On a deep level—it’s subconscious for some and very much conscious for others—we know what makes us happy. It’s human relationships. That’s why, after achieving a career or monetary goal you’ve dreamed of for years, you can feel sad if you have nobody to share it with. It’s also why many of the world’s happiest countries aren’t the super powers. They aren’t the wealthiest or the most advanced. They’re the ones that are family-oriented. They’re the countries where people feel connected. And yet, I see people who repeatedly put work first, constantly making their romantic partner or family feel like a second or third priority, and these people aren’t happy. And they’ll tell you they don’t know why. So they’ll just try to get more money, they’ll try to become more famous, or they’ll try to climb the power ranks of their industry further. They’re truly barking up the wrong tree. And I’m afraid our society encourages it. Here are ways as a woman I feel judged for being less career-oriented and more family-oriented.
When I chose free time over money
A long time ago, I was offered a very high-paying position. It would require me to basically work 12 to 15 hour days, and be available to work weekends, too. But my salary would have doubled. I didn’t take it because I would rather have work-life balance than tons of money. And everyone in my life (besides my partner) chastised me for it. My family and friends and coworkers thought I’d made a huge mistake. I still don’t. I get to have dinner with my partner at night and go hiking on the weekends, and I still have food on the table and a roof over my head.
Girls’ nights are a lot of career talk
I find myself trying to steer girls’ night conversation away from career talk. Everyone is talking about their business plans and negotiations. To me, this is not how we bond. We don’t get to know each other and get closer by discussing things you could find in a business book. But I really have to work hard to get everyone off the topic of careers.
We live in crowded cities for the work
It can be hard for my friends to understand why someone would leave the city—the all-mighty, magical, illustrious city. My partner and I talk about buying a house in a remote town where $700,000 could get us a four-bedroom house with a yard. In the city, that money could maybe get us a small condo in a somewhat crappy area. But still, everyone talks about the city and the opportunities. What about the opportunity to have a yard, have enough room for guests, and enjoy some fresh air? Nobody talks about those opportunities.
But we’re like guinea pigs on a wheel
The crazy thing is, by living in the city, we’re spinning our own wheels. We’re climbing a mountain that keeps getting higher. We have to work so hard just to make enough money to live in our little apartment that keeps getting more expensive. We’re truly fighting an uphill battle. It isn’t really an “opportunity” if the cost of living is so expensive that you can’t really save money.
My vacations can’t just be vacations
When I tell friends I’m going on vacation in a certain destination, they start telling me about the people I should meet up with there who would help my career and the convention I should drop into that pertains to my industry. I’m going on vacation. I want to disconnect from work for a bit.
“What do you do?” is what we ask each other
We can’t help it—it’s what we’ve been conditioned to do—but when we meet new people, one of the first things we ask them is, “So, what do you do for a living?” Believe it or not but, many other cultures don’t do that as much as we do. But to us, our careers are our identities, so it seems normal to ask that question.
And all of our friends are in our industry
Are you guilty of it? I am a little bit. Most of my friends work in my industry. I’m so accustomed to multi-tasking my life to the point that my friends are also all work contacts. When we get together, we can go to a convention or networking thing, both socializing but also advancing our careers. We’re so nervous about the idea of just having fun for the sake of having fun.
“What’s next?” is always the question
I feel like the moment one thing happens in my career, people ask me, “So, what’s next?” or “So, where does that take you?” We don’t spend much time celebrating the current victory. It’s always about the grand plan.
Having a date night is a novelty
When I tell people I work with that I’m skipping the networking event because my partner and I are just spending the evening going out for drinks and then a movie, they say, “Wow. Good for you guys.” They’re astonished that we make this time for each other. Should it really be so shocking that I’d put my relationship first sometimes?
Every hour is an office hour
Potential bosses want you to be available at all hours these days. Saying, “My work is my life and I’m happy to work nights and weekends” makes you the top candidate for the job. If you should try to enforce regular office hours, saying, “I don’t take work calls after 7pm” you’re considered lazy or hard to work with.
We praise people for their sacrifices
When we celebrate someone’s milestone anniversary in their career, we talk about their sacrifices. “He hasn’t taken a vacation in ten years. So impressive” we say. But, is that impressive? Or is that…devastatingly sad? What did this person really win here? A fatter checking account and no experiences to show for it.
Our vacation days are limited
Americans on average get fewer vacation days than most other countries. We’re lucky if we get a measly 10 days. That’s it. We get 10 days to somehow recharge for the roughly 260 days we work a year. That ratio seems a bit off, but we all accept it. In fact, we wouldn’t dare try to negotiate for more vacation days, for fear of appearing uncooperative. “Everyone else is fine with 10 days—why not you?” is what we’d hear.
And we feel guilty taking time off
We feel bad taking time off—I mean really taking time off. It’s plagued me. My partner and I spent a week on vacation and by day four, we both felt anxious, depressed, and started looking at our respective work emails. What has our society done to us? We can’t enjoy relaxing? It makes us feel bad?
I’m encouraged to work with my partner
The truth is that my partner and I work in the same industry, and people have often said we should work together—we should write or create something together as a couple. They say it’d be interesting and unique. So many people have said this—I mean so many, including people who could have really moved our careers forward—that it’s clear it would have some momentum if we did it. But, we decided a long time ago not to. We want to keep our relationship pure. I never want him to be, in any way, the source of my career troubles. I don’t want to talk to him about profit margins and business plans.
I’m judged for not working with him
Most people have not understood my decision not to work with my partner. I’ve tried to explain the many, many dilemmas that arise from working with a partner, and how I’d never want those to disrupt our love even if a lot of money could come from it. The decision to walk away from potentially a lot of extra money, in order to preserve my relationship, astounds people.