In honor of the fact that just about everyone is back to work after the holiday break, I have a bunch of posts about work and how it fits in with our lives.
First, I found a post about work-life balance that really resonated with me, from a woman in tech. I agreed with just about everything she wrote.
There was also a good Harvard Business Report post about the law of diminishing returns at work, something I've written about before, too.
Science- particularly academic science- as a culture could learn a lot from those posts. A few weeks back, Scicurious had a really good post about the persistent idea that being a good scientist requires allowing science to consume your entire life. I don't think that working on science is some sort of magical exception to the fact that most people cannot sustain maximum productivity over long hours. In fact, I first noticed the negative effect of trying to work past my "work limit" when I was still in academic science. And yet, the culture of bragging about long hours in the lab persists. It is a shame, and as the Twitter discussion in Scicurious' post points out, off-putting to a lot of potentially good scientists. Now you could argue that there are still plenty of scientists, so why worry? Well, I think we'd probably get more quality science done if we dialed back the work hour expectations on scientist. And I also think that life outside the lab informs the sorts of questions people ask, and that we as a society are probably missing out on some diversity in the questions asked because we are driving away diversity in the question askers.
Anyway. This all brought to mind a post of Laura Vanderkam's from November, musing about strategy in marathons and careers. The post is about how we motivate ourselves, but the topic made me think about how I've come to view my career as a marathon, not a sprint. I think I can afford to run a little slower when I'm running up a hill like having young children, as long as I stay in the race. The folks who are sprinting right now may run out of steam, anyway. So I'm focusing a bit more on long term strategy and less on short term positioning, and I find that perspective helpful in squashing the occasional career-related panic.
So, what strategies to use? Cal Newport argues for deliberate practice- i.e., seeking out work practices that maximize your effectiveness by actually making you better at your job. He had a recent post looking at how innate talent or intellectual ability factors into his deliberate practice theory. His conclusion is that the small differences in innate ability can be swamped by practice, which is reassuring for those of us who don't think we were born on the far ends of the bell curve!
He also had an interesting post about why we bother reaching for career success. Why don't we all embrace the minimalist lifestyle and try, as one commenter on a Slashdot thread I read once argued, to work as little as possible? His answer is that people generally want to do something meaningful with their lives, and work is how most of us accomplish that.
I agree... to a point. My thoughts on this and on the problems with our culture that glorifies working long hours were clarified by one of Anandi's recent posts. She writes about why she wants to see her crafts published, and that got me thinking about the value of diversification. My thoughts went first to diversification of income streams, and pulled up an old Scalzi post about the various revenue streams he has. It is accepted wisdom that diversification is good in investing, but not necessarily in other ways of earning income. Scalzi's post makes a compelling case for income diversification for creative types. I have long thought it would be good to have income diversification for the rest of us, too. It would certainly smooth out some of the bumps from lay offs and the like!
But perhaps more important than income diversification is self worth diversification. If all of your self worth is bundled into your job, you are probably in for a rocky ride. Even the most lucky of careers will have their down times. In those times, it is good to be able to look at the other aspects of your life and realize that you are still "adding value" to the world (to use obnoxious business speak) even if your career isn't going as you'd hoped at the moment. I actually think that having this diversification in self worth makes me a better employee, too. It (and the hefty buffer in my bank account) makes me less fearful and cautious at work. I will say what I think, and take some risks, because the consequences of failure don't seem catastrophic to me.
Which brings us back to work-life balance. I wonder what it will take to change our culture to be one that really recognizes its value for everyone?