked about how hard they thought balancing parenting and work is for everyone now (especially with the DC traffic – holy crap I do NOT know how people sit in that traffic day in and day out!).

In the context of these conversations, I found myself talking with everyone about the positives of my working experience. And it struck me one afternoon: I actually kind of LIKE my job.

It’s true: I don’t love being an accountant.

But I do love my current work SITUATION.

Because it’s flexible. I have one client through the rest of the year. Which means I can structure my work weeks the way I want them. I have been working 2 days a week in July, a few hours here and there from home, and therefore haven’t been stuck in the car for three hours a day, 4 days a week.

I am able to take a week off, like last week, at sort of a moment’s notice. Without needing to apply for vacation time.

I love that about my job. I love that I am in charge of when and how the day to day tasks get done.

Of course, there’s times I am needed onsite, and days where I have my work reviewed and come away shaking my head and feeling like a loser and a failure. And the mornings where I have a 9am meeting and therefore HAVE to get on the road at 7:15 at the LATEST because otherwise I’d be too late and miss it.

And then there are the days where the sheer drudgery of doing a job I don’t love makes me loathe to do anything at all. Where I spend the hour and a half drive home cycling through a list of careers and wondering if any of them might actually make me happy.

In 2005, Steve Jobs spoke at a Stanford commencement, and he uttered a quote which I have not been able to let go since I first heard it maybe 5 years ago. This is what he said:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Find something you love to do.

For years now, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about what kind of career might make me happy. If you added up all the time and energy I’ve spent on it, it probably adds up to weeks of my life of thinking about what my ideal career would be.

All that time spent ruminating – and I’m no closer to an answer.

I’m 37 years old and I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

I’ve been trash talking being an accountant now, for, what, 10 years? I don’t love it. I don’t like talking about it with people, because they assume I’m good at math (and trust me, I’m NOT. I rely heavily on my calculator!) and am one of those “finance people” who has no personality or communication skills.

And there is always a part of me, deep inside, that wants to cry to these people who think I’m great at math and don’t have a personality or communication skills: But I love to write! And read! I was an English major and I played the clarinet and I have actually cried from the beauty of a piece of music!

The fact is, I AM an accountant. An accountant who blogs and reads and cries when she hears beautiful music.

I envy the Steve Jobs of the world; the people who knew exactly what they were meant to do and do it every day with passion. One of my best friends in college was like that: she knew from the moment she graduated high school that she was going to be a landscape architect. And damn if she doesn’t own her landscape architect business now. She loves what she does, and I often wish I had a career I could focus on with similar passion.

I don’t. But I don’t HATE my profession, either. In fact, I love it right now: Love it for the flexibility, for the freedom to work as little or as much as I want to. I love that I can work from home without having to explain myself. I love that the quality of my work is what’s judged, not the time I spend in the office. I love that it changes and moves and I have to stay on top of changes and figure stuff out on my own.

I love that I can take a week and do a road trip with my fast-maturing 5 year old in the summer before he starts school. I love that I can take him to dentist appointment and swim lessons and have family dinners ready and be able to run miles without having to worry about fitting it all in. I love that when he’s sick (or I am, since I have strep), I can adjust my schedule and not worry about long term career effects.

And you know. Maybe it’s GOOD that I don’t love my job. Because this way, I can be around for my family and run and cook and travel and do things I enjoy, instead of having a single-minded focus on my career, my passion.

And I’m now starting to wonder if my definition of “doing great work” has been too limited. Maybe doing great work, for me, means making sure that Jeff, Owen, and I have dinner together nearly every night. Maybe it means that I keep myself healthy and fit and mentally clear by running long distances. Maybe it’s about having the space and time to blog regularly, cook healthy meals, raise a happy child and have a happy marriage and life.

Maybe that’s enough, and I can stop wasting my energy on trying to figure out the career which Steve Jobs said I should find.

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10 comments on “More on Balance.

  1. K says:

    Have you read any of Brene Brown’s stuff? She talks about how we struggle because we have been taught to believe that doing great things means doing GREAT things, and we’ve lost our perspective in taking joy in the everyday and that great things are everywhere. This is exactly I think where you’re headed with this. You’d love her if you haven’t picked her up yet.

  2. Turia says:

    OMG, YES! This: “And I’m now starting to wonder if my definition of “doing great work” has been too limited. Maybe doing great work, for me, means making sure that Jeff, Owen, and I have dinner together nearly every night. Maybe it means that I keep myself healthy and fit and mentally clear by running long distances. Maybe it’s about having the space and time to blog regularly, cook healthy meals, raise a happy child and have a happy marriage and life.”

    That. That is what I want for myself when I get this PhD done. That’s the balance I’m trying to find.

    I like Steve Jobs’ products and all, but the man was an INSANE workaholic. INSANE. No balance there. I’m not sure he’s who I would want to be taking career assvice from.

    I agree that having an amazing passion for your career would be amazing, but I really think that if you have that type of passion, it is that much harder to scale back from it to leave room for everything else in your life. Look at most entrepreneurs- they have to really really LOVE what they’re doing, and believe in it, but they also usually have to sacrifice everything else to get that project/business off the ground.

    More and more I’m realizing I don’t think I want to be that passionate about my career, because I know myself, and if I’m that passionate about something I will focus on it to the detriment of all other things in my life.

    Hun- you ARE doing great work. Can you expand what “work” means, and make your “career” your whole life rather than just the bit you do for which you get paid?

    This post has helped me so so so much today. Thank you.
    xoxo
    T.

  3. B says:

    I think Steve Jobs may have overstepped his mark a bit on that one. I spoke to someone today outside the kindy who described herself as being in “a season of her life” where she had to just make do, work-wise. She’s got a young family and she has three separate work-from-home jobs and she juggles it all around like that. I’m pretty sure she’s in her forties, by the way 🙂 . She gave the impression that she expected the seasons to turn again in a few years’ time.

    On the other hand, I am starting to get that impending-midlife-crisis impression that I really need to just take a leap and go for it, now or never. Which is to say, I have no advice, but I know the feeling.

  4. Deborah says:

    That does sound like a nice work situation. When I started my current job, that’s primarily what I wanted: good hours, people I liked working with. There’s a lot to be said for that. Unfortunately, I think I AM one of those people who has a passion, and working at a job that doesn’t fulfill that passion is kind of eating away at me. I may end up here for awhile anyway, but I’m starting to keep an eye out for other options. So I guess what you want can vary at different stages.

    I’m glad you are feeling better about being an accountant, anyway. (BTW, I only know one other accountant, and she’s got more personality than almost anyone I know. So.)

  5. Yes, I think from his ivory tower that that was easy for a man, in this case, Steve Jobs, to say. I don’t mean that to sound sexist, but he wasn’t in the position of getting pregnant/being pregnant/birth a baby/being primary caregiver for that baby/managing a career. So, his perspective was skewed.

    There are trade-offs in life and I think that part of balance and finding fulfillment in one’s life is knowing what those are for you. And, yes, loving what you do has broader and more far reaching ramifications for a working mother.

    I LOVED what I did and will likely go back to it. But, having gone back to it after my older son was born, I found that I just didn’t love it in the same way. I loved something else more and that was being mother. Now, after #2, I am SEARCHING for what I am going to do to financially contribute to my life again, and whether there is something else out there for me.

    Take heart, I am 47 and am still searching. I do know, though, that what I do for work isn’t going to ever fulfill me in the way that it did before marriage and before children. It will fulfill me in other ways, but I am no longer that woman. Motherhood has changed me.

  6. Kate says:

    As a searcher, I have to say that I still believe that there is a job out there that will make you feel fulfilled. But, as a realist, I also believe that sometimes doing a job that lets you be the person you want to be in other areas of your life is also important. These next few years are going to be a very special, but very intense time with Lucky. Having a job that really allows you to enjoy your time with him is important. There is meaning in doing work that allows you to support your family and be present in your life. When Lucky gets older, you will still have plenty of time to find your passion and delve into it. My father has had many careers….he became a small business owner in his 50’s and he loves it….even though he still has to keep his day job accounting at a big firm. Someday soon, he’ll quit that accounting job and just do what he loves. I would challenge you to keep fighting for somehow getting it all. I’m trying to do the same thing…and not give myself grief for not being “smarter” or better at figuring myself out at a younger age.

  7. Esperanza says:

    I love all the comments on this. And I love this post.

    I don’t really love what Steve Jobs had to say. I’ve read that quote before, in fact I’ve read the whole speech, and it has never sat well with me. Personally, I don’t believe that most people get to follow their passion, for a whole host of reasons, and women especially are less able to do that (as PP mentioned above). The reality is that most people’s dream jobs don’t provide the financial security they need, especially not to live the life they had envisioned for themselves. We are all forced to make decisions about work/life balance that involve time commitments, family obligations, health insurance coverage and retirement contributions, job security and a great number of other things.

    I am a teacher. I specifically chose that job because I felt it was the most compatible with motherhood: I wanted school hours so I could pick up my kids relatively close to when school was out and I wanted summers and vacations off so I could be with them then too. But now I’ve been doing it for ten years and I’m feeling so burned out and I wonder if I can keep doing it long enough for my daughter to even be in school so that I can reap the benefits. Right now my job actually makes things harder because I have to be at school before any day cares open up and I suppose that will always be the case, even if I am still teaching when she’s at public school. Oh, and how little I make also makes things very difficult for my family.

    Every job has pros and cons, they have to right? Otherwise they wouldn’t be jobs. Or you would be luckiest person in the world to have a job that was always wonderful all the time. I mean, the purpose of a jobs is first and foremost to support yourself and/or your family. That is the reality for 99% of people, I would guess. And it’s important to remember that, because nothing that exists so you can make money is ever going to be perfect.

    I don’t know… I guess part of me has kind of given up on the “fulfilling job” dreaming. I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time wondering what job would be a better fit for me but I’ve never found anything that I love completely. Usually the hours are too long or I’d need to be in school again forever (while racking up even more student debt) or I wouldn’t make enough money or something doesn’t work out. I have never found a job, even day dreaming in my own head, that would be perfect. So I always return to teaching and I hope I have the stamina, or find a position where I can stay with it for the long haul, because even though I’m not passionate about it anymore, and there are so many things about it I hate, there are enough good things to keep me from leaving. Maybe that isn’t the reason to stay at a job, but it’s the reason I am staying at my job.

    Anyway, sorry if this is very Debbie Downer. I guess I just wanted to say that you’re not the only one who feels stuck, and stays because they pros seem to outweigh the cons right now, even if the scale seems to tip just barely to the positive side, and who wonders if someday she’ll leave it all but senses that she won’t. Job stuff is hard. Money stuff sucks. It’s all really difficult to navigate. And I actually think quotes like the one above make it all even harder. I think they inflate our expectations, making them unattainable, and causing us to be perpetually unhappy.

    But that is just me. 😉

  8. Justine says:

    I love this. Finding happiness in something that’s perhaps less perfect than you thought it would be. 🙂 I agree … the flexibility is worth a lot … and it affords you time for the things you DO love. Maybe we can’t love everything?

  9. catwoman73 says:

    I love, love, LOVE this! I am 40, and have been trash-talking my career for well over a decade. But there are good things about it, too- I never take it home with me, I work long hours, but have lots of days off in between to spend with my family, and some days are really slow at work, and when that happens, I get to read, write- whatever I want- ON THE JOB. It never occurred to me to re-frame the way I think about my work. Thank you for opening my eyes. While I have no intention of stopping my search for the perfect job, I will absolutely endeavour to appreciate the advantages of the work I’m doing now!

  10. Ana says:

    Love this and all the comments, too. I think this whole current rhetoric about “do what you love” is a bunch of b.s. to be honest. Certainly try to change the situation if its actively making you miserable, but not everyone can “find their passion” or there would be way too many failing cupcake shops and starving artists and not enough trash collectors, teachers, accountants, and healthcare workers. I don’t feel passionate about my work as I’m sure many of my colleagues do—but that makes it easier for me to turn off and focus on my family. Like you, I’m trying to think not in terms of “life” vs. “career”, but as my career/job as just one part of the full life I want to lead. The flexibility, the financial compensation, the location—all of these parts of my job help me have the family life I want—the fact that I work mostly with nice people and once in a while something piques my interest is icing.

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