You're a Person Not a Producer: How men can find a work/life balance in a post pandemic world.
Updated: May 19
Do you know a guy who regularly works more than 40 hours per week?
Are YOU that guy?
Frankly, many men have kind of fucked up relationships with their jobs.
The American Way
Some studies found that 85.8% of men in the US work more than 40 hours per week.
When compared to many other developed nations, this is considered excessive. For instance, in some Scandinavian countries workers average around 27 hours per week. And, did you know, these same countries have been ranked as some of the happiest places in the world.
If you're wondering where the US ended up, we're 18th.
As a therapist, I hear about this from the men I treat on almost a daily basis.
Phrases like “My wife’s pissed at me for staying late at work again” and “I’m so tired and I blow up at the kids all the time” are super common in my therapy office.
Why do men work this excessively?
Maybe, an even a better question is: why do men struggle to live a balanced life?
Western society has a long history of exploiting people.
For almost half of the United States’ history, slavery was legal. Around this same time, the industrial revolution was in full swing, which was also taking advantage of workers and providing minimal wages.
Capitalism and patriarchy are the ultimate toxic duo and the reason why many workers lack autonomy and fair compensation in the workplace. Companies double-down on specific gender norms highlighting men as bread winners and women as caregivers.
This social system teaches men that they are only valued for what they can produce or how hard they can work. It teaches women their role is to attune to their husband’s needs, be caregivers, and practice submissiveness. This psychological “halving” reduces both genders to extremely oversimplified and unhealthy roles in order to justify worker exploitation.
But it's 2021. And as more women have joined the workforce, they slowly began demanding more reciprocity from the male counterparts. Meaning women began needing men to become more relational and equitable partners.
For present day men, this has created quite a conundrum.
Because men are taught that work is the most important aspect of their lives, older generations have been ill-equipped to model being relational partners. This means that younger generations have had to learn how to do this with very few or no examples to draw from.
Which creates an internal dilemma for many men:
How do I give my job my all while giving my family my all?
The truth is, by current societal standards, you can’t.
In a recent podcast episode, actor, Rob Lowe discussed his recovery from alcohol. As Lowe spoke about his process for prioritizing life, he said something pretty profound.
Lowe said (paraphrased), a person can’t be excellent at his job and a great parent. One of those two areas of life will get less time and attention.
This means, you have to make a choice. Which aspect of life is more important to you?
It doesn’t mean you have to be shitty at your job to be a great father. What it does mean is that you can be good enough at your job so that you can give more attention to being a great father.
Men’s Self-Esteem Issues
As a spouse, father, therapist and entrepreneur, I have had to come face-to-face with this reality. Up until recently, I had always positioned work over family.
If you would have asked me about this a year or two ago, I would have attempted a feeble justification that made myself out to be some kind of savior for my family.
Work is where I found my sense of self worth and value as a man.
It’s where a capitalist society taught me I could be most useful as a man.
Work also gave me the instant feedback I craved. Every time I received positive feedback from clients or other therapists, it was like getting a hit from a stimulant. It energized me and drove me to work even harder.
However, this came at the expense of less time with my family. And because it was like a drug, I could never get enough feedback to satisfy my low self-esteem.
Even when I was at home, I was thinking about work.
Guess who suffered because of this? My wife and kids.
Identifying the Top Priority
Since then, I have worked with my own personal therapist to deal with the expectations society and others have passed down to me.
It was kinda of a two step-process for me.
First, I had to identify my values and what I found most meaningful in life. For me, (not everyone) my top priority is to be a great father. Everything else, has to fit around that.
Second, I had to develop a self-esteem that is not sustained by my achievements or productivity at work.
I began the long complex task of reorganizing my entire life, identifying my direction and prioritizing what’s most important to me.
Because I did this, I am honestly happier than I have ever been.
For a lot of men, this may be a fairly simple process of engaging in some self-reflection. For me, it took about a year of therapy to identify what I wanted and address the underlying trauma associated with my self-esteem issues.
Being a great father is not everyone’s priority. It could be that you don’t have children, but somehow work continues to take priority over your romantic relationships, hobbies, physical health or other interests.
If that’s the case, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on what’s most important to you. Meeting with a therapist may be a great place to start deconstructing the reasons you work excessively.
You may find that it is your career. If so, great! Keep it the number one priority.
But just remember, for those of you that career isn’t really something you enjoy, then don’t be duped by what western society has so cunningly taught you to think.
Work doesn’t have to be a detriment to your relationships or mental health. You are worth more than what you can produce.