So this might reveal my age, but my favorite image of Superman — other than his affinity for lycra — was the way he could fly out into space and whack the Earth with his hand to stop it from spinning. Don’t you just wish someone could do that for reals?
I do. Just for a day. Nope, not even that. Just for an hour. Think of it. You’re up to your ears in this, that or the other and suddenly you look at the clock and it’s 6:00. And all you can think is what the eff happened to 5:00. Or 4:00. Or 3:00. Too much to do. Not near enough time.
Case in point. With all apologies to the East Coast, this past weekend in Northern California, it was a balmy 70 degrees. I know this because I could see the sunny blue sky from outside my window, and I could check the temp from my computer. To wit, I experienced the sunshine from inside the house, grading a never-ending stack of papers. I never made it out the front door. And here’s the soulsuck. Once I got caught up, there was another stack waiting to take its place.
Rinse, repeat. And insert your job here. Doesn’t it just make you want to get off the grid?
Life it seems can be relentless in that we’re always running to catch up. We’re working harder and longer. Our inboxes grow exponentially, minute by minute. We’re breathless, as in out of breath. Especially when we happen to be cursed with the Double X fantasy of having it all. (Or, to refer once again to Germaine Greer: “When we talk about women having it all, what they really have all of is the work.”) All of which goes against everything we preach in this space — and in our book. Live in the moment. Savor the now. Take the time to get to know yourself. If you do, the decisions will come.
And yet. Why can’t we go there? Why don’t we say no? To the endless obligations, the meaningless meetings. (um, was I typing out loud?)
Because we can’t.
All of which makes me recall a conversation in class the other day. My intro students were learning interviewing basics and I offered myself as guinea pig. The chat turned toward Undecided and one young woman asked, toward the end of the session, whether I had any advice for women trying to make their way into high-stakes careers. To which I answered by paraphrasing Gloria Steinem: Don’t think about the way women should fit into the world. Think about how the world should fit women.
And that’s the key, right? We Double-Xers now make up at least half of the workforce, over half of the college graduates, and half of the professional school graduates. Whether or not it’s the so-called “end of men” — who cares? The point is that all of us — men included — are still stuck in a working world designed by and for men — the ones who have a Betty at home taking care of business. Structures, society, and policies have not made the shift. And yet: who lives like that any more?
Short answer: None of us. Regardless of gender. (Apparently, this is not just an American issue. A pre-Valentine’s Day Brit study found that almost a third of those surveyed said that long hours and high workloads had caused their personal relationships to take a hit.)
And so, while I yearn for Superman to give me a couple more hours of the day, or, at the very least, try my best to spend some time off the grid, realistically, I suspect it ain’t gonna happen. None of it. Not until the concept of “work life balance” becomes more than euphemism for on-site daycare. Not until we fight for some meaningful change.
And I would do that. Really, I would. But right now, I have this stack of papers to grade. I would have done it sooner. But, you know, I had a meeting. And I couldn’t say no.