Critics of American work culture have long complained that the 9 to 5 is no way to be alive. This lifestyle model was most culturally visible in the 50’s, when men with hats and briefcases became iconic symbols of hard work, the virtue which fueled family, freedom, and the American Dream! These values made war with America’s burgeoning Counter-Culture over the coming decades, and the cultural pendulum, for many, swung away from hard work as an ethos to be respected.
Today, the pendulum seems to be hanging somewhere between these two extremes. Even as we hear of reports of all-or-nothing work requirements at places like Amazon, many Americans want a more humane way to make a living. This is what we mean when we talk about a Work-Life Balance. It’s a way to make real money, without having to sacrifice health and happiness to do so. It’s a way to be able to raise a family, without having to be destitute. It’s a way to prepare for retirement, without giving into some of the nastier aspects of 21st century capitalism. Basically, it’s the new American Dream, and people want to achieve it.
Various studies paint the Millennial generation as a group of people who want to find fulfillment, at least in part, outside of the workplace. Nonetheless, Millennials tend to be freaked out about money. You know all about the challenges that today’s 20- and 30-somethings endured as they entered adulthood. Work hasn’t been the bedrock institution that it was for some previous generations. Despite being difficult to corral into cubicles, Millennials tend to hope for financial security, and even independence. Is it possible to achieve one or both of these goals, all while maintaining a healthy life of experience outside of a normal job?
Cracking the Work-Life Balance Code: Real Life Methods
A healthy work-life balance is by no means limited to the young, but it’s easier to lay the foundation for this lifestyle if you have personal freedom and plenty of years to implement your strategy. Still, many of the following methods are available to all.
1. Move. Millennials are a mobile generation. One of the biggest factors is cost of living. The past couple of decades may have been hard for American cities like Buffalo, Baltimore, and Detroit, but this has only made them very attractive for young people, for whom homeownership, startup jobs, and entrepreneurial efforts would be more inaccessible in thriving cities. If you want the money you make to go farther, or to be able to work less to make ends meet, why not move to a place where it doesn’t cost so much to do what you do? This goal even leads some people out of the country on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
2. Educate Yourself. Unless you have marketable skills, it may be hard for you to make money very quickly. We’re not talking 6 figure earnings, here. But unless you’re able to earn enough to support a simple lifestyle without working 60 hours a week, this whole work-life thing isn’t going to happen for you. This knowledge has led thousands of Americans into growing sectors like nursing, and this option (with its 4-day workweeks and job mobility) may be an option for you.
3. Practice a Well Rounded Lifestyle. Even if you haven’t “arrived” yet, start making time for meaningful life outside of the workplace, even if that’s challenging. Some people recommend the Hobby Approach, where people cultivate three main hobbies in their lives: one to stay fit, one to make money, and one to exercise their creativity. By living a meaningful life, even when it’s easier to punch the clock until you come home and fall asleep to Netflix, are essential to building a life that’s enjoyable within and without the workplace.
4. Save and Invest. Live beneath your means and save/invest for the future. You don’t have to be a professional investor or a high earner to do these well. But without them, even the best-lived life will be difficult to sustain as the years go by.
5. Have Relationships. Many people enter adulthood only to realize they no longer have any friends. Don’t let this happen to you. Make time for relationships, for your family, for your kids. Go out for drinks, go for a hike, get together even if you’re tired. Without meaningful relationships, none of the rest of this will do much to scratch the work-life balance itch.
You’ll have to pioneer your own methods to make this work for you. Everyone is different, and will have different expectations for what a good work-life balance is. Making this happen is hard work, but don’t stop. It’s possible to be happy and fulfilled, even if you have to work for money.