Saturday, September 20, 2014

That's Life by Jenny Gardiner

We recently ran into friends whose daughter is now working a "real job" in Manhattan. They mentioned how tough it was for her to leave summer vacation and return to the grind — made all the harder because they never worked conventional 9-5 jobs while raising her, thus didn't model the way most of the country works. This is the same for our family: my husband runs his own business, which has given him the wonderful flexibility to devote extra time to family when needed, while also being able to earn enough to support us all. This thankfully afforded me the chance to stay home with our children, and eventually write.

We wondered how growing up in a world where work hours were more malleable and in which it was rare to see anyone wearing business attire might affect our kids' career choices. When I was a kid, men (and it was usually men back then) often remained with one company for their entire careers. I would struggle to have faith nowadays in a company being there for you the way they once were. I've seen far too many people blindsided by their company's laying them off with no advance notice, or worse still, left with no pension despite promises to the contrary.

There's something to be said for going it on your own if you can, and I think that appeals more and more to this generation of young adults who are weary of the conventional (and these days, lackluster) job market. Even more intriguing is the concept of eschewing the expected route, and making your way by hook or crook.

My daughter spent the past two months backpacking in Australia, and now hopes to move there: all it took was holding a koala bear to seal the deal. ("You had me at koala," as Jerry Maguire might say.) She said it was "the Bonnaroo of countries", referring to the famed music festival, at which people actively practice kindness. Her plan is to return as soon as her bank account will allow. I guess even glorious Central Virginia can't compete with a big-hearted country populated with adorable creatures with intoxicating menthol breath (eating nothing but eucalyptus will do that to you).

I struggle with the idea of "losing" my daughter to a land so far away, particularly when she was poised to enter the work force armed with enviable skills and potential. But I'd rather she be happy 10,000 miles from here waiting tables than be chained to a job that sucks the soul from her. To be young and commitment-free and able to carve your way in an unconventional way is enviable, and certainly brazen.

As Kendall traveled through Australia, I couldn't help but appreciate why she wanted to stay. Never have I seen such beautiful countryside as in her photographs. Plus, where else could you find unique animals carrying such cute babies in their pockets? And the Aussie accent? That alone is enough to keep you there. I'd have to take a pass on the Vegemite, though.

An American writer friend married to an Australian couldn't resist driving home the point on the glories of Oz, saying it was truly the best place to live for overall lifestyle. He said it's an egalitarian country with extremely friendly people, living wages, no guns, (no guns!), fantastic food, a month off annually for starting employees, six off (paid!) if you're with a company for a decade, and free medical care. He summed Aussie life up this way: sailing, drinking, surfing, cafes, drinking, and dodging sharks. Sounds like Shangri-La to me (minus the sharks).
It's like the anti-U.S., where there's a culture of some perverse pride in working non-stop till you drop dead. Or where a frightening majority of the population can't even afford to take vacation. And a frightening minority wield the Oz-banned guns like a badge of unearned entitlement. Yep, I can see the appeal to Australia. Besides, what a salve to the insane American academic arms race she just spent her childhood navigating. Who could blame her? Especially as she sees friends taking jobs in which they are so miserable they go home and cry at night.
I read an article recently about a Swedish study on "collective restoration", the idea that if everyone took vacation at the same time we'd all be happier and healthier. It referred to a woman who heads up a university's work/life balance center, who herself refused vacations for ten years. What at work is so important that you can't give yourself the gift of a little getaway?

I'd heard of young graduates being lured by consulting and Wall Street firms with huge vacation packages. Yet those "in the know" say such packages are really just a test: employees who actually use the vacation time would pay for it by not being promoted. I asked my brother, a high-level muckity-muck of lord knows what at some consulting firm, if this was true.

"I'm the wrong one to ask," he said from his office on a Sunday. "I worked on Christmas day. I hardly ever take vacation."

Meaning: you want to get ahead, don't take care of yourself. Be a cog in the wheel and turn and grind and don't poop out. There's a term for it: the work martyr complex. Granted, this was coined by the US Travel Association, in an attempt to encourage more travel, less work. But it is indeed a condition plaguing too many in our country. Of course the irony is the ones who need vacation most, those working two and three minimum wage jobs just to get by, well, they aren't going to get vacation any time soon, sadly.

I heard Daimler has instituted an email-free vacation rule: life will go on at Daimler while employees decompress and restore themselves. What a novel idea whose time has come.

As a mom, I'll hate to have my daughter about as far away as possible from me, especially knowing there's a good chance she'll end up settling there. But I'll also take solace that she's chosen a place that speaks to her soul, where she's likely to find a healthy life balance. And what parent wouldn't be happy to see her child have the wisdom to follow that bliss?

Jenny Gardiner will be saving her pennies to visit her girl some day Down Unduh. Find her at
Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)
Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)
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Mary Preston said...

I must say, speaking as an Australian, we are a lovable bunch. Our countryside is wide, diverse and incredibly beautiful. In times of strife we jump in to help where we can. I can see the attraction. (I'm not even going to pretend to be modest.)

I forgot, we have a great sense of humour.

Laney4 said...

One word: Skype!