To Fix Work-Life Balance, We Must Redefine the American Dream
I recently had a conversation with a loved one, whose opinion I value tremendously, about my near-future career plans (read: not your typical 9-to-5 job in an office setting). Being an upholder of tradition and conventionality, this person responded with worry and confusion, interpreting my new outlook on life as a sign of laziness. “That’s part of becoming an adult,” was the response I got when venting about burning myself out, a result of 50+-hour work weeks behind a desk. I needed to change the tiring cycle.
That’s part of becoming an adult. Many would agree with this statement. At one point, I did, too. This is a perfect example of how we are conditioned by our existing social structure to live our lives.
Let me explain.
C.R.E.A.M.—Cash Rules Everything Around Me
We’re a nation that has become run, and blinded, by money. Who you know and how much money you have has become more a definition of power than those who truly want what’s best. Just look at Trump’s position in the 2016 presidential election. It wasn’t his bad hair and loud voice that got him there. (If that were the case, we’d have a ton more unqualified Americans running in the race.) As a general society, we equate money with power with respect. Money, therefore, becomes the motivation for almost everything.
Our society’s definition of success is essentially to not muck up the precise lines we’re supposed to fall into. We’re expected to spend 12+ years in school, then choose our life path, throwing heaps of money into higher education, which will then lead us into a lifetime of debt while working like hamsters on a wheel, pushed by our leaders, losing time and energy in order to make money so that we can survive. Meanwhile, prices continue to rise across the board. We’re expected to raise a family, work five-plus days a week, and pay our bills. This is America’s definition of success, set forth by those in power, carried out by the rat race of expectation. Is this the American Dream? Let’s add into that equation racism and gender inequality. When laid out so simply, the infrastructure of our economic well-being and livelihood seem equally proportionate to how much we are singularly willing to sacrifice–our time, our health, our happiness. And we are mostly blind to it because we are kept so busy.
We must stop glorifying busyness.
There is no quick fix for this infrastructure we have been conditioned to accept, a system built over the course of years of tradition, set forth by wealthy, white American men. A system that makes it nearly impossible to achieve that same kind of wealth unless you are born into it.
The Modern American Dream
But, like everything, change begins with a small step. And for something as gigantic as a societal movement, we must think differently, on an individual level, at a massive rate. Technology and the changing, remote workplace has provided us opportunities to get the ball rolling on this. Because perhaps the modern American Dream is not to continue to try and solve the never-ending equation of work-life balance. It’s to make a change that incorporates your job into your belief system, lifestyle choices, and interests.
It’s about learning what you’re good at and what makes you happy, and finding a way to integrate those things into a job. When we view our work life and our non-work life as completely separate entities, we lose time, energy, and sometimes, even ourselves in the process. Thus, the battle of work-life balance begins with no effective result.
It is only until we, as a people, understand these backward tactics and rebel against them that we can experience freedom. And rebellion does not mean shootings, racism, or hatred—quite the opposite, in fact. We do this by standing together, fighting for what we love while also listening with an open mind to other points of view. We do this by being more proactive and creative in the lives we lead, living life consciously, whether that’s working for ourselves and/or letting go of the money- or ego-first mentality. (Pause for a minute before you read any further and imagine what you’d do differently if you lived your life this way.)
It starts at a young age, this “working harder” versus “working smarter” mentality. The knowledge we gain through our existing education system is built on what others think we should know, not by all that is. Why doesn’t our education system teach young adults how to file their taxes? Apply for a loan? Write a check? Learn how to budget money? Invest? Instead, we hold students back for not passing trigonometry. I’ve yet to use those “skills” in real life.
At the top, our system is self-serving. It’s ego-based. It’s money-hungry. It’s one where Donald Trump is a serious contender for becoming the future president of the United States.
We must seek knowledge that we’ve not been given. We must fight effectively and intelligently (not monstrously) for what we believe. We must live our lives how we want to live them, however untraditional or unconventional, and in a way that is not harmful to others. Undoubtedly, there will be nay-sayers. You will sound crazy to some—because the majority of people are more comfortable staying in-between the imaginary lines. The box that everyone tells you to think outside of? It doesn’t even exist.
Change is not easy. But it is worth bringing attention to, at least for the sake of future generations.
“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world… try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money,” says Steve Jobs in the video below. “But…that’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it. You can influence it.”
Creating change, first within ourselves, can be scary. “Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much,” says Jim Carey. “So many of us choose our path out of fear, disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never ask the universe for it.”
I’m not asking you, dear reader, to change the world on your own, but to see it more clearly. I’m not suggesting you uproot your life, but if you have the circumstances to do so and think it’ll make you happier, you should absolutely try. Slow down; take breaks. Take time to understand your self, your wants, and your needs. Only then can you determine how you can help others. Stop limiting yourself by making excuses because of the way you think things are “supposed” to be.
In a recent Huffington Post article in which she defends personal privacy and talks about the objectification of women through the media, Jennifer Aniston says, “From years of experience, I’ve learned tabloid practices, however dangerous, will not change, at least not any time soon. What can change is our awareness and reaction to the toxic messages buried within these seemingly harmless stories served up as truth and shaping our ideas of who we are. We get to decide how much we buy into what’s being served up, and maybe some day the tabloids will be forced to see the world through a different, more humanized lens because consumers have just stopped buying the bullshit.”
The same can be said for the structure in which we choose to live our lives.
As in life, love, and work, “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you’ve spent a lot of time making it.” Want to make a career change? Don’t let the money you put into your degree deter you from building a new future if it’s what you truly want.
There’s a quote I read years ago by Brian Andreas that still sits with me today, epitomizing how much power others have over the way we are conditioned to live:
“Every day he stood in front of the Bank of America. You’re trapped in the belly of a big pink pig, he said. We ignored him. We had work to do.”