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When Did Having Free Time Become Socially Unacceptable?

Ken Chen

Ken Chen

May 12, 2015

I’m a big 30 Rock fan, and one of my favorite scenes is when Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), on his deathbed, explains his life’s singular regret: “I should have worked more.”  🙂

I think it captures the dilemma that many Americans find themselves in – how do I find work life balance in an ever-demanding, tech-obsessed, always-on-call culture. A fairly recent New York Times article, entitled Silicon Valley: Perks for Some Workers, Struggles for Parents, showed how some companies in the Valley are trying to ease the pain, albeit with varying degrees of success.

free-time
Bret Taylor, former chief technology officer at Facebook and a founder of Quip, with his son Sam and daughter Jasmine. He leaves work at 5:30 p.m. so that his employees will not feel obligated to stay. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

It’s been my experience — and that of many others — that even though corporations say they are family-friendly, they actually don’t understand what that really means.  It’s not enough to just host “Bring Your Kids to Work Day,” or to allow workers to commute to work one day a week. We’re still stuck in the 1950s/60s manufacturing model, where managers feel like workers have to be in the office from 9 to 5 everyday with their butts in the chair, pumping away on email and powerpoint, and in most cases, in back-to-back to-back meetings. Anyone ever been in Meeting Hell?  Let’s call a spade a spade, because even though managers say “face-time is not important,” it still is.  When’s the last time you told a manager, “You know I don’t think it’s okay for me to do Version 27 of that Powerpoint because it means I’ll miss my daughter’s soccer game?”

The occasional round of golf is nice, and I think most could make it happen for themselves.
The occasional round of golf is nice, and I think most could make it happen for themselves.

Even in social settings outside of work I’ve seen people wear their, “I’m so busy” badge of honor proudly. In our culture, busy = accomplished or important. We’re obsessed with saving time here or there, and using the hottest apps apps to organize, simplify, and automate tasks to do it. If I tell people that I still walk my kids to school every morning, or play an occasional round of golf, it’s usually met with judgement: “Must be nice.”  It is nice, and I think most could make it happen for themselves, too, if they prioritized family over work.

Sadly, some people are so time-constrained by the corporate world that they outsource parenting to grandparents, au pairs, nannies, babysitters. In Silicon Valley, both parents working is the norm. I hear it time and again, especially from mothers, that they want to spend more time with their kids but work won’t allow for it. Personally, I didn’t want that for myself, so I chose a different path; a scary one, but being a freelance consultant is one that I can control.  And, now we try our best to help others become freelance consultants.

A wise friend told me to strive to live a life where you are full, not busy. I think that’s an admirable goal and I strive for everyday – to live a full, rich life, but not one that feels busy and rushed most of the time. I think Arianna Huffington got it right when she said we should be living lives of “time affluence” rather than “time famine.” The trick is to change your mindset and re-prioritize how you spend your time as a worker, parent, and individual. You have to be courageous and push against the will of the time-draining, soul-sucking workplace. Otherwise, you’ll be just like poor Jack Donaghy; except you will be wishing for something else.

via Truth & Cake
via Truth & Cake

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