Several years ago, I came across an analogy that compared the way we spend our time throughout our lives to strategically placing rocks, pebbles, and sand into a jar. Think of the jar as symbolizing a finite amount of time and the rocks, pebbles, and sand as the various aspects of your life. Your goal is to fit as many aspects as possible into the jar without breaking it. The rocks represent the most important things to you, so you place them into the jar first. Then come the pebbles, or items that signify slightly less importance to you. Finally, you can fill in the remaining space with sand: things that occupy only minor importance. I’ve revisited this analogy many times throughout my life, especially when I find myself at any kind of a crossroads, and it helps to illustrate the relationship between lifestyle and career.
Your lifestyle is the way you live – your interests, your attitudes, and how you spend your time. For most of us, our career funds our lifestyle but usually does not centrally define it. Occasionally, these lines blur. I read an article recently about junior associates during their early careers at a successful financial firm who described working 95-hour workweeks under stressful conditions that severely affected their mental health, physical health, and relationships. While certainly an extreme example, this report illustrates the dangers of your career dictating your entire lifestyle. For these associates, their career rock was so large that they had hardly any room left in their jar to live their lives, which resulted in some serious burnout. When making career decisions, consider the impact that your career will have on your lifestyle as a whole and remember that for most people, having a satisfying lifestyle plays a major role in overall career satisfaction.
First, remember that your career makes up only one part of your life and is only one aspect of who you are as a person. Resist the urge to define yourself as only an analyst, teacher, engineer, or Director of Digital Marketing at a mid-sized consumer product company. While your career certainly takes up a large part of your time, you also likely spend time with your family and friends, enjoy your hobbies and social activities, and prioritize time for self-care. Think of yourself as a sister, daughter, friend, travel-enthusiast, yoga-practicing, Marvel movie fan who also loves using her creativity to help clients reach their marketing goals 40 hours a week. You are so much more than a job title, or a salary for that matter. Putting your career in perspective as it relates to your entire life can help you to strike a healthy balance between your lifestyle and your career.
Second, when balancing your lifestyle and your career, think about your values. What is important to you in your life and in your career? Perhaps you need to work within a flexible schedule, or maybe you loathe the idea of sitting at a desk all day. Maybe you have always dreamed of working in a big city, or you need excellent health insurance benefits. Take a look at this values checklist to learn about some common job search values and make a list of your top values, paying special attention to any “non-negotiables.” Keep in mind that your top values may have little to do with the actual job and more about what your job helps you to do outside of your working hours. Remember our rock, pebble, and sand analogy? Think of your top values as rocks, and make sure you have room in your jar of life for those rocks.
Third, embrace change – it is the only constant throughout your life. As you move through life, your values and lifestyle requirements will likely change. As a young college graduate, you may welcome a stressful, high paying job that allows you to complete challenging projects and quickly move up the corporate ladder. As a parent of young children, you may accept a lower-paying role with a less impressive title after missing one too many of your daughter’s softball games. At first, the rock in your jar represented a high salary, but eventually that rock may represent freedom of time. Most people’s career paths include twists and turns, sideways jaunts, and steps backwards. Embracing change will empower you to capitalize on these twists and turns as well as help you to find the right balance (for you!) of your lifestyle and your career.
Fourth, stop chasing perfection and set realistic goals. You cannot have it all. I repeat, you cannot have it all. I find that when it comes to your career and your overall lifestyle, if you feel content around 80% of the time, you have probably struck a pretty good balance. Very few people feel 100% passionately about the work they do 100% of the time while also experiencing 100% overall life satisfaction. Set reasonable standards and give yourself grace in the moments when you feel overwhelmed. Take the time to reflect regularly, and don’t be afraid to readjust your priorities (maybe one of your rocks should actually be a pebble). Resist the urge to compare. When it comes to your career and your lifestyle, a one-size-fits-all model does not exist. What might work incredibly well for your best friend could work terribly for you. Follow your own path in both your career and your overall lifestyle.
Adjusting your career so that it fits well within your lifestyle can take time. Remember that the UGA Career Center provides you with career consulting services (for free!) throughout your entire career. Whether you are a student or an alum, feel free to make an individual appointment or attend a workshop to empower you with the knowledge and support you need to make your career and lifestyle decisions.