Should I Quit My Job? The Lowdown on Three Types of Jobs - Including Toxic Ones


With a new year approaching, many of us get to thinking that it may be time to move on to a different job. Whether it's time to quit depends on the type of job you're in - and how much that job's affecting your mood and behavior.

The Three Types of Jobs

Start by determining what type of job you hold, then pop down to "Next Steps" to learn what to do in your situation.

1.  The "It Pays the Bills" Job

This job - which might be called a stop gap or even a drudge job - is one for which you don't hold out any high hopes of fulfillment or long-term potential. It's purpose is simply to supply the cash while you balance other demands (e.g., school or family life) or try to secure a job in the field of your dreams.

2.  The "Unfulfilling Career Ladder" Job

This is a job that you'd hoped would set your heart on fire. It's in your field of choice, has many aspects that are a good fit for you, and has at least some potential of being "the one." When it comes right down to it, though, the job leaves you feeling...blah.

Importantly, this sort of job isn't dragging you down, it's simply not boosting you up.

3.  The Toxic Job

Now THIS is the job you need to quit. And soon. This job type is so important (and common...) that we'll spend the bulk of today's post discussing it.

Jobs in categories 1 or 2 can turn into a toxic job, sometimes with little warning. The toxicity of a job is just like the toxicity of substances – you may be able to take it until it reaches a critical level, and then it simply takes you down.

Signs of a Toxic Job

Before we dig into the signs of a toxic job, an important note:  the following are not the aspects of a job that make it toxic. That actually varies from person to person depending on preferences and personality. (What seems like a yelling, abusive boss to one person feels like a great motivator to another!)

Instead these are symptoms that you may start to display while in a toxic job:

1.  Never smiling at work.  Most of us don't spend our entire days smiling. That would just be weird. (!) That said, you don't want to be like my career coaching client who said, "Someone came in my office and told a funny story and when I smiled, it felt strange. Like I hadn't used those muscles in so long I couldn't remember how to make them work." Ugh.

2. The belief that something is wrong with you for feeling miserable in your organization or field. This one breaks my heart. If your work environment or career path doesn't match your preferred skills, interests or values, that doesn't mean YOU are the problem. It means you and the work don't fit. Period. When your work is changing your thoughts about yourself and your sense of esteem, it's an ugly, ugly sign.

3. Irritability. You've become the snappiest person you know, launching into bitter tirades at the drop of a Kardashian marriage, especially when you're home. This doesn't mean your home life is the problem, it's simply "safer" to show your anger to your loved ones than to the people who can have you fired, so that's where the irritability tends to make its great display.

4. Hopelessness about future work. The most common sentiment I hear my clients in toxic jobs express is, “I don't know if there's any job out there worth doing. I think I'm doomed to be miserable at work forever." This is a depressive mindset, thinking that negative things going on now will continue forever. Once you breathe the clean air of a healthy work environment (even vicariously through informational interviewing), your thoughts will begin to change. Trust me.

5. Lack of motivation/energy at the end of each and every day (except maybe Fridays). We all have exhausting days. We all have days we'd rather not be working at all. But when those once-in-a-while days become your norm, it's a pretty sure sign you're in a toxic job. You should want to do more than watch TV and eat takeout all evening every evening. That is not living.

6. Sleep disturbances. When your sleep starts to change, job toxicity is nearing a breaking point. You might find yourself being unable to fall asleep, waking up for long periods of time in the middle of the night and/or waking up too early every morning. For instance, my husband began waking up at 4am every single day in the three months after his job turned from unfulfilling to toxic.  He said he wasn't thinking about anything in particular (not even work) but couldn't fall back asleep. Once we made the decision that it was time for him to find a new job, voila, he started sleeping normally again. And - bonus - he hadn't even quit yet; the decision to leave was enough to cause the change.

7. You experience repeated “Sunday night hangovers" - a sense of dread that descends as the work week creeps closer, affecting your behavior and mood. As business consultant Ellen Mastros told US News and World Report, we all tend to feel sad as Monday approaches, but getting angry, irritable, or having physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches isn't OK. Not sure if you experience these hangovers? Ask the people who live with you. Believe me, they'll know.

Next Steps

Now here's what I'd suggest you do, depending on your job type:

If you're in a "It Pays the Bills" Job, you'll know when it's time to quit:  when your path to meaningful work finally becomes available. (PS - if you're not actively working toward making that a reality, it's time. "It Pays the Bills" Jobs are notorious for turning toxic.)

If you're in an "Unfulfilling Career Ladder" Job, before you think about quitting, make a concerted effort to employ some concrete job crafting strategies, such as those covered in my free eBook. Put a time limit on how long you'll give the strategies a shot before reassessing quitting - maybe 6 months or a year - and be proactive during that entire time period. This isn't about settling but about building. Believe me, the teaching job I've now held for a decade went from bland to blissful because I took these very steps.

Finally, if you see one or two of the signs of a Toxic Job, it's time to formulate your exit plan ASAP; you only have months or possibly weeks until the toxicity overwhelms you and makes you suddenly scream "I quit!" in the middle of a team meeting, burning boku bridges in the process. (Most of my coaching clients wait until they're at this point-of-no-return before contacting me...not the best move.)

How do you make a plan to quit smartly? By building an emergency fund, doing introspective work to determine your next best move, and using networking to lay the groundwork for the change ahead.

Then when the toxicity eventually scalds you to your core, you'll be ready, not desperate.

Know someone who is thinking about quitting? Please pass this article along to him or her.

Now I want to hear from you:  What are your experiences with quitting? Were you in a toxic job, or in one of the other two types? What was the final straw that made you leave?

Photo Credit: quinn.anya

The Most Important Professional Decision You Need to Make Is Personal


There you are, making decisions about what'll bring you a long, deeply fulfilling, I-made-a-difference-in-this-world-goshdarnit sort of career. You think you should be considering your interests your "passions," your personality, your values.

And, sure, all of that is good and helpful and "proper."

None of it will matter, though, if you fail to make the most important professional decision of all:  who you choose to be your spouse.

In honor of the twenty-year anniversary of dating my husband (fact check:  I'm not ancient - we were simply high school sweethearts!), here's the down and dirty on why the personal determines the professional - and how to make the best choice yourself, whenever the time comes.

Meaningful Work Is High-Powered

Most of the articles you find about spousal support for one's career focus on "high-powered careers."

Read:  the people at the top of the corporate ladder, making boku bucks with a three-letter acronym adhered to the butt of their names.

I contend, however, that pursuing personally meaningful work demands the same level of drive and commitment as "high-powered" careers. Finding such work requires a full immersion of self, a healthy lack of work-life boundaries, and the willingness to make sacrifices - financial, personal, familial.

If the pursuit of meaningful work were easy, more than 20% of us would've found it.

There's simply no way to keep this sort of gig flying without a supportive spouse, as research attests:

"Support from a spouse is paramount to steering a successful career and personal life, according to a recent survey of 270 successful women by Kathy Korman Frey, a faculty member at the George Washington School of Business Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence. In response to the question, “How do you do it?” nearly half of the women surveyed said: 'support from my spouse or life-partner.'" - Wharton Business School article

Does This Apply Only to Women?

The previous quote begs the question of whether spousal choice is as important for men's careers as it is for women's.

I want to say:  Hell yes! I really want to say that.

I can't, though. The fact remains that women still take on more of the household work than men do, even when both are fully employed outside the home.

That's why Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg devotes an entire chapter to the topic of getting one's husband to be helpful ("Make Your Partner A Real Partner") in her excellent book Lean In, which I reviewed in the past. As Sandberg points out, only 9% of dual-earned families report splitting housework, child care, and breadwinning equally.

That said, I have seen spousal choice negatively affect people of both sexes, especially when men feel pressured to bring home hefty paychecks at the expense of fulfillment and sense of purpose.

Signs of a "Good" Decision

Based on many articles on the topic, here's are the signs I've distilled of making a "good" spousal choice - signs you've found someone who will support you as you pursue the challenging, but highly worthwhile, goal of finding meaningful work:

  • Doesn't hold rigid gender stereotypes. 
    • For example:  Is willing to have conversations about all sorts of work-life arrangements, including women staying home, dual-earner, and men staying home. Does not cringe or balk during these conversations.
    • [Note: A NYTimes article reports on a study that found that "traditional views of gender identity, particularly the view that the right and proper role of the husband is to make more money than the wife, are affecting choices of whom to marry, how much to work, and even whether to stay married."]
  • Isn't wedded to a high standard of living.
    • For example:  Says something like, "As long as we're together, I don't care where we live or what we eat." And lives those words (within reason, of course!).
  • Doesn't use income as a yardstick for "important/worthwhile work."
    • For example:  Actively admires people who live according to a set of values, regardless of their earnings.
  • Readily sees everything you could be, if only circumstances allowed you to be it.
    • For example:  Says something like, "I'd love to help you figure out how you can cut down your job so you can do the writing you've always been talking about."
  • Sees partnership as a team effort, not as two individuals competing or besting one another.
    • For example:  Doesn't even put your accomplishments or income in the same sentence as his own. The comparisons simply don't exist.
  • Has experience with and willingness to compromise.
    • For example:  You two can pick out a movie on any given night without getting into a brawl - even when you want to watch polar-opposite sorts of flicks.
  • Takes deep personal pride in your accomplishments, without making you feel pressured to accomplish.
    • For example:  You're at a party and you overhear your partner sharing your latest fulfilling milestone while beaming. Does not mention this to you later.
  • Believes in your capabilities, both at work and at home.
    • For example:  When you divide duties, doesn't come behind you and re-do them "correctly" after you're done. As Sheryl Sandberg writes, ”Anyone who wants her mate to be a true partner must treat him as an equal – and equally capable – partner.”

Next Steps

Do the signs above seem like a tall order?


Yet such partners do exist. I snagged one, and I know many other men and women who have, too.

In my opinion, the best way to find someone supportive is to BE someone supportive. We attract what we are.

Plus, the odds are increasingly in your favor. Studies show that men currently graduating from college are more egalitarian than in past decades, while women are more realistic about "having it all." As a result:

“It’s increasingly possible to carefully, consciously and deliberately choose roles that fit our values. [Young people] are seeing more choice, more freedom and more realistic ways of pursuing lives that fit with the roles they want to fill in society.” - Stewart Friedman, Director of Wharton Business School's Work-Life Integration Project

So set your sights on meaningful work, pick a partner who will help you reach for such heights, and don't stop striving until you get there.

Photo Credit: tommie m

How to Prepare to NOT Have it All


It fascinates me that we're totally comfortable with having to make choices in most aspects of our lives - we can't live in two cities simultaneously, nor in two apartments, nor take two competing job offers - yet when it comes to family and career, we remain obsessed with "having it all." In our last post we debunked five myths on this topic. Now it's time to get down to business and make a plan for living with the myth-ditching fallout.

1. Get Real

My college-aged self would think I've failed. I'm doing a shoddy job on not one but two fronts, she'd say as she popped Tums and returned to the library at 10 at night.

  • Here's what I imagined: I'd go full bore with my career for about ten years; "opt out" to be an awesome makes-every-meal-from-scratch, doesn't-allow-screen-time, creates-home-based-preschool curriculum uber-mom for about five years (even though I disliked all things domestic at that time - and, surprise, still do!); then magically re-enter the work world in bold and brilliant style.
  • Here's reality:  I teach two days a week; work on freelance projects one day a week; and spend the remaining weekdays with my toddler. There are no high-power fireworks going off in any domain of my life; I do everything competently, but not in a newsworthy fashion.

Do I "have it all"? Uh uh.

I have something better:  a life I actually want to live.

Dropping the "having it all" pressure is Step One to creating a meaningful, fulfilling life. Get real about what's possible - and what's sanely manageable. Reading my previous post is a good starting place, as is Anne-Marie Slaughter's article in The Atlantic "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" in which she writes the following about a speaking engagement:

"What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be."

2. Get Informed

It's also vital to get informed about the facts related to work and home life. In particular, I suggest that all 20somethings read up on the following:

  • The real scoop on age-related infertility. Check out the brand new article in The Atlantic by Jean Twenge. The great news:  the late 30s aren't that bad for having a child. The bad news: "plan to have your last child by the time you turn 40. Beyond that, you’re rolling the dice."
  • The reality of career off-ramps and on-ramps. It's easy to step off of a career path for a time (37% of highly-educated women do), but it's pretty darn difficult to get back ON (only 40% return to full-time jobs, even though 93% of "off-rampers" want to do so).

These facts stink. Period. But the only way to avoid bitterness in your future is to know and accept them up front. And then make decisions accordingly. Which brings us to the next step:

3. Get Authentic

This is my favorite step. The only decision you can't regret is the one made from your inner core. <click to Tweet>

i am me

So dig down and recognize what you want - not what society dictates, nor what your family wants for you, nor what you've been indoctrinated to believe.

  • If you dream of sun-drenched days making paper hats and Play-Doh chickens with your kids, you are not a disgrace to your gender.
  • If children make you itch and squirm and you want nothing to do with them, you are not a disgrace to your gender.
  • If, like me, you realize the only way you can stand being either an employee or a parent is to be each in small measure, you are not a disgrace to your gender.

Be honest with you. Only then can you start being honest with everyone around you.

The students who make me feel saddest are those who "slip up" and admit their domestic dreams to me, then try to cover them up out of fear that I'll stop supporting them. Why, oh why do you do that? That "slip" was the real you. Be proud of hearing that voice; hearing it means you're doing better than 99% of your peers.

Likewise, I strongly commend Slaughter for her honesty when writing about her decision to step-down from a high-powered government career:

"I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home. I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults."

In contrast, I'm authentically not someone who is "mom material." Deep down, I want to work, a fact that caused me to feel much guilt during my daughter's infancy. Now I'm able to say, "she's cute and I love her, but being Mom isn't my natural role." Although I do feel guilty simply typing that. I want to do the best I can at being her mom. It just so happens that her mom happens to be someone who highly values meaningful, intrinsically-driven work. And who values modeling that love for her. I dream of being a domestic goddess who derives satisfaction and mastery from home life. But I'm simply not.

Bottomline:  whatever you desire, you will feel guilty for it. Might as well own up and live your truth, then shake off the guilt as best you can.

4. Get Grounded in Now

As I discussed last time, Sheryl Sandberg warns women not to "leave before they leave." By living in the present and fighting to create a fulfilling career while you can still focus solely on yourself, you build the resources you need to make a genuine choice when it comes time to figure out where family fits - if at all.

If you're in your early or mid-20s, you do not need to make career/family decisions at this.very.moment.

Should you think about all of this? Yes. Read up on the facts related to the topic? Absolutely. Take action? No.

Get informed about the future but live in the now. Make decisions only when it's time to actually make them.


5. Get Reacquainted With Yourself Regularly

The only way your work-life decisions will stay "un-regrettable" is if you keep updating those decisions. At 22, I thought kids were a pox that marked the end of a person's life. At 32, I was literally prepared to give my life to have one.

Let yourself develop, then check in regularly.

Set those check-in points now. As in today. Put them in your planner and hold yourself to them. You might try the Working Self "Who Am I These Days?" Annual Tune Up to keep yourself on track.


6. Get Ready to Live With the Consequences

This is the hardest step of all, by far. By the time you're 40, your major decisions about family and career trajectories will be behind you. You can and should keep tailoring and invigorating those trajectories for many decades to come, but you'll have set the general course by then.

These aren't horrible consequences if the decision to get there was made actively, authentically, and based on genuine facts.

And if the decision wasn't made this way? The consequences are darn bitter pills. With an aftertaste.

7. Get Active

Finally, if you're angry about the concessions and compromises you have to make to create the life you want, good. There are plenty of policy and societal changes that could be made to increase career-family harmony, which Slaughter outlines in her article. She writes,

"I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured."

Make the best choices you can for yourself in the present moment. Then fight a little for the future. After all, we wouldn't be having this conversation at all if someone hadn't fought for us.

What are your thoughts on preparing for NOT "having it all?" Is this the wrong message to send entirely? I genuinely want to hear your ideas.


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We should all tattoo this on ourselves. In a matter of speaking. (Photo credit: The Happy Robot)

Some want this. Some don't. You don't need to decide for yourself until it's time to decide. (Photo Credit: legends2k)

Put the annual check-in in writing. Now. (Photo credit: Mike Rohde)

Five Myths About Having it All


A secret to fulfillment is setting goals that are lofty yet attainable. Which means “having it all” and its associated myths need to be ditched. Right quick.

Myth #1: I can "have it all" - in sequence.

The notion of having it all at once has been deceased for some time. But we’ve been handed a sneaky alternative:  the idea that we can sequentially have it all. Be a hard-driving career woman, then a fully-focused family lady, then a career woman again. Voila! You had it all! (And, yes, this should apply to men, too…)

An article in Glass Hammer notes that while sequencing may work for some women, it often happens accidentally, at best. The author also notes:

“While there are certainly periods of more intense need, such as when caring for a newborn or a sick family member, no one can effectively slot child-rearing or elder-care efforts into neat time sequences.”

Family isn’t a two-year gig that ends; it’s a lifelong commitment. As is work, if it’s created in a manner that’s meaningful, self-driven, and intrinsically satisfying. We can aim to blend work and life, but we can’t be powerhouse perfect in both. Period. <Click to Tweet>

Myth #2: Having it all simply requires some good planning.

In the book Creating a Life, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett interviewed career-driven women who’d suffered from age-related infertility. One interviewee, who regretted waiting to try for kids, said:

“Ask yourself what you need to be happy at 45. And ask yourself this question early enough so that you have a shot at getting what you want. Learn to be as strategic with your personal life as you are with your career.”

Sounds nice, but is it possible?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says no. In Lean In she writes, “I’m a big believer in thoughtful preparation…but when it comes to integrating career and family, planning too far in advance can close doors rather than open them.”

I agree with Sandberg. Not only can strategic planning prove inflexible, what you think you’ll want at 45 when you’re 25 tends to be quite different than what you actually end up wanting. Consider this:  your 8-year-old self probably thought you’d want to be living in a castle and wearing princess gowns 24-7 right about now. Was she right? (Alright, this may explain the Kate Middleton obsession, but still...)

Bottomline:  we aren’t good at projecting ourselves into our older self's mind. As a result, long-term work-life strategizing falls flat.

Myth #3:  My career will [matter less/be on auto-pilot] by the time I’m 30.

Sandberg is an outspoken critic of this myth. She writes, “Of all the ways women hold themselves back, perhaps the most pervasive is that they leave before they leave.”

Sandberg contends that women often step back from their career incrementally throughout their twenties, “making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family.” She argues that as a result, many women have neither the financial power to purchase quality nonparental childcare, nor the motivation to stick with a job they’ve made uninteresting through years of parenting preparation.

Not to mention that the deeper we get into a career, the more engaged we tend to become, not less. Expertise yields passion, making it nearly impossible to walk away. Or to remain content if we do.

Sandberg’s advice to young women:

“Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit. Don’t put on the brakes. Accelerate. Keep a foot on the gas pedal until a decision must be made. That’s the only way to ensure that when that day comes, there will be a real decision to make.”

Myth #4:  I can figure work-life stuff out later.

I love this beauty:  the quandary deferment approach.

Uh, try again.

Putting off thinking about where family will fit may mean you never have a family to fit. About half of all high-achieving women in America are childless, “roughly twice the rate in the population at large,” according to Hewlett. Based on interviews, she believes that most of these cases are not by choice, but rather from waiting too long to find a mate and/or attempt conception.

Hewlett’s advice? “If a high-achieving woman were to make finding a partner a priority in her twenties or early thirties, attaining both career and children would be a much less daunting proposition.

As you might imagine, feminists loved that. I actually read Hewlett’s Creating a Life so I could join the feminist bandwagon against her, but I ended up feeling much like author Amy Richards:

“I came to sympathize with Hewlett and eventually realized that she was sadly just in the uncomfortable position of having to tell it like it is. Hewlett wasn't saying women must procreate, but women who wanted a chance at having their own biological child should try sooner rather than later.”

Which leads us to the granddaddy of them all:

Myth #5:  Reproductive technologies will save the day.

At least once a year my intelligent, data-driven females students sit in my seminar proclaiming they’re going to wait until 40 or so to get pregnant. “With technology these days, anything’s possible,” they say, followed by discussions of plans to freeze their eggs.


Thing is, reproductive technologies aren’t knights on white horses.

For instance, freezing eggs is a lengthy process that involves hormones and minor surgery, that costs about $40,000 all told, and that was just taken out of “experimental” status in 2012. Even after all that, it’s far from guaranteed:  embryos freeze better than eggs (i.e., sperm’s necessary), and even frozen embryos only produce children in about 35% of IVF cycles, if the woman is under 40.

Furthermore, the rate of live births after IVF using nonfrozen embryos is only 12% for women 41 or 42 years of age, and 4% after age 42. In other words, anything is not possible.

Simply put:  the timeline for leaving home and getting married has been extending but our biology hasn’t gotten the memo.

Next Time

This all sounds pretty dire, now doesn’t it? Fear not:  since I’m not one to pose a problem without floating a solution, on Thursday I’ll post How to Prepare to Not Have it All. As bad as things may sound, I’ve actually found "having just some" to be a relief. The key? Drilling into your core and figuring out your own priorities. No small task, but well worth the pay off.

  • Do you have any “having it all” myths to add to the list? Or has one of the myths I mentioned been your pet myth? Let me know in the comments below!

Must-Read Related Article:

ANNOUNCEMENT:  The first Working Self Newsletter will be hitting inboxes this Wednesday! It contains a full-length exclusive article on the science of job crafting (creating work that's fulfilling without leaving your existing job); links to the best stuff from around the web; the inside scoop on this site (including some embarassing tidbits about me as a 10-year-old); and much more. I poured my soul into this thing! If you want to receive it, get on the list before Wednesday morning.

The saga of IVF tends to be emotionally, financially and physically taxing. (Photo credit:

Work-Life Balance Doesn't Exist


Stop searching for work-life balance. You won't find it. It ranks right up there with such mythical concepts as having it all, the twenties as a carefree ball of laughs, and being able to lose masses of weight by eating at SUBWAY. I began my obsession with work-life balance literally days after starting my first full-time job. And no wonder, given that we spend about 54% of our waking hours at work (and what percentage commuting to and from it?). At the time I thought I was supposed to somehow compartmentalize my work so that I could enjoy my life. Keeping things separate and highly time-regimented would, I thought, bring me the elusive work-life balance I desperately sought.

On the contrary, I should have started searching for something else from the very start, something I now advocate to all of my students and clients:  work-life blend.

What is Work-Life Blend?

Until recently, I didn't know what to call this concept I've long embraced. Thanks to a terrific interview between Mitch Joel and Jonathan Fields that Dara Poznar from Good at Life forwarded to me, though, I now happily call it work-life blend. In the interview (embedded below) Joel says point blank, "I don't believe in work-life balance," noting "How many hours do you spend working every day? I take it very personally."

Fields agrees: "Work-life balance comes from a baseline assumption that work is outside of life. It doesn't feed it, it doesn't intersect. It's something that you need to stop doing because it's something that exists purely so you can feed life."

Joel and Fields instead argue for work-life blend, in which life and work are seen as consistent and symbiotic, with work being a genuine part of life.

Two researchers from Catalyst, Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell, support the work-life blend approach. According to the article "Working Life 'Balance' Isn't the Point" in the Harvard Business Review, Greenhaus and Powell "recommend that work and personal life should be allies and that participation in multiple roles, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being — especially when all of the roles are high quality and managed together."

What Work-Life Blend Looks Like...and Doesn't!

Importantly, though, someone who is defined by their work may not necessarily be experiencing work-life blend. They may instead be letting work consume them. True work-life blend begins in one particular direction:  from self to work. Work may come to inform the self over time, but work must first and foremost be designed by the individual if we are to experience meaning and flow, the bedrocks of lasting happiness.

As I've discussed in the past, I live this philosophy; my teaching and my writing are integrally a part of who I am, and vice versa. Not everyone can understand this choice, and sometimes I get ribbed for my love of what I do. In fact, I woke up early to put some finishing touches on this very post, not out of obligation but out of pure desire. My usually-supportive husband lay half-asleep in bed beside me and moaned, "work, work, work." The thing is it doesn't feel like work to me, a point Fields also makes.

"When everybody's asleep," he says, "one person may make the choice to go and watch TV or read a book. But my choice would be I want to go write. I want to go build something. I want to go produce something. Why is that any lesser of a choice, simply because it's labeled under 'work'?"

Joel concurs, saying that he dislikes being on vacation if he's told he can't work during it. "Why take me away from the things I really love?" he asks.


Admittedly, there's a fine line between workaholism and having work-life blend. The greatest distinctions are that workaholics suffer health troubles due to work stress and neglect non-work domains of their life, while people with work-life blend do not. As Joel puts it, "life is a stool" that has three legs - personal, community, and work - and you need all three to be equally strong in order to have a fulfilling life. The three domains may - and perhaps should - interact deeply with one another, but work cannot replace community and personal endeavors if we're to remain mentally and physically healthy.

How to Create Work-Life Blend for Yourself

Assuming that those of us who have created work-life blend find pleasure, meaning and happiness in this approach, how can you do it, too? Here are some tips:

  1. Identify your life's theme. In the Harvard Business Review article Christine Riordan says, "To help eliminate 'negative spillover' from work into home life or vice-versa, we should put everything in the same container and create a coherent narrative — doing so can reduce work-life separation." To do this, you might picture yourself at a mixer, being asked to tell others about yourself and what's important to you in a few brief moments. What would you say? How can your work be a part of your story? In other words, strive to make the answer to "So what do you do?" personally relevant. If you simply can't - even after enlisting brainstorming help from friends and relatives - then it's time to redesign your work. Which brings us to Point #2.
  2. Design your work using intentionality and introspection. In response to the HBR article, coach Ali Davies suggests, "I think the key is focusing on designing the life you really want, creating your own definition of success based on your core values and then re-engineering work or business to support that. Business should serve and protect what is most important in life - not balance with it." Hear, hear.
  3. Re-evaluate your work-life blend on a regular basis. As mentioned, work-life blend can cross over into workaholism if the other facets of life are left unattended. In addition, it's easy to steer away from our self-driven goals as external pressures like money and status inevitably rear their heads. Therefore, set an anniversary date - New Year's, if you're a traditionalist; a random day in May if you're not - to systematically re-assess the state of your work-life blend. Even the most well-intentioned path can go awry if it's not recalibrated every so often.

We'll be focusing on these steps in future posts and around this site because it's my strong belief, in Riordan's words, that "even in the busiest of schedules, the most practical and effective way we can live is by aligning our personal priorities of work, family, health, and well-being. Such realignment can bring huge gains in emotional and physical energy, not to mention greater clarity and focus at work."

In the meantime, I want to hear from YOU! What are your thoughts on work-life? Is work-life blend a good goal? Or do you think work-life balance is actually attainable and is more realistic?

Here's the interview of Mitch Joel by Jonathan Fields. I'd suggest watching this whole conversation, but if you want to focus in on the work-life blend discussion, watch from 24:30 to 30:50.

Photo Credits: ForestForTrees via photopin cc and Captain Kimo via photopin cc and Patrick Gensel via photopin cc

This isn't a healthy blend...

Why the F-Word is Key to Your Future

If you don't care about your life beyond age 30, you can stop reading right now; you can probably get through until then without the F-word. But if you're looking to build a life you find fulfilling, meaningful and authentic to your true self - and I hope that's what my readers are looking for! - then you absolutely need to start using the F-word. Liberally. The F Word

No, I haven't just given you permission to use that F-word. (Although if that floats your boat, go for it. Just not in the office, kay?) The F-word I'm talking about is feminism. Egad - THAT F-word. Before you click away, I give you one challenge:  read through to the end of this post before deciding whether to discount the F-word.

And MEN: don't you dare go running away on me now that you've seen the word "feminism." What I'm about to discuss will affect your choices just as much as women's, as you'll see in the final segment of this post. Besides, feminist men are uber-sexy (have you never seen Porn for Women and Porn for New Moms?) AND "couples who share domestic responsibilities have more sex," according to Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg. Reason enough, now isn't it?

Why I'm Bringing This Up Now

A week and a half ago I had the incredible pleasure of wandering around Harvard Square with my husband, a blissful, rare experience I savor all the more now that I have an energetic toddler who typically chains us to home (don't you look forward to this stage of life?). At the Harvard Coop, I found a lone autographed copy of Sandberg's new book Lean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.


Someone had recently implored me to read it, but I honestly wasn't interested. I mean, I've never been on the corporate track, I don't "get" the business world, and besides, I'm now a stay-at-home mom two days a week who certainly doesn't have a high-powered career, much less has any "leadership" qualifications.

But it was autographed. And 30% off. So I bought it.

Shallow reasons? Indeed. But, wow, what a purchase.

Since I had nothing to read in the hotel room that night, I took a peek. And I've been devouring the book ever since. My. Favorite. Read. In. Years. Hands down. And, shall we say in the understatement of the century, I like to read. So this is no small endorsement.

While the book is categorized under "Business Management," I'd label it as the contemporary mainstream feminist treatise, the likes of which we haven't known since The Feminine Mystique.

Let's Get Clear on the F-Word


If you're like the general American population, only a quarter of you female readers consider yourself a feminist. And presumably even fewer of you males, although I can't even find a figure on that - which is a sad fact in and of itself. (Even sadder? When you type "how many feminists" into Google, you receive countless pages of "How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" with some highly offensive answers to follow.)

Feminism has become the dirty word of twentysomething culture, equated with bra-burning, hostility, and overt male hatred. Even Sheryl Sandberg says throughout Lean In that she never thought of herself as a feminist, and doesn't come clean with the line "now I proudly call myself a feminist" until page 158 of 172.

So let's get this perfectly clear:

A feminist is someone who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. - Lean In

When presented with that definition, 65% of women say they are indeed feminists.

I personally believe that feminism is about even more than this. My senior year in college I was provided with the following definition of feminism (paraphrased and warped by memory):

Feminism focuses on the full and equal inclusion of people from all walks of life into the fabric of our society.

That was a definition I could get behind.

Even still, I've never come out loudly and eagerly as a feminist; my choice of a hyphenated last name is as far as I've gone. At times I've even denied the label, especially around my stay-at-home mom friends. Which, after reading Lean In, strikes me as a true shame and a lack of personal character.

So here I am:  feminist and proud of it. And eager to get you to buy in, too. Here's why:

Why The F-Word Matters

As you look to designing your future, you need to embrace the F-word. Regardless of your gender. For two primary reasons:

1.  Personal Fulfillment

Obviously I'm a hyper-proponent of finding work that matters to you, that makes you feel engaged and purposeful, and that you'll be able to one day look back upon with a sense of personal integrity and authenticity.

We simply cannot do this work if options are closed off to us. It's like saying:  sure humans can fly to Mars, if only the radiation didn't kill usUh, that means we can't (currently) go to Mars.

We can only become our truest selves if we have every option genuinely open to us; our inner selves know no bounds. Today, though, our options are indeed limited, for both men and women:

Despite all the gains we have made, neither men nor women have real choice. Until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don't real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don't have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential. - Lean In

Sheryl Sandberg defines "real choice" as occurring once women run half our countries and men run half our homes. Given that only 8% of the independent countries in the world have female leaders, and less than 4% of stay-at-home parents are fathers, let's just say we have a ways to go.

To be clear, this definition of "real choice" is not saying that any given individual will want - or should want - to run a country or run a home. All it's saying is that we should all have the option of doing whatever we want. And right now, that's simply not the case.

2. A More Productive World

Owens performing the long jump at the Olympics.

Going beyond the personal to the communal, involving people from all backgrounds equally in work settings has been shown to benefit us all:

The laws of economics and many studies of diversity tell  us that if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve...When more people get in the race, more records will be broken. And the achievements will extend beyond those individuals to benefit us all. - Lean In

I couldn't agree more. For instance, Olympic records would not be at the outer limits of human capacity if not for the breaking of the color barrier, according to the New York Times.

There's more to be said about Lean In and how I see it relating specifically to twentysomethings, but I've lexically assaulted you enough for one day. Next time we'll pick it up with more specifics on why the F-word matters for your future, and how to make real changes that can make a difference for you, your peers, and your off-in-the-hazy-distance children.

So what do you think? Are you a feminist? Did this post begin to change your opinion on this matter in any way, shape or form? If not, what needs to happen to make you feel comfortable calling yourself a "feminist"?

Related Posts:

Why Are Women Scared to Call Themselves Feminists? (Salon)

Beyonce is a 'Feminist, I Guess' (The Cut)

Feminism ISN'T a Dirty Word (The Daily Mail - UK)

And I happen to wholly disagree with the following post - you only need to believe in #1 to be a feminist. I don't believe in many of the points that follow it:

15 Signs You're Actually a Feminist (PolicyMic)

There's a lot of hoopla over words that start with such a pretty letter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesse Owens helped to redefine the limits of human potential. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flashback Friday: Work-Life Balance

I've often wondered what advice my 30something self would give my 20something self. Now, through the time travel magic of journaling, we can find out. Journal Entry from September 2, 2003 (25 years old; my first semester teaching at Bates College after leaving a PhD program)

Me Then: Today I went in at 7:15am and returned at 6:45pm. Long day. Of course [my husband] has been doing 7 to 7 for two years. I'm just coming to fully realize his frustration and aggravation. I always tried to make him feel better about the time he's been putting in by talking about the money he made or telling him relief's down the bend, after he's put in his due, but what is that stuff really? In actuality, when your time and life are being sucked from you, none of that matters.

Me Now: This big issue that is *just* dawning on you, it's actually a well-studied and often-discussed problem:  work-life balance. Not that you'd call it that; you think work-life problems are only for people with whining kids hoarding around them. Not so. It can be a big problem for any worker, regardless of what their "life" involves, and can cause reduced life and job satisfaction, lower commitment, increased burnout, higher turnover intentions, and higher absenteeism.

Me Then: What role models do I have who have lived unconventionally, i.e., not been slaves to the clock just to earn a buck? I'm beginning to fear that I'll be left with nothing but the job, all day, everyday. And isn't that, truly, what my parents have done forever? And everyone's parents?

Me Now: You don't need good role models. You heard me right:  studies find it's actually better if you have parents who openly struggled with work-life balance. Seeing this struggle will likely make you more knowledgeable, committed to and involved in planning for your future roles, according to research. So thank your parents for their struggles and for not shielding you from those challenges. Then pick their brains about what worked for them and what didn't. And take notes!

Me Then: It's all so wrong. I don't want to accept this as my fate. I fight it actively. I want to be fulfilled and make an impact but not feel like life = work and work = life.

Work-Life Balance

Me Now: What you long for is work–family enrichment, in which "experiences in one role improve the quality of life in the other role” (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). You will find it, trust me, but only by pursuing interests that naturally match who you are and what you value, like we discussed in Is Your Career In Your Genes?. When you do that, work won't feel so much like work. Your life will begin to feed the career and vice versa. To make that happen, though, you'll have to be intentional, reflective, and proactive. You'll also have to be willing to make sacrifices.

Me Then: Everyone seems so complacent about the issue of work overtaking life. Like after a while of working you "get used to it" or become resigned and just accept that your whole life will be this. Doesn't everyone go through the rage I'm feeling? Or not? 

Me Now: Most young people feel it. 73% of millennials say they're concerned about their future work-life balance. Members of Gen Y actively seek out companies and careers that support that balance. And you will, too. This demand will force more companies to address work-life issues if they want to attract and retain good workers.

Me Then: If people are at one point so enraged, how do they transform into 8 to 6 (or longer) workers, trudging to and from their prison each day, and encouraging their kin to one day do the same? Let me know how this happens because I want to avoid it. I want to find meaningful, useful work for myself, yet not suffer or sacrifice my freedom and enjoyment on the earth for it.

Me Now: "Prison"? A bit dramatic, don't you think? In any event, here's how you avoid it:  you do what you're doing right now. You become aware that you want work-life balance, and then you actively plan for it. People who have high work-family balance self-efficacy, the "belief that a person can effectively balance work and family roles simultaneously" (Basuil & Casper), do a better job creating a career that strikes a balance. It doesn't just happen.

Three tips when planning for work-life balance:

  1. If you know that both family and work roles are going to be important to you, "avoid careers that require long hours or business travel to have more time for family" (Basuil & Casper).
  2. Practice having multiple roles early in your twenties, long before you build your own "family." For instance, you may be a student, a part-time worker, a volunteer, a son or daughter, a "plus one," and a best friend simultaneously. Pay attention to what works while doing this juggling - and what doesn't. Then intentionally apply those lessons in the future.
  3. Pick a partner who will balance you. Having two hard-driving careerists in one family can make work-life balance rough, if you want to have kids. Think of work-life balance as a unit, not as an individual. At times one of you may end up doing too much work and one too much "life," but between the two of you, you can make it work. If you choose to. And if you stay flexible about gender roles in the process.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, rest assured that you will simply get better at work-life balance with age. Because you have to. If I told you you'd one day draft a blog post about a topic you love while managing the toddler who decided to wake up at 5:15am, making breakfast for the family, and setting up voluntary career advising meetings with Bates students, you'd never believe me. Yet that's what you just did. So there.

So what do you think:  Do you hear yourself in any of my former self's concerns? Or was I just crazy?

Basuil, D. A., & Casper, W. J. (2012). Work-family planning attitudes among emerging adults. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 80, 629-637.
Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work–family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31, 72–92.

Be zen like a frog? (Photo credit: Tanja FÖHR)