It's not that I can't separate work from my personal life--it's that I don't want to.
I remember when the topic of having work/life balance first entered the picture. It wasn't long after undergrad released me into adult life and a recruiter was pitching the benefits of their company to me.
We have a great work/life balance here. Your work stays at work so you're free to enjoy your time at home without interruption.
Now at the time, 22 year-old me didn't care about this. Because once I left the building on Friday I didn't think about work again until the following Monday morning. I just didn't care. I'm at home, a bar, a restaurant, a party, wherever--work had no presence.
Shortly after this, I was hired by a company (freelance) to help with a marketing and branding campaign. It wasn't world changing but this was the first time I felt passionately about the work I was doing. And holy mother of pearl, my attitude changed overnight.
I responded to emails all hours of the day, took business phone calls while I was at someone else's house (on weekends even), and what I could be doing better was always simmering in the background. This behavior change also began to bleed into other professional roles, regardless of if I was passionate about the work or not. I began checking email at night and weekends, and responding, because I got used to doing it for passion projects. And when you start responding to your boss on nights and weekends, well there's the new bar you just set for yourself.
This is where the nature vs. nurture argument comes into play so keep your John Locke quotes handy...
If your boss sends an email at night, should you respond off-hours as well? Do you feel compelled to simply because they are? It goes a bit like this:
- Staff: If they cared about my work/life balance then they wouldn't email me during off hours
- Boss: My personal preference for emailing off hours should not coerce you into doing the same
The problem becomes guilt/shame on part of the employee here. Will I be looked down upon if I'm not responding during off hours and others are? Will my performance be subconsciously (or worse, intentionally) evaluated by my choice? And on and on. It sucks.
In the end it didn't matter for me as I could no longer turn off the switch of working outside of office hours. I knew what it felt like to be passionate about something and wanting to continue working on it regardless of the time or day. That's not something you can easily forget or revert back from.
On the one hand, that feeling is amazing. To be so invigorated by how you spend your professional time is a blessing. We are often so defined by 'what we do' that we become unaware of how closely linked our careers are to our identity. Think about the last time you met someone new and they asked, "What do you do?" Did you answer with your career or job title?
How did you respond? The latter part of that question that often goes unsaid is, "What do you do...with your life?" Your career undoubtedly takes up the majority of your waking time so it makes sense that you define yourself by it. However, it is vastly different worlds when you have passion for your work vs. just 'clocking in' each day.
Ready for the downside? Once that passion switch is flipped on, you are painfully aware when your work is lacking. It's hard to get the momentum going, excitement, energy, you name it. Unfortunately, because you're used to thinking of work all hours of the day, now you're stuck thinking about work you're not passionate about all hours of the day. Not fun.
Do you know someone who did X for 40 years, retired, and then never engaged in X ever again? There was no passion for them. Conversely, do you know someone who kept working in their field (full, part, or volunteer) even after formally retiring? That's because they loved what they did and didn't want to stop. In a very good way, it became a root of their identity.
Ending on a positive, this passion switch acts as a built-in indicator to tell you what may be missing from your career. Or serves as a reminder to be thankful that you are doing something you love.
It's a different story when you enjoy taking your work home, to a bar, a restaurant, a party because you get that much joy out of it. To be so lucky.