I had a very proud moment today. A national legal organization published something I wrote on their website. As a top feature, no less. To say I am bursting with happiness would be an understatement. After it was published, I found myself in an interesting and engrossing discussion about balance and young professionals, the topic of my article. The theme of the discussion was whether or not my suggestions were really possible for young people. Or am I just describing a utopian wonderland? (I will happily admit that my workplace actually IS a utopian wonderland.)
Well, I only write what I know and my article is about what I know about balance. So am I living in a utopian wonderland? Most days, no. But I am aware that I occupy a space of extreme privilege just by being an employed professional. I don’t pretend to write from a different perspective than the one I have. But the whole conversation and the topic got me thinking about choice. The choices I made, and the choices I want others to have.
Earlier this week, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book “Lean In” hit shelves. I can’t wait to read it, of course. But one of her more famous quotes is that the most important business decision you can make is who you choose to marry. I think there is one business decision that is even more important than that. It’s choosing where to work.
My thoughts on balancing your life and family and hobbies are not directed towards someone solely driven towards working at a massive law firm and making partner in 6 years. That takes an incredible sacrifice of personal time. That is their choice. But if you want to find balance in your life and pursue one or two outside interests apart from your profession, you better choose a different workplace. All of this presumes you have a choice. Choice is the ultimate freedom and the ultimate luxury. Balance only becomes possible if you have choice.
Certain Yahoo! employees chose to both apply for telecommuting jobs and work for a company that supported those who work from home (like mothers and fathers of small children). It’s completely understandable to me that they are now dismayed, and possibly infuriated, by Marissa Mayer’s change of policy. Some employees who telecommute will be forced to resign as they simply are not able to commute to an office that is many states away. Ms. Mayer disenfranchised a whole group of people who had already exercised their choice of workplace. And now they face a far scarier choice, leaving Yahoo! or not.
I am surrounded by so many different examples of happy employees, unhappy employees, balanced and imbalanced employees. My partner works almost entirely on his own schedule. He works hard, but his days are what he makes of them. If he’s exhausted, he can be exhausted. If he’s ready to travel all over the east coast and work 3 days straight, he does it. I know someone who never goes to the office on Fridays, and this is fully sanctioned by their company. I know a young woman who asked her company if she could telecommute so she could spend weeks at a time with her long distance boyfriend. And the company said yes. I know people who are taking paternity leave, sabbaticals to Paris over the summer, and I know myself, who is given the freedom to train and travel.
I also know people who come home from their jobs and cry, I know people who get yelled at almost daily by their supervisors. And I know people who work until 9 PM almost every day. All of these people are actively looking for other jobs. Employers, from my perspective, have either already gotten the memo or are about to get it by a bunch of unhappy employees who are making the choice to lead a happier life.
The choices might be difficult and scary, but the choices are there nonetheless. It’s about how bad you want something, and what you’re willing to do to achieve it. As the economy inches slowly to a more healthy state, and as lawyers are trying so hard to avoid career burnout by 35, it is the employers, the law firms, who will have no choice. No choice but to provide reasonable policies to create happy lawyers, otherwise they will risk losing great talent to better workplaces. Exercising our choices, and seeking out balance, empowers others to do the same. It puts pressure on the employers who are holding out, hoping to once again stamp out the personal endeavors of their employees. It’s important to simply keep having this conversation, so people know they have a choice.