I have written frequently about the drawbacks of part-time work, so I was interested to read Lindsey Mead’s essay in the Sept. 22 Princeton Alumni Weekly called “A foot in two worlds.” Describing her “personal mommy war,” Mead writes that she believes that “having both a career and a family that you adore is one of the world’s great problems.”
Her problem? “I haven’t ever had that job I love.” Since having children, this Princeton grad and Harvard MBA (who blogs at ADesignSoVast, including about 168 Hours) has always worked part-time as a way to pursue that ever-elusive goal of balance. “The thing that haunts me is this: In being unwilling to give up either world, did I end up doing a poor job in both?” she asks.
I would say no on the mom front, since her two children sound quite charming from her blog posts! (Many of us use our blogs to complain about the rugrats). But on the work front, she feels “frustrated by what feels like wasted years, spent only partially engaged in jobs that, in retrospect, did not mean very much to me. To keep the flexibility I prize so highly I have chosen roles that are often peripheral, not core to a company’s function, and I have been an individual contributor rather than a member of a team. This has eroded both my sense of making a real contribution and of feeling part of a cohesive group. What was the point of having missed hours with my babies for something that feels so insubstantial and inconsequential now?”
Of course, as she points out, she doubts she actually would have wanted to be with her kids every second. Still, it’s kind of a depressing essay, and she even floats the idea that she wasted her Princeton and Harvard educations, and let down her parents and teachers, which seems a little silly. Jeff Skilling probably let down his HBS profs. Not Lindsey. But she does raise several points that I think are worth addressing.
First, people have this idea that part-time work would be the best of both worlds between working and staying home with kids. In reality, as she has discovered, it is sometimes the worst of both worlds. You still have work stress, often a commute and work expenses, you may need childcare, and yet you aren’t working enough to get the full benefit of it — that is, working to the point of diminishing returns. And so you earn far less per hour, often don’t get benefits, and your career may not advance to the point where the work is fun. Or where you have the autonomy that would actually bring a better work-life fit. Sure, some people love their part-time jobs. But they are not a universal solution to work-life woes.
My main beef with the essay, though, is the idea that by fully committing to one’s professional life, you “give up” motherhood, even if you have kids. This is the kind of false choice that I wrote 168 Hours to combat. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 40 and sleep 56, that leaves 72 hours for other things.
Now, you can point out that many of the jobs that HBS grads pursue are not 40-hour/week jobs. But I’ve seen several time logs now of big firm lawyers, executives, management consultants and so forth, and they were not working 80-hour weeks. Yes, they were sometimes 55-65. But this still leaves many hours for a family life if you choose, and I was gratified to see how often they did choose family. And not just at 7pm on weekdays and on weekends, either. Mead was not “willing to give up the flexibility to spend time with my children, during the week, during the day.” Neither were some of them (I enjoyed the Wednesday 10AM school birthday party entry on a particularly hard-charging mom’s time log).
The key for many people is professional situations where we get to be grown-ups. That is, if you want to be at a school event at 10AM, you make the work up at 10PM. In many cases, you get to that grown-up stage by devoting enough hours to your craft to get somewhere. Yes, sometimes the key to work-life “balance” is working more.
In other 168 Hours news:
- Kimberly Wilson’s Tranquility du Jour runs a podcast on 168 Hours
- Men with Pens runs a guest post from me on why you should write that Christmas letter now (and is co-hosting a webinar with me on Free Agent Time Management on Oct 14!)
- Wandering Scientist writes what she discovered during the 168 Hours Challenge, and in good scientific fashion, gives us the daily averages, plus the maximum and minimums. Good stuff!
- Laughing at Chaos rounds up her week and discovers she multi-tasks All. The. Time.
- Light and Momentary discovers that she hates logging her time — but it does keep her accountable.
- The Soap Dish vows to remember moments of family fun that thread through her 168 hours.
- And many more time logs coming in (this is just a smattering – plus some that wish to be anonymous). Everyone finds this a learning experience. Though sometimes not in the ways we envisioned.