The Mayer / Sandberg Debate on Work Life Balance
Over the past two weeks, work life balance has featured prominently in the news. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s CEO and the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, reneged on Yahoo’s prized work from home tradition. Critics skewered her for taking away the flexibility that moms and dads enjoyed while working for the internet powerhouse. Much of the debate centered on whether Mayer, who was pregnant when Yahoo hired her, owed more to the working parents within her regime. Mayer’s decision rested on wanting to bring Yahoo employees under one roof to increase creativity and productivity. But Mayer received more criticism on the point than a non-parent and, especially, a non-mother may have endured.
At the same time, Facebook’s prominent COO Sheryl Sandberg battled controversy over her new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Critics are bothered by Sandberg’s apparent message that women can and should do everything and do it well – at work, home, and elsewhere. It’s a meant-to-inspire message that strikes some folks as an unsustainable, unattainable supermom fantasy.
Among the buzz on Sandberg and Mayer, I came across a thought-provoking article on the taboo of childless employees who also seek work life balance. As a married-without-children woman, it was refreshing to read an article on work life balance that stretched beyond the paradigm of nannies, bath time, and birthday parties. I seek work life balance because I want to get out of the office on time to hit a photo class once a week, spend time with my husband, walk my dog, cook a nice dinner, catch a favorite tv show, workout, or get to bed early. I may want to take a day off to celebrate a parent’s birthday or fly to a friend’s wedding. I don’t take work home if I can help it because I just need to let my mind rest. All of these priorities are part of my own mental health and well-being. Work life balance is not exclusively synonymous with tending to kids, and both employees and employers should stop pretending that it is.
Travel as Part of the Work Life Balance
Travel is part of my own work life balance. When I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I was dumbstruck when I saw a Peruvian porter hitting the trail with a Swiss baby and some sleeping bags strapped to his back. The baby’s parents were hiking the trail in a group much like mine, carrying day packs while the porters, who are faster and more accustomed to the altitude, do the heavy lifting. Other porters were carrying tents, food, rain gear, pots and pans. I laughed thinking of the baby as analagous baggage. And I thought at the time that it was slightly batty for these parents to want to hike the Inca Trail so badly that they off-loaded their baby onto a stranger to make it happen.
But in the years since, I have often thought about that Swiss family, and how kickass that they made it all happen. They wanted to do the Inca Trail, baby or no baby, and they did. The baby’s life was enriched, as was theirs. And, I imagine, the porter dined out on the story for weeks to come. It was the most concrete example I had ever seen of a child being a non-obstacle to adventure travel.
The story makes me think about how travel – whether with or without children – is absolutely part of my own search for work life balance. Travel makes me tick. It feeds my soul. I am not one to hoard my vacation days, bragging to myself or others about how many leave days I have accumulated for a rainy day. Travel is a great reason to take time off. And if there are kids on my horizon, they’ll be coming with.