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Wanting a life doesn't make you less ambitious

From the Wall Street Journal’s account of workers becoming “less ambitious”:

Many white-collar workers say the events of the past three years have reordered their priorities and showed them what they were missing when they were spending so much time at the office. Now that normalcy is returning, even some of the workers who used to be always on and always striving say they find themselves eyeing the clock as the day winds down, saying no to overtime work or even taking pay cuts for better work-life balance.

[…] The attitude shift stretches well beyond fields where extreme hours have been the norm. It also appears to cross geographies and span generations. Early in the pandemic, corporate leaders blamed young workers for not wanting to work as hard as their older counterparts, says Brian Balonick, the regional managing partner of law firm Fisher Phillips LLP’s Pittsburgh office, specializing in labor. Now, he says, there’s a realization that the way Americans want to work has changed more widely.

I think it’s worth mentioning that I’m one of those workers! I took a substantial pay cut in 2022 to join an organization that allowed me to do more meaningful work with a much stronger balance between life and work. Which is to say, the new organization cares about its employees: after I left, I heard second-hand that the old one was stack-ranking people by how likely they were to work over the weekend, and I wondered why I’d ever been there at all.

For knowledge workers at large, I’d bet there’s something powerful about being allowed to be in the context of your life for longer, combined with being confronted with the idea of your mortality. I strongly disagree that this constitutes less ambition. In fact, I think it amounts to more: people are no longer feeling like they need to be trapped by their jobs, and are looking for more from their lives. It’s not that they want to achieve less; it’s that they want to do it on their terms.

Which is too bad for the bosses who see them as fungible resources rather than three-dimensional people. For them, I will now play the world’s smallest violin.

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