Work: More than Just a Job

However powerful our technology and complicated our corporations, the most remarkable feature of the modern working world is in the end internal, it consists in an aspect of our mentalities: in the beautiful and noble belief that the work we do should make us happy and contribute to the meaning of our lives.

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All societies have had work at their center; ours is the first to suggest that work must be something much more than a punishment or a drag. Ours is the first to imply that we should seek to work even in the absence of a pressing financial imperative: that we should work to be fully human.

Nowadays, our choice of occupation defines our identity to the extent that the most obvious question we ask of new acquaintances is not where they come from or who their parents were but what they do, the assumption being that the route to a meaningful life is deeply connected to the job we pick for ourselves.

As we enter the job market, the question is to know not only what is available out there, but also – and just as importantly – what our hearts really desire.

Of course, to find our way to the right job is a huge challenge. As we enter the job market, the question is to know not only what is available out there, but also—and just as importantly—what our hearts really desire. Nowadays, most jobs cannot be done properly without passion. Then again, it isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement. We need to give ourselves time: finding a job we are competent at and enjoy doing is as difficult and as rare as a good marriage.

Not all of us are going to have the sort of outstanding careers often celebrated in the media, but to hold down any job means being given a chance to help out in the great and important task of bettering some corner of the human beehive. Work should be honored for allowing us to focus our otherwise scattered energies on some achievable goals, for giving us a sense of mastery, for making us respectably tired and for allowing us to create something that is just a little bit more ordered, beautiful, logical, or helpful than we manage to be day to day in the rest of our lives.

Tips to Unplug and Limit Your Screen Time Exposure

Many parents have rules for “screen time” for their kids—that is, how much cumulative time they can spend looking at televisions, computers, gaming systems, and even smart phones and tablet computers. We intuitively know it’s important for kids to spend time engaged in activities that don’t require eyeballs on screens.

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As adults we should be imposing similar limits on ourselves. The hitch is, of course, that we often need to use our screens for work: we are tied to devices like our computers, tablets, and phones for our professional life. When the workday is over (for those lucky ones whose workdays DO end), we often turn to screens to watch the news of the day, unwind, or catch up with friends and family.

We need to remember that it’s important for adults to unplug as well. Earlier this year, Psychology Today wrote a great article about how intertwined we are with technology and why it’s so hard to detach from the digital world. To help bring awareness, there’s a National Day of Unplugging in March where participants pledge an entire day sans connectivity and a Screen Free Week next Spring oriented towards families.

But let’s start with baby steps. Since it’s not always easy to do, and knowing where to start can be a bit daunting, I’ve pulled together a few tips on setting limits on your own screen time:

We intuitively know it’s important to spend time engaged in activities that don’t require eyeballs on screens.

  • No screens during dinner. Whether you’re a family of eight or live alone, plan on dinnertime being screen-free. Turn off the news, and don’t check texts or status updates—just stop and enjoy the meal in front of you.
  • Remove screens from bedrooms. When it’s time to retire for the evening, don’t tempt yourself to unwind with a movie or laptop. Let your bedroom be a haven and snuggle up with a cup of tea and a good book. It’s a calming way to end your day.
  • Ramp up your workout. Instead of watching a movie or the news while reading a tablet on a treadmill, how about popping in your earbuds to energize yourself with a favorite song? Let the music be your muse, not the talking heads on the screen.
  • Get outside, and leave your screens behind. Take the dog for a walk, head to the park with a novel or sketchpad, or just sip some lemonade on your own front porch. If you must take your phone with you because you need to be accessible to others, keep it out of reach and pretend it isn’t there until it notifies you otherwise.
  • Head to the library. Remember the old days before screens were omnipresent? Rediscover the joy of the library…rooms stuffed with books just waiting to be read. Spend an hour or so perusing the shelves, and then bring some home to enjoy instead of that glowing box.

Technology brings so many wonderful things to our world, but the key is to not let it run your life. Take some time out of each day to put the smart phone down and engage in the world around you. Your eyes and your imagination will thank you.

Why Men Can’t Address Their Work-Life Balance Issues

If you have a hard time believing that men struggle with balancing their career and family life, it’s not a surprise. According to the Today’s Professional Woman Report survey released by Citi and LinkedIn, 78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle; yet more than half (52%) of men say that they have.

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Even though men have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend with their children since the 1960s, according to a study by Pew Research Center, many still feel it’s not enough. As a dad of twin boys, I can vouch for that.  I quit my full-time job at one of the biggest marketing agencies in Hawaii so I could follow my two dreams. One was to become a freelance writer, and the other was to spend as much time as possible with my boys. I decided I needed to walk away from the 60-hour workweek and start working on my own, from home.

In the Citi/LinkedIn survey, when men were asked about their biggest career regrets, 17% said they wished they’d spent less time at work and more time with their families or on personal pursuits. Yet corporate America still seems to frown on men seeking flexible work arrangements to spend more time with their kids. Women speak with confidence about taking maternity leave or setting up a part-time schedule after a baby is born. By contrast, few men feel comfortable asking for paternity leave.

In general, men hesitate to speak up about the difficulties of being a working dad. And I have at least three theories why:

 78% of women have never heard a successful man talk about this struggle.
 1. The culture frequently disregards men as competent fathers. There’s a classic media stereotype of the fumbling, bumbling, clueless dad who, despite his good intentions, fails miserably at the easiest of parenting tasks. While the term “working mom” is seen as a merit badge, “working dad” is seen more as an oxymoron.

I think some moms feel entitled to sympathy for being the parent who’s always more tired and more hardworking. At many a social gathering, I’ve gotten eye-rolls from moms when I’ve complained about being tired from taking care of my boys. No matter how many bottles I feed, how many diapers I change, or how many loads of laundry I do, it appears I can’t meet a mom’s standard of what it means to feel tired.

2. Men feel less confident than women when asking their bosses for time off. According to the Citi/LinkedIn survey, while men feel more confident about asking for a raise or a promotion, women feel more confident about asking their bosses for time off. But the survey also shows that—for both men and women—one age group in particular has it the worst: Gen X respondents reported having the lowest levels of work-life balance of any generation.

I wanted to be as involved and supportive as possible to my wife before and throughout her pregnancy. It was a long journey, and we had several medical appointments. Before leaving my full-time job, I burned through my vacation and sick days. The system was not designed for dads taking time off for those kinds of things. Every time I had to explain that I was taking time off for a medical appointment with my wife, it felt unnecessarily awkward. Why is it that when dads ask, we’re made to feel as if companies are making a one-time exception or doing us a special favor? A paternity leave, in my case, would have been without pay, so leaving my full-time job was a move toward better work-life balance.

3. Men face stigmatization for seeking flexible work hours. A  study in the Journal of Social Issues found that men with flexible work arrangements received lower evaluations than those with traditional ones. While both men and women seeking flexible hours received lower evaluations, women were seen as “warmer and more moral.” In other words, men were penalized at the character level.

When I told my friends that I was leaving my job so I could have flexibility, I could see that the guys were wondering if they could do that, too. In private conversations, married guys ask me for plenty of details about how I made it happen. I see a lot of curiosity, but also a lot of hesitation. As men, we’re wired to be the breadwinners, to be the providers for our families. We fear that burping babies after meals and supervising tummy time for most of the day will make us look to others like we’re not doing our main job.

There’s the old phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I think it should be equally applicable to working moms and working dads. If we each start with our own circle and remove the stigma attached to working dads, men may have an easier time achieving work-life balance. Results like that will benefit both our families and our employers.

What will it take for this stigma to finally change for good?