My wife always wanted kids, and she enjoys being a mom quite a bit. Case and point, you can hear the joy when she is getting our two year old girl ready for school. My wife will comb my daughters hair and engage in a conversation peppered with questions from an inquisitive child who is fascinated with things like getting dressed, choosing hairbows, and getting candy for going on the potty. Since my wife has to get to work she can’t enjoy the moment as much as she would like as this morning ritual has a hard stop. My wife has to leave by a specific time so she can get back in time for the start of the professional workday. Ok, that can be done, and it just means that morning time is limited but it’s still an enjoyable routine, right? But wait, there is a seven year old boy who is just now showing what I swear is early onset adolescence. Surly, and tired, he doesn’t want to get out of bed. So the slightly rushed but enjoyable moment instantly morphs into a daily battle royal to get the kids ready and out the door to get back to work on time. Welcome to modern parenthood.
When relating this information to a very wise friend of mine who is well trained in childhood development, it sparked a pretty good analysis. Her opinion wasn’t that the problem was the surly seven year old mastering the art of delay and resistance or even my daughters mornings where she is the issue. The problem is that there isn’t enough time to let them work through it. Does it really matter if a seven year old is late to school every few mornings? I mean this from a practical sense and from a productivity point of view. I get that there is a big lesson about showing up when you are supposed to. The question of if his education will suffer greatly by being late every now and again is not really at issue. It simply will not have a major effect, well not on my son. My wife on the other hand, does not have any practical flexibility. She has people who will be expecting her input 24/7. Others will not be able to complete their tasks if she doesn’t complete hers. It’s imperative that she gets to work or there will be minor, and over time, major consequences if she does not. So the pressure is up to get the seven year old to wake up and act as responsible as an adult who needs to be at work.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, this grind continues, not just for my wife (or me when i’m in the hot seat), but for many, if not most working parents. It’s not just parents of young ones. What about adult children taking care of their own elderly parents? What about caring for seniors that have health issues? This got me thinking: Why not structure society and business ‘around the grind’? Why not have truly flexible lives? There are some obvious answers to why we have not done this. Part of it is historical organization and structure. Common working hours have been a mainstay since the onset of the early industrial age. Everyone needs to know when they can interact with everyone else and that is still as true today as it was for Henry Ford, when he implemented the assembly line and even earlier than that. This admittedly is changing with the rise of the internet and a millennial generation which is comfortable being connected to all aspects of their life including work 24/7. Part of it is that employers know that the more they hold people to being on task, a task at a predetermined time and number of hours, the higher the probability they can make the task become the primary focus in the employee’s life. This is good for any employer in complex and competitive modern markets. The other half of this equation is the answer to the question of what would happen if there wasn’t a demand to get to work at a certain time? In this scenario the prep time for the child would become the primary focus. In effect the productivity/work part of the professional’s life would happens less and less because there isn’t as much time to do it. Realistically, without the demand from employers, parents would go in later and later because they would be fitting work in and around the kids personal issues, their lessons, the local school fundraiser, and other community and family obligations. That outcome is great for society but bad for business.
What about non grind career options?
There are two carers that come to mind that have built in structural lubricant to deal with the grind. They are independent contractors like programmers and straight commission jobs like realtors. In both cases you lose the income / consistency that comes with the regular job with regular hours.
I had a conversation with a realtor very recently about this very subject. Let’s call her Jackie. Jackie’s disgust at realtors who take a week off after closing on house points to a reality of this world. If you want security and success you have to be on 24/7. Then you are a workaholic. This was parodied in the recent movie Storks where the parents were intense, always connected, workaholic realtors. If you are a workaholic, then you are still dealing with the grind because the call of work never stops, even when your not answering to anyone else except your own productivity.
In these careers you could work less, and live more.. but doing this looses security. If you are only working a couple of part time jobs, then you have no money. The entire structure of the professional world is to have much higher incomes and traditional benefits with regular full time jobs. Working less and living more gives the flexibility needed to avoid the grind, but it’s a thin line to poverty, admittedly first world poverty, but still a very low comparative quality of life. An addendum to this strategy is the adoption of intense fiscal discipline. The financial defense strategy lowers need for offense, but you loose much of what the world has to offer. If you live in a paid for little house on a paid for little piece of land, and farm for ½ your groceries and do odd jobs for your other cash, you don’t have the money for a flight to cancun for the weeknd, or for a trip to see the terracotta warriors. Theater is the local high school play and forget about ever seeing a traveling broadway production.
There are many times i’ve referenced the legislated pressure relief of socialism via things like the Guaranteed Basic Income and socialized healthcare. In theory this is guaranteed food, housing and healthcare. This meets the bottom two tiers of maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That’s the theory, but it’s not so far from reality. The modern equivalent of socialized welfare programs is disability and this exists today. Unlike the current commentary that espouses that disability is just for the poor, I know several professionals who have taken advantage of the availability of disability payments.
One fairly easy prediction that can be made for any subsidy lifestyle is that ultimately economic productivity goes down but life productivity can go up. People would take more time to focus on the kids, the birds, or whatever their personal interests were even if they were working. If people got checks for just existing, I could really envision an entitlement culture developing where there isn’t as much of a rush to get the kids up and out. The attitude will be “I’ll get to work in a bit”. If these people lose their job, well that’s ok. For a segment of the population this is good for enjoying life but very bad for raises.
So the non-grind career options are: 1) Work in a highly flexible, but somewhat volatile job. 2) Work little and learn to live on nothing. 3) Game the system and get a subsidy. None of these work for me, but we exist in a very diverse world and there are many who are happy to choose one of these current options. I say current because although the work and life environment feels like it never changes, it does, just very very slowly. The change is really more in line with the different generations.
What is the trend?
There is a blurring of the lines happening. As I alluded to earlier, we have a generation of connected kids entering workforce who espouse a work/life balance, but what they are really doing is eliminating the lines. They want to always work and always be living life. That works if everyone is on the same always on / always off schedule, but that’s not how the world operates, at least not yet. As I previously stated this is a change that will happen over multiple generations and only in areas that will make sense. Until our advanced manufacturing facilities are completely automated there will need to be a workforce in the plant at the same time. Even if retail could track every person and bill them automatically, there will still need to be a consultant to help the shopper with questions.
What Option should you take?
Do you want to hop on the trend of always flexible but always connected? Would you want to significantly lower quality of life? Maybe just continue to grit your teeth through work and life and get through the tough parts with hopes of eventually building up enough equity where you have that security and can sit back? Maybe you will vote for the politician that thinks everyone should get a paycheck just for breathing? You could just buy a lottery ticket. I did that and I won (true story) but that’s a disaster I can chronicle another day.
I don’t think we are really that close to a world of complete professional flexibility. There are too many bosses who want to keep their eyes on employees in the same room, virtual or otherwise, at the same time. Good bosses and good organizations will always allow some flexibility for their people but never all that is needed. I also don’t think we are going to get to a world where resources are so generously shared that you never have to worry about healthcare or the basics of life. Sorry socialists, this will not happen in our lifetimes, at least not in America.
This pretty much leaves just a few options: You could live in a grey area right around the poverty line. You may even be able to figure out a way to do it so that it doesn’t feel like poverty. I’m thinking old small farmhouse with chic mis-matched country decor. Thank god for pinterest, assuming you have affordable internet in the country. You could take the risks by being a contractor, a realtor, or some other semi autonomous business. The challenge here is keeping yourself from letting it consume you. This is very possible to do it will just take years to figure out the balance that works for you from an income / work and life balance perspective.
The other option is to continue to do what you are currently doing and deal with the daily grind. Fight the kids resistance and stress about getting to work on time. Keep working extra long hours and always try to win the war of expenses and time vs. income. This is the solution that most of us choose. There is one positive side to this option. You’ll definitely have something in common with your coworkers when they are complaining about almost being late for work because of the pain their own kid was this morning.