By the speed you’re drinking, your colleague, Keith, knows something isn’t right about that counseling session you had. But as a peer, it’s not proper to pry without you initiating it. So—time for some nudging.
“Tomorrow is my counseling session. Geez, I don’t look forward to these things,” Keith said.
“Nice one,” you think to yourself. It’s a pretty well-played nudge to let you start talking about the counseling session you had today. You’re impressed. Because after all, you were the one who brought Keith all the way up here. He used to be your subordinate, but now he’s one of your peers (and at the same time, you hate the idea that he could even become your boss one day). But you’re proud. You taught him a lot of things, including the art of astute nudges.
But at the same time, it’s occurred to you that this is perhaps why you’re stuck in middle level management. High flyers never hang out with their peers or subordinates. They hang out with senior people. Sucking up, as those envious unskilled novices call it. But you know better. It’s not simply sucking up; it’s about creating a bigger “mind share” in the heads of the senior people. You have to help these people remember you when the right situation arise—when they’re lazily deciding who to pick for promotion, for example. Or to put it simply, you need to help others to help yourself.
And yet, even though you know all the tricks of the trade, you simply like hanging out with people you like. So the conversation continues.
“Yeah, I had mine today and it’s just the same old, same old.”
You’re too proud to tell Keith it didn’t go well. You’re too proud to tell him you are not getting any raises or bonuses. You have no idea what Keith’s going to get. And the last thing you want to do is to let your colleagues know they are doing better than you. That’s corporate suicide.
“I mean—my team did pretty well. We achieved 90% of the targeted goal, and with this economy, that’s a pretty solid performance.”
Yes, you too have become a macro-economist.
And with that, you turn to other random topics, which is what the spirit of happy hour is all about. You play the macro-economist, you play the politician, you play the scientist, you play the philosopher. These days, it seems like everyone needs to have a view on just about anything in this world anyway. Which political party do you like? (Why is picking one out of only two such a big deal?) Do you support animal rights? Gay marriages? Is it not possible you simply don’t have a view at all? But you just do it—just say something—so the conversation can continue, happy hour or not. And all of a sudden, you and your colleague seem to have the answers to everything in the world.
In fact, let’s talk about anything except work—because work is the only thing you don’t seem to have an answer for. At least not in front of another colleague. Sure, there are people who can’t stop talking about work at happy hours, but that’s mostly just moaning about their bosses. But you know better. This is the time to relax.
Negativity won’t get you anywhere.
This is feeling good. Having a good time with a friend, or comrade, cracking a few jokes (yes, all your views and answers to the world’s problems are just that—jokes). And jokes always become funnier (or workable) as the pints go down.
Wow, this is the life!
Maybe this is what people mean when they talk about that horrible balance between work and life.
So why can’t this be “life” all the time?
Obvious. You need to earn money to pay the bills including bar tabs.
So this is about doing something you don’t enjoy, and in return, making money so you can spend it on other things you actually enjoy? That’s why it’s called work-life balance? Whether you are making enough money to spoil (or tranquilize) yourself so you can stand all the nonsense you face at work?
“Actually what sort of things do I buy to spoil myself?”
Buying an apartment, a mortgage you can barely afford so you can show off your status in society. Buying things you don’t really need because, really, there are only so many things you can use, wear, or play with after work—because you almost always stay behind (or all that time checking your Blackberry at home, especially during family dinner). Eating so much food that you then need to pay for a gym membership to lose that weight. And as you know all too well, the key is buying the membership, not so much the turning up part.
This is getting too complicated. You simply need to make money. Let’s keep it simple.
But can you make work a bit less painful? Because as most of your friends tell you, they don’t like what they do. That’s why everyone hates Monday, Wednesday is called a hump day, and we all love a long weekend.
This has to be true, right? If you like what you do, no one should be paying you. Yes, even professional athletes or rock stars (the most noble and admirable of professions). A football player may enjoy the playing the game, but no one would enjoy all that conditioning and all the time-consuming exercises that come along with that, time that could otherwise be used for partying and enjoying your early twenties, right?
“But I like what I do!” you try to convince yourself.
“Well, I don’t like what I do, but at least I like the situation I am in at this stage of my life!” And you’re right. You have a very good job, and you’re envied by most of your friends. Note to self: always pick friends who are slightly worse off than you. You have a young and very happy family. You have a lot of very good friends (and a good handful of comrades). You have money to buy all that life-affirming unnecessary stuff. You don’t need to worry about shouting a bill (especially after a few rounds) and regretting it the next morning. You don’t need to check your account balance every time you withdraw money. You start to forget the exact amount you earn because the number is getting big enough that the last few digits don’t really matter. You love school reunions. In other words, you are doing really well.
“I’m different from those other losers.” You can’t hide your grin. This social status is really making you feel good. “I don’t have a mid life crisis—and if I do, mine will come in the form of buying a Porsche to pamper myself. And not a second hand one either.”
Happy hour is not exactly the time for soul-searching. But deep down you know something is still not quite right.
Anyway, it’s time to go home. Let’s get the bill.