III. Up and Down - working life


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Work Life

Cross posted from The Think Tank.

This is a blog about work life.

As a kid in the 80’s, futurologists predicted a coming generational war between baby boomers hitting retirement and my generation (Gen X) and the next (Millenials). This war would be a series of escalating battles fought on the ballot box over the removal of depression-era social contracts such as Social Security.

And yet baby boomers have been hitting the traditional age of retirement for half a decade now and it hasn’t happened yet.

Ignoring the obvious absurdity of a generation of “slackers” and “hipsters” combining forces to wage war against our own parents, the need was nullified because previous generations delayed retirement and work in retirement while our generation redefines success in work to be more than a race for economic rewards.

We went to war, not with each other, but with the traditional meaning of success and failure, of reward and punishment, of life and work.

If we were to extrapolate this to generational theory, it is not in the rightness of each generational archetype1, but in the wrongness of fundamental assumptions we’ve previously all bought in to.

This wrongness is no more evident evident in “work life.”


When people think of “work life” they have of one of two images.

The first is someone whose life is work. This person throws everything into work and has no identity outside it whether that is the type A heart-attack-inducing executive of the Lost generation, the Boomer yuppie lawyer or doctor, the libertarian Gen-X English major turned hedge fund manager, or the student-debt-ridden, marriage-delaying hipster sleeping under their office desk. The assumption here is Koyaanisqatsi, life out of balance. That person is so enamored with wealth and success that they give up their health, joy, values, and family for it.

The second is the term “work-life balance.” The assumption here is that work and life are opposites: work is something to be suffered through and success must be sacrificed in order to have just enough material things to sustain a “life” away from work.

When we say “the wrongness of fundamental assumptions in work life” we challenge those assumptions above in order to redefine what work life is.

To challenge the first assumption, is it so hard to imagine us working in a manner that improves our health, brings us joy, speaks to our values, and extends our social family to include the team members we work with? To challenge the second assumption, can’t we do work that we find fulfilling because it allows us to be proactive, it challenges us, and it gives us a sense of purpose?

A year ago, I quit my job as director of engineering at a top 5 internet website. In the traditional assumptions, given that I’m a long way from retirement age, it must be because I either made tons of money, was pushed out, was deeply unhappy, or burned out.

But none of those are true. The company I was working at was a non-profit where I took a $50k salary cut versus competing offers to work there. I stayed for three more months than intended because the leadership there asked me to. I had enough fun in my job write my resignation letter in pirate-speak and share it on Talk Like a Pirate Day to the company, community, and world. Finally, having spent those years as a manager, I spent this year having fun programming again.

I was going through a transition where some time away from a job was what I needed. And like all times in the wilderness, long before Walden, I didn’t leave because I had the answers, I left because the only answer I had was that I didn’t have the answers.

Here is what I learned in the wilderness:

I believe we can have a work life. I believe that this means that work should be a part of a healthy life. I believe that work should bring us joy. I believe we should do work that speaks to our values. I believe that my social network and those I work with are not firewalled from each other. I believe a good work life should empower us, it should challenge us, and it should give us a sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, that’s all I was able to discover in my time in the wilderness. I don’t have the answers beyond the belief that all the above are possible in a work and life. I don’t have a prescription.

We don’t know what’s right but we do know what’s a wrong work life and we are embarking on a journey of discovery to the a right work life. But that’s why we tinker: we try, we succeed, we fail. That journey will be work, but we want to approach this journey the the same empowerment, challenge, purpose and joy that we expect to have when we get to the destination.

This blog will be our thoughts on that journey.


  1. Lost Generation: the adaptive artist; Baby Boomers: the idealist; Gen X: the reactive nomad; Millenials: the civic hero. 

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tychay

light writing, word loving, ❤ coding

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