During past years we got to this particular point of desperation we’re currently at around mid winter; this year we’ve been lucky enough to hit it at the ebb of summer. Between two repeat bouts of a particularly exotic brand of gastro our four year old contracted at kinder, we’ve been quickly reminded of the woes of handling a sick child while the sun is still shining and the weather is still pleasant: the frequent visits to the doctor, the financial costs of doctor visits and lab tests, staying off work and with our son at home, our shrinking sick leave allowances, and the extra effort keeping up with work takes. Added up, there is a significant mental toll here: even if the sum of our activities may not look like much, it is exhausting.
This highlights how disconnected workplaces are with their claims of taking work/life balance into account. I was recently offered a certain assignment which, for reasons I do not want to make public, I preferred not to take. The irony comes from the justification raised in order to convince me: if I was to take this assignment, I was told, I would be in a position to create a name for myself [a work].
Obviously, this argument and the people making it assume that creating a name for myself is a positive thing. I, however, beg to differ. Why? Because of my personal circumstances.
When repeatedly faced with positive feedback circumstances applying to my son’s health, creating a name for myself is not at the top of my agenda. When my son keeps on catching one bug after the other because of his weakened immune system, and when I catch the occasional bug from him, and when just going to work becomes a struggle, creating a name for myself is not my top priority.
Instead, my top priority is stability. My top priority is knowing that I have a safe job I can count on. Typically, such reliable and stable positions are not the positions one would embark upon when one sets to create a name for oneself; name creation is a risky venture that could see one toppled just as it could see one establish a “name” for themselves. Me, I do not seek to have to search for a new job in the near future; I want to be where I currently am for the long run, and steering my way out of establishing a name for myself is by far the safest way of doing so. (At this point I will add it looks likely I will be forced to take this new assignment whether I want it or not.)
Note I am not only arguing that, given my current personal circumstances, the “create a name for yourself” motivation is wrong. I am also arguing it is very wrong, in the sense it is oozing of ignorance concerning my personal circumstances and history. If establishing a name for myself was to be high on agenda, I would have gone back to Israel years ago; Australia’s technology sector is no match for Israel’s. Even if the particular strength of the Israeli tech sector is unfamiliar the average Aussie (and I don’t expect it to be anything but), it is also quite clear that the job I currently hold is not a job one would take if name establishment was high on one’s agenda. However, as clear as the fault appears to be, I am not trying to accuse anyone here: we are all trapped here, slaves to office etiquette. Consider this before you go on thinking I am blaming my managers: do I have the balls to look my managers in the eye and say to them what I am saying here?
The source of the problem is easily identifiable because it’s one of those hidden elephants in the room: corporate culture has taught us we should always strive to climb up the corporate ladder, or at least be perceived to do so, or – in the worst case – appear to want to do so (if only for the sake of playing the game). If you’re none of the above then you’d be labelled a non team player and stuck with eternal corporate stigmata. The reality, however, is different: most of the time, most of us prefer stability in our job department. Most of the time, most of us go to work not because we love doing so but rather because we have to do so in order to make a living. The latter is as legitimate a motivation as anything could ever be; why do we need to pretend otherwise?
Image by Kymberly Janisch, Creative Commons license