I remember being single for a hot minute in my 20s.
Everyone at work assumed that I had time (and emotional bandwidth) to stay at work, listen to their problems, and step in on projects when their lives were overwhelming. I didn’t have a husband or kids. Who needed me more than my co-workers?
Plus there was this whole thing like—Hey, you say that you want to earn more money. Why can’t you stay until 7PM, every night?
Does this sound familiar to you?
Well, I was motivated to earn more money. I was paying off a ton of student loan debt. My mom was always sick. My dad was unemployed. One of my brothers was in college, which presents its own challenges for first-generation students who don’t have mentors or family members who can lend advice. My sister was living with her father, and that wasn’t particularly ideal for many reasons. And my youngest brother was just a kid who needed love and attention. Then my other cousin moved in with me for several months because she needed some help.
Because I was trying to establish my career but also attend to the needs of my fractured family, I didn’t do anything very well. And how the hell was I supposed to find time to date?!
Probably the smartest thing I ever did in my 20s was go home and leave work at work. I remember sitting on the couch with my old cat, Lucy, and praising the powers of Baby Jesus and Ganesha that she couldn’t talk. If I had to listen to one more person complain about work—or go one one more date where some guy wasted my time by explaining to me what happened on 9/11 and why George Bush was the greatest president ever—I was going to have an Ashley Judd meltdown.
The assumption that I could stay late at work and tackle projects—as a means to pay my dues in HR and because I didn’t have a husband or kids—was a cruel joke.
It’s human resources. If we don’t demand work-life balance, what chance does the rest of the organization have?
So the next time you feel like you’re drowning at work—and you assume that a young professional without a family can help you out—make sure you consider your past behaviors. To have good friends, you need to be a good friend. To have work-life balance, you have to offer balance to others.
And the “others” includes young workers, single people, and those who have alternative family structures that don’t look like yours.