Fireside chat with Ms. Minchin, Miss Minchin's younger, hipper sister.
Let's start with a quiz. For each question you answer "yes" to, give yourself 5 points. For each "No" give yourself 0 points. Workers in philanthropic or life-saving jobs are exempt.
1. I think about work anytime I am not at work. yes/no
2. I talk about annoying things that happened at work every night when I come home. yes/no
3. I drag myself to work in the morning because I hate it there. yes/no
4. At lunch with my co-workers, we only talk about things we hate about our company. yes/no
5. On the weekends, I mostly spend my time recovering and preparing for the week of work ahead, because it's going to suck. yes/no
6. I can't let go of the defects in my company's organization, the people who run it, and the people who annoy me at work every day. They should just change, why can't they see that? yes/no
7. I only socialize with people I work with, and then we mostly talk about work. yes/no
0 points = Congratulations! You don't really care about your company and recognize that it's just a job. You probably lead an active life outside of work, and know that no matter how much effort you put into your job, you will still get a "meets expectations" rating on your review just like the lazy bum in the next cube who pawns all his work off onto you. You'll both get the same 3% raise and that lazy bum probably makes more money than you anyway. Kudos!
5 or more points = You need a little more balance in your work/life sicha-ation. You probably believe that if you just keep sacrificing your personal time and energy, the company will recognize your efforts with a nice promotion, a fat raise, and reciprocate your loyalty if ever a layoff comes. You don't realize that the boss thinks you are a nerd, and knows she can make you "Team Leader" to get you do stuff she doesn't want to do, for free. If you aren't burnt out yet and resentful, you soon will be, and will probably cry during your review when you're told you "meet expectations" after giving so much of yourself to do three times the work of all your teammates. When you wear out and your performance slips to doing only twice as much work as the lazy bum in the next cube, you'll get a "needs improvement" rating and will probably quit before you find a new job. Read on to avoid this fate...
Balance is Good
Everyone knows equilibrium is important. Without it, we would be falling out of our chairs and puking at our desks. Even the ancient greeks knew that an imbalance of humours could lead to all sorts of maladies from Phlegmatism to Melancholy. Hence, in Spanish, a person in a bad mood is "de mal humor". Don't even get me started on why you should see your Phrenologist on a regular basis. All this brings us to the first step: blood letting. Now, once you've seen your local Leech-monger (or the Red Cross because they could probably use it), you're ready to move on to the first step in the work/life balance equation: Having things to talk about.
Things to talk about
One reason that you talk about work with your spouse/roommate/friends/family is because you work at a really frustrating company. But perhaps another reason is you don't have anything else to talk about because you don't do anything except work.
Here are a few ideas for fun things to do that will give you something else to talk about:
- Read Books
You can borrow these from the library, from your friends, even your coworkers (because we know you don't get paid enough to keep buying these from Amazon). Ask what your coworkers are reading, and when you read it, you can discuss it over tater-tots in the cafeteria. Check out the best sellers list, when you find out you hate most of these, at least you can talk about that.
- Take a Class
Check out your local adult education center or community college. Try a wine-tasting course, social dancing lesson, or a cooking class. Yes, there will be crazy people there, because it is open to everyone. But you already risk encountering crazy people every day when leave for work and besides, those crazies in your class will give you something to talk about over tater-tots in the cafeteria. You could even go a little wild yourself and try out a subject you shied away from in school, like Chemistry, Drama or Driver's Ed (it's about time you got your Driver's license after all these years anyway). You might just find out that the subject you always avoided is actually pretty cool when your GPA isn't riding on it.
- Take up a hobby
You've probably forgotten about all the interests you used to have, before you decided you were too busy with work to have time for anything else. Well now is the time to put those karate pajamas back on and finally earn your blue belt, or dust off your dancing shoes and get clogging. Private investigation is enjoying a new surge in popularity. Learn Observation and Objectivity, or "the two obs", and who knows you might just land yourself a part time job for a PI firm.
- Join a society
Now that you remember your hobbies again, you might want to join a society. Hanging out with others who share the same interests is a good way to expand your skills and share ideas or techniques. Unless of course you are a writer, because writers hate other writers, and they'll just steal your ideas anyway. Yes there will be crazy people, but fewer because crazy people don't like routine and monthly dues.
- Enter a competition
Now that you have taken on a hobby and have joined a club, you should enter a competition. Why not? It gives you something to work toward, takes your focus off of work, and you might just win something. If you do photography, enter the town photo contest. Enter a ballroom dancing competition. Submit an idea for a new postage stamp. You don't even have to be good, crappy people enter all the time. Just think, you can say "I got 6th place at the dance competition," and you don't have to tell people that there were only six people competing.
By now you've probably figured out that I'm trying to make you more well-rounded under the guise of having things to talk about. Well since we're finally being honest, you really need to spend more time with your family. Even if your family consists of your cat Fluffy and your distant Auntie Edna, they want to hear from you. Giving more focus to your family life can make your work life seem less important, and can even give you some interesting stories to share over lunch, especially if you have a crazy family.
- Date your partner
Word on the street is your life partner wants his/her sweetie back. Forget about work for a day and go bowling, or plan a night out, or make a nice romantic tater-tot dinner at home. You know what to do, so just do it for once.
- Visit your grandparents
Gramps and Granny just want to see you. They don't even know what the internet is, so you definitely won't be talking about work with them. A Sunday playing scrabble and dominoes with your grandparents can really put your work and life imbalance into perspective.
- Call your mother
You heard me. The woman carried you in her womb for 9 months. Ask her about her early experiences in the working world when women worked for "pin money" and were still called "girl". You might feel a little better about the working conditions you have at your stupid company.
- Give your sibling a break
You know, the one with all the kids. Offer to babysit while she goes out on the town. Or spend a day going school shopping with your neice. She'll think your her cool Aunt.
Get your finances in order
Another reason you may be feeling so down about work is that you really need the money and feel like you have no choice but to keep coming back every day. Unfortunately, being in this position tends to make your work life harder. Employers can smell desperation and take this as their cue to treat you poorly, offer no advancement, and keep your wages low. Getting your finances in order gives you more control over your destiny, and having a plan for your financial future can give you the confidence to expect and request more out of your employer, or to dazzle another employer into hiring you for more money and better benefits. Don't believe me? I dare you try the following steps:
- Create a budget: When you truly have a handle on how much money is going out vs. going in you will know whether you are living within your means. When you live below your means, you are less dependent on that weekly paycheck to get by, and less desperate to keep that crummy job. If you are living above your means, you are headed for trouble and are extremely vulnerable to any financial setbacks (ehem, layoffs). Buying things you don't need on credit is like signing yourself up for indentured servitude; you are spending your future wages for that thing you couldn't wait just a few months to save up for. If you are in this situation, start a plan to get out now, or you can look forward to many many more years dragging yourself to work in the morning.
- Start saving: Put aside money now for that rainy day. Start saving now for retirement, there's no guarantee that you will always be employed as long as you feel like working. Save, save, save, and save. When you have an emergency fund, you will feel freer to take more risks like asking for more responsibility from your manager, or having an interview with that recruiter who calls you from time to time.
- Set financial goals: When you know where you want to go, you can start taking steps to get there. Having goals to work toward can help you to see yourself progressing as time goes by, even if nothing at work seems to change. Hitting milestones you set for yourself can feel so good, that you won't even care about that lazy bum in the next cube. You might even score a nice retirement out of it too.
Once you've taken some time to do things that you enjoy, visit with family, and get your finances in order, you are ready to start giving back. Any discussion about well-roundedness would be remiss if it left out the feel-good part where you help other people and get involved in the larger community. Here are a few ways to get involved in your community.
- Volunteer: Volunteer gigs come in all shapes and sizes. No matter what your special skills or interests are, there's probably an organization that can benefit from your time. Soup kitchens always need someone who can cook tater tots, for example.
- Participate in your spiritual community: Every house of worship needs a constituency. Take part in the services and pitch in.
- Local government: Campaign for your chosen candidate, or at least go out an vote once in a while. You might even want to run for a position yourself. Why not? Crappy people run all the time, you might just win.
- Community theater: Why not take part in a spectacle put on for the entertainment of the community? In the olden days before Xbox, Tivo, and ipods, people only had each other, and TVs without remotes, to keep entertained. I'm serious, we had to get up to change the channel. You can keep the tradition alive of amusing thy neighbor with some community theater. If you're not good at performing there are plenty of jobs backstage, and there's always the role of "Tree #1."
Getting a life
If you start taking any of the actions we've outlined today, you'll be well on your way to having a rich, rewarding life outside of work. Once you have that, you may even find your job to be more stimulating, or at least you may come to view it as just one piece of the pie chart of your life.