Is there life after work?

We just published a piece where Fi looked at the discussions around ‘having it all’ and if this is possible and what the dynamics are around this and two days  ago, the NYTimes published yet another piece on Is There Life After Work.  This really struck me from the piece:

I have often wondered whether I would have been asked to be C.F.O. if I had not worked the way that I did. Until recently, I thought my singular focus on my career was the most powerful ingredient in my success. But I am beginning to realize that I sold myself short. I was talented, intelligent and energetic. It didn’t have to be so extreme. Besides, there were diminishing returns to that kind of labor.

As a health and lifestyle coach I talk to women A LOT about this aspect of their lives.  Their careers and how it defines them or doesn’t and what this means to them.  At some point or another, and it’s not just women, but we come across this point in our lives—should I stay or should I go?  The questions range from:

  • Being “married” to your career or reclaiming some of that energy to put into building or maintaining a family/relationship;
  • Moving to a head office job–the same head office you liked to complain about ad naseum when in the field and will this mean you can reclaim some space to have a ‘life’ outside of work which I have come to see loosely translating to, doing things outside of work like going to the movies, taking yoga/spinning/music/massage therapy classes, a nice dinner with friends without the niggling feeling of violating a curfew etc.
  • I’m sick and tired of aid work and the pressures and politics it brings with it but not sure what else I can do and I know I want to do something else but how do I get there?

Trying to work through all of this is really a challenge for people—any transition really is.  But at the heart of this is very much the need for a work life balance and not being able to get this.  Why is it STILL such a struggle for us?  And how are you supposed to cope?

A further thought—are we just blowing this whole thing out or proportion?  I would love to hear from the women who are not trying to get out of the aid sector or those that have indeed found the increasingly elusive work life balance.  How do you do it?  My clients are all on their own journey’s and prioritizing for themselves what works and how they are going to go about achieving this and I am seeing great (and widely different!) strategies on this.  Those of you thinking and doing this on your own….what’s your thoughts on this?


About Zehra

Zehra is a livelihoods and cash transfer specialist working in humanitarian contexts. She has also been a health and lifestyle coach for humanitarian aid workers. Loves food, bollywood and tweeting (@zehrarizvi).
This entry was posted in career, life/ work balance, women. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Is there life after work?

  1. emmagin says:

    And they just keep coming: someone posted this today. Great contribution to the debate, especially the main point: that small changes can make a big difference – you don’t need total life change.

  2. Claire says:

    First of all, this blog seems to be really interesting, thank you, Zehra and Fi, for putting it up and running, I hope there’s a lot more to come.

    The questions you raise in this and the previous post are questions that I have been thinking about and discussing with many people a lot over the past years (and I am nowhere near a definite conclusion…). I observed in my own former workplaces as well as in those of other people that structures were not very responsive to families’ needs (which in most cases still means women’s needs), meaning that it was difficult for mothers do align office hours with kindergarten or school hours or that requests to do at least some work from home office were denied. Most examples I know are from Germany, my home country, where for a long time we are having discussions on how employers and politics in general are doing too little to support families mostly resulting in women staying at home full time or working part time for many years.

    What I miss, though, in many discussions is that everyone of us, can make active choices and thus contribute to change. Yes, there are structural barriers and it may require an awful lot of courage – but we can speak out and can for example make suggestions how to change our work environment in order to make it suitable for both work and family requirements. Especially in the aid and development sector which prizes itself for “innovation” and “flexibility” and “openness” so much, we should take this at its word.

    And I think that there is always the option of resigning from a job which does not allow for a “work-life-balance”. I know that this may be an extremely difficult decision and very hard step to do – but I am convinced that we need to become more forceful in shaping work conditions and aligning them with our lives.

    • Zehra says:

      Thanks for this Claire. It’s the hardest thing I deal with for my coaching clients. Getting them to realize that they can be active agents of change. There is only so much we can blame on environment if we aren’t willing to BE the change. And it’s hard and change can be incremental. It’s tough for people to just quit their jobs, especially in this economy. That’s a privilege however, speaking out or managing expectations at the work place and finding ‘allies’ in this can really help make the environment better. Speaking out is something many are afraid to do but once you start doing it, you will find more and more people actually want what you want and soon, the culture WILL change around this.

      Thanks again for your comment. Really interested to hear your thoughts on this topic and others having to do with women working in aid and dev! x

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