Dec. 8, 2010
Finding Work-Life Balance
Last Friday (in my first lifestyle post!) I discussed the difference between Eating to Live and Living to Eat---something I've come to understand (and appreciate) while living here in St. Maarten.
To summarize the post in one sentence: The French have taught me to eat to live, and live my eating (aka slow the hell down and enjoy every bite of my sandwich--and eat with purpose).
I loved all of the responses that came in---and quickly noticed a trend among them. So many people commented on America's fast-passed and stressful lifestyle and how it leaves little time for general enjoyment, such as savoring ones sandwich.
This made me think back to a conversation I seem to have over and over again with my friends back in America--- a need for work/life balance (and their current lack of it). This is partially due to the fact that my friends and I are in our late 20s/early 30s---a busy time in anyone's career, but even my slightly older friends--those in their late 30s and 40s, seem to have the same complaint.
Americans, as a whole, are on the low end for vacation time and the high end for hours spent on the job... Basically, the simple Eat to Live vs. Live to Eat difference is playing out in our professional lives, too.
For example, most Europeans, including those here on the island, have well over a month's worth of paid vacation each year---quite different from the two-week standard in America. The business day also ends here around 4pm and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who works 40 hours a week, let alone more than 40 hours. ever.
I remember when I was working at a law firm back in America--I didn't take a real lunch if I had a lot of work that day (I was a certified dashboard and desktop diner) and I didn't go home until all my work for the day was completed (this meant I often stayed late). Compare that to my French plumber. He showed up at 8. Left at exactly 12 noon (it was his lunch time), returned at 1 and retired at 4. As he was leaving he told me "the work day is over. be back tomorrow." It didn't matter that my shower still wasn't working properly. He was going home. Because the work day was over.
Though, perhaps what I find most fascinating is that people here are generally content with their work, and their work-life balance.
No one is one frazzled nerve away from a breakdown or seeking instant joy or gratification in the form of retail therapy, a gourmet dinner or personal pampering.
They also don't seem to have that same money-hunger that Americans do. They, in effect, work to live...they don't live to work.
Just think about how different your life might be if instead of striving for more, your focus was on less.. What if you only worked so that you can pay for what you need--but little else? Well, then you'd be French.
Why our (American) professional lives (and work-life balance) is so different, I think, goes back to that BIG mentality--perhaps if Americans didn't want big cars, big houses and big proportions, they also wouldn't live to work, just as they might live to eat less?
I really don't know---but I do find it curious...and I wonder if slowing down--slowing down in all aspects of our life--might be exactly what the doctor ordered. for all of us.