Last weekend’s schedule included a trip for family day at Northern Illinois University where my daughter is a freshman and my husband an alum. The day included a walk around campus with conversation about the things that were exactly the same a generation later and the items that were new and shiny.
It also included a football game with excellent opportunities for me to watch young millennials cheer on their team. A few rows over a young lady dressed in her Husky red, danced, screamed, and cheered with abandon. My daughter watched her and commented, “she is living her best life”.
I love this popular millennial phrase and embrace it’s meaning. As a generation X-er, I grew up on a “pay your dues” mentality. We were supposed to work hard in our 20’s to move up the ladder advancing in pay and responsibilities. Most work was physically located in the office where computers, phones, and fax machines lived. As technology became mobile and work started to go with us everywhere, we realized we were working all the time and coined the term “work-life balance” to help us figure out how to have boundaries. While interviewing a candidate recently, I asked how she manages her work-life balance. Her response changed my views (and my future interview questions) entirely.
"I am not focused on work-life balance, but on creating my best life. I love to learn, to achieve, and to create and am looking for a career that enhances those life priorities. It is not about defined hours for work and for life, but flexibility and commitment. I’ll be answering emails over sushi with friends and thinking about a work challenge while at the gym because career integrates with other aspects of life since it is part of who I am."
These words resonated with me. I love my career and it is an important part of my life and my identity. It is also not the career I went to school for so many years ago. Looking back on the evolution of my professional life, I can identify the priorities that guided my choices. I wish I could have been as wise as this millennial in articulating my intentions along the journey.
A few years back, our CEO changed the way we state deadlines. We do not commit to finish something by “end of day” but by “start of day” or 8am. Now that might sound like a little change, but it made a profound difference. I do not have to keep working at a troublesome task and risk missing my son’s ball game or my work out as I race toward a deadline with a brain that feels like mush and a ticking clock echoing in my head. Instead, I grab my laptop, get some air, food, family, friends—whatever I need to refresh—and come back to the work in a few hours. I have found I do really excellent work between 9-11pm and am grateful for the flexibility.
Creating opportunities for employees to live their best life sounds like a great way to improve culture and employee engagement. I will be actively looking for other changes we can make. If you have suggestions, send them my way!