A note to twenty-somethings: Don’t go for work-life balance.
Another note: In this economy, you could be in a not-my-career McJob: bartender, bouncer, room service delivery guy, retail rat. This blog is less true for you right now. You’ll see why in a second. Also, if you’re married, this may not feel true for you. That relationship changes the ambition mix.
If you have just begun your career, don’t don’t don’t tell potential employers or your boss that you’re seeking work-life balance, if you want them to view you as a hot-shot.
The twenties can be an unsettling decade. You’re on your own, physically and practically. If you’re like many these days, you probably haven’t married. You’re not sure what you’re about, what you want, or what you’re capable of. But you wear your best false-self face, you’re full of bravado and bluff, and you say you have the ambition of a presidential hopeful, only you're not a political joke.
Know this about your twenties, and into your mid-thirties: You will never have as much energy or drive as you have now. This is the time to go for it. Companies want your ambition, your ideas, your take-the-hill attitude. They’re dropping their fifty-somethings like a used tissue (they used to be twenty-somethings) in favor of you, who are – BTW – cheaper than the older guys.
If you’re not in a career job, you will likely seek WLB. You’re not in it to win the next job; you don’t want it. You’re marking time till you can find what you want. Personally, because I believe we develop good and bad habits no matter what we’re doing, you SHOULD give your mall job your all. You’re getting yourself in shape for your career opportunity; you don’t want to take (and have to break) a WTF attitude to your growth job.
Most of you will change once you marry and begin having kids. You may be more focused and less haphazard about your job, but part of your heart will never fully report for work again. Your personal life will matter more. You’ll have beautiful children and carpool and aging parents, and you’ll be desperate for free time. Plus, a boss or two will have screwed you over so you’ll realize the company doesn’t take care of you. You will also have taken another measure of your ambition. If you’re still gunning for the top job, you’ll still be driving toward it, and hiring baby-sitters and carpool drivers. If you’re not, look for work-life balance THEN.
I don’t care what the company’s official line is about its work-life balance policies. It's not true (as you will also learn about company pronouncements). Let the suckers talk about WLB. If you have ambitions, be about drive and dedication and working weekends. And make your social life part of your work life: golf with the boss, a fishing trip with your banker, dinner with your customer. THAT’s work-life balance for the ambitious. But this is the time for you to go go go!
As the sergeant said to his men in WWII, signaling they could take a break, “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” For you it means: Don't take the break. Use that drive while you have it.