Work/Life Balance: Whatever Happened to Happy Hour?
Remember happy hour? When you first started in IT, you probably never missed one. You'd get together with your colleagues, friends, or family members and just unwind after a day of hard work. Sometimes it was a mid-week event, sometimes it was the beginning to a relaxing weekend, but it was always a great time to sit back and relax, focusing on your relationships rather than your work.
The Slow Fade Out of the Happy Hour
While you probably can't pinpoint exactly when the happy hour disappeared from your schedule, you probably know it happened around the time that you started getting serious about your career.
It's a simple fact of life: everyone knows IT professionals have some of the longest work schedules of any industry. Worse yet, since it's an industry standard, you're expected to work those long hours just to prove yourself in the profession. The more complicated your work becomes (and the farther you advance in your career) the more you find work life encroaching on your home life. You start carrying your gear with you just in case you need to make a house call. You start checking your work email at night, just to make sure there aren't any fires you need to put out.
The Groundhog's Day of IT
As your career progressed, you probably noticed something: every day started feeling spectacularly similar to the day before it. Slowly, you enter into the interminable
Groundhog's Day of the IT industry. Everything happens as if by rote and the days just blend together.
Even when there are emergencies, they all seem to be very similar to events that have occurred before. You may even develop bad habits; you may start habitually "fixing" symptoms of IT issues rather than resolving them once and for all, simply because it's easier that way. And your home life may suffer too; you may find that the repetitive nature of your work has left you with little passion and zeal for interests and other activities. At this point, you're trapped in a recursive loop and waiting for a happy hour that isn't coming.
Change always has to start from within. Many of those in IT have been "always on" for so long that they've forgotten to be off. This isn't just mentally and socially unhealthy; it's also liable to cause unproductive, inefficient work days. But we've caused these problems for ourselves through complacency and through habits of the modern IT industry. We have pushed to use new technology that vastly increases the complexity of systems and their need for support. We've consolidated systems underneath us and created networks that need to be personally managed and controlled.
Taking Back Your Happy Hour
Reclaiming your work/life balance begins by reaching out for help. Ask for the assistance of others, both in your professional life and your work life. Know you can be important and even indispensable without having to take care of every single little problem and task. And know when achieving becomes over-achieving.
Ultimately, your goal should be to take back control of your work/life balance; to streamline your work so that every day doesn't have to be like the rest, and to create a positive, healthy work environment that lets you spend time on the things that really matter to you.