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Gen-X Envy

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

They're mastering the work-life balance. Now comes the hard part.

I'm really jealous of the Gen-Xers. For all the baby boomers' talk of "revolution," the generations to follow have been much more successful at creating meaningful lives. According to recent surveys (cited in the Wall Street Journal 11/29/05), Gen-Xers are much more focused on work-life balance, opportunities for growth and good work relationships than the generations before them. They are not living to work.

This focus has even spawned new magazines, like Worthwhile, that highlight meaningful job opportunities, career goals and workplace behavior.

"More than older workers, Gen-X employees view work as secondary to their lives outside the office..." This is a very important philosophy and a life determining one. It's also a very Jewish idea. Work is a means to an end -- "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread" -- and not the end itself. We want to fulfill our responsibilities to our employers, employees and peers by doing our job ethically and thoughtfully, and then we want to leave it at the office.

An appropriate work-life balance can change our society. It can lead to healthier marriages and happier children.

But all this restructuring of our days and refocus of our energies is only worthwhile if our free time is used productively -- helping our spouses, our children, our community, and yes, ourselves.

To truly succeed, we need not just a definition and understanding of work, but one of life as well.

The WSJ article mentions the freedom to pursue our hobbies. While hobbies may be personally nourishing and rejuvenating, they should also be limited. If our extra time is solely spent on bungee-jumping, sky-diving and stamp collecting with some extra spa experiences thrown in, I think we have squandered an opportunity. But if the time is used on relationships, personal growth, Jewish enrichment, then what a boon indeed.

While autonomy and flexibility are certainly perks, they also need to be used in conjunction with a meaningful end. How we use our freedom is a serious question for individuals, couples, communities and even nations.

I applaud the search for a work-life balance, even though it's not my generation that has reached this crucial realization. But to truly succeed, we need not just a definition and understanding of work, but one of life as well. Not just career goals but life goals. Once these are solidified, then having the clarity not to sell your soul to your company can save your life.

Across the country, across the generations, spouses and children have been screaming for a little balance. They may finally be getting their wish.


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