In praise of doing something completely different with your career
Amid the talk of the Great Resignation, people are taking time off to take a "time out."
Cassady Rosenblum wrote of this trend in an essay for the New York Times in which she cited the example of a worker in China who quit his job abruptly, then went home to lie flat in bed. He's posted an image on Baidu (China's version of Google) saying, "Lying Flat is Justice.” Elsewhere, a recent tweet that begins “i don’t want to have a career” has exceeded 400,000 likes. This issue is personal for Rosenblum, who recently quit her job as a news producer and returned to her parents' home in West Virginia.
“Here in the hills, the new silence of my days, deepened by the solitude of the pandemic, has allowed me to observe the state of our planet in the year 2021 — and it looks to be on fire, as our oligarchs take to space. From my view down here on the carpet, I see a system that, even if it bounces back to ‘normal,’ I have no interest in rejoining, a system that is beginning to come undone.”
Deja vu all over again
Roseblum’s essay reminds me of my Boomer generation's youthful angst. So many of us — that is, those who had grown up in a degree of security and comfort — questioned the values and the lifestyles of our parents' generation.
Soon enough, however, we joined in the swing and became every bit, or more so, career-driven. Getting married, having children and seeking a comfortable life evoked the pressure to earn and burn.
Now with the hindsight of 40-plus years, I sympathize with Rosenblum. Too much work creates burnout. And the burnout trend is hardly abating.
Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton and an influential author and organizational psychologist, put his finger on the issue with this tweet. “In unhealthy cultures, people see rest as taking your foot off the gas pedal. You don't stop until you've pushed yourself to the brink of exhaustion."
Exactly. That's why so many people are reconsidering their "what next?" The pandemic has evoked a significant pause, a time for reflection.
Grant proffers a solution: "In healthy cultures, people see rest as a vital source of fuel. You take regular breaks to maintain energy and avoid burnout."
Some, like Rosenblum, want a complete break. Others, as Grant advises, need to re-evaluate how they work. So many people push so hard not just to achieve but because they have entwined their identity with their work.
It is good to become invested in what we do, but when we become overinvested, we narrow our scope of life to exclude everything but our work.
Sadly, we become less resilient, almost like championship athletes who are vulnerable to injury and illness because they have pushed themselves to a point where they have very little in reserve. When adversity strikes, we either crumble or crash.
Stew Friedman, a professor emeritus at Wharton, has been researching and writing about work-life integration for decades. What Friedman calls Total Leadership is all about integrating the domains of your life -- work, personal, family and spiritual -- into a framework that suits you best.
This is not work-life balance. Balance assumes equilibrium, and that's not always feasible or desirable.
Take positive steps
Each of us needs to determine the time we want and need to spend on our lives. And the amount of time we spend on work varies with the nature of our work and the stage of our career.
For example, working flat-out on a big project is not necessarily bad; doing it year after year leads to problems. Also, what works for an early-stage career is not the same as what works for a late-stage career individual. So our challenge is to find what works best for us.
Prioritize what is essential to you work-wise. At the same time, prioritize enrichment. What gives you pleasure and joy. Is it family, friends, hobbies, faith, or all of these and more? Take steps to do less of what wears on you and make more time for what nourishes you. Less work, more fun? Or more and less fun?
However, you choose to unwind can be positive. For some, decoupling from the world may be necessary. For others, slowing down and making time for what's important in life may be better.
Whatever your choice, you owe it to yourself to make it.
John Baldoni is a globally recognized leadership speaker, certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, and author of 15 books that have been translated into 10 languages. In 2021, the International Federation of Learning and Development named Baldoni a World-Class Mentor and named him to its Hall of Fame. Also in 2021, Global Gurus ranked him a Top 20 global leadership expert, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2018, Inc.com named him a Top 100 speaker, and in 2014 Inc.com listed him as a Top 50 leadership expert.
Baldoni’s books include "Grace Notes: Leading in an Upside-Down World," "GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us," and "MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership." For more information about Baldoni’s speaking and coaching, please visit his website.