Feb. 10, 2023

Does Work/Life Balance in Your 20s Hurt Your Career?

Does Work/Life Balance in Your 20s Hurt Your Career?

And how do you define "mediocrity"?

"Work/life balance in your 20s is an easy way to guarantee a mediocre career."

After seeing a tweet that made this statement and sharing on the Money with Katie Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn2FFo2OqUw/), Katie and Henah chat through the topic, ask what "work/life balance" and "mediocrity" truly mean, and run through some of the Instagram responses they've seen.


Welcome back to #RichGirlRoundup, The Money with Katie Show's weekly segment where Katie and MWK's Executive Producer, Henah, answer your burning money questions.

Watch their full conversations here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHvvquEbj_eVTRet6cw2ZzhDux3lybWS8

New episodes every Friday. Each month, we'll put out a call for questions on Katie's Instagram (@moneywithkatie) and select a few to answer.

Transcripts can be found at podcast.moneywithkatie.com.


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Katie: How can someone who's in their early twenties even have this take? How can you say a mediocre career is built from work/life balance if you're 23?

Henah: I didn't know he was 23. I thought he was in his thirties. I thought he had actually done something first. 

Katie: Welcome back, Rich Girls and Boys, to The Rich Girl Roundup weekly discussion of The Money with Katie Show. I'm your host, Katie Gatti Tassin, and every Friday my executive producer, Henah, and I are going to dig into an interesting, relevant topic. This week's episode was inspired by a piece of what I can only call “engagement bait” that we shared with our community on Instagram. It sparked quite the onslaught in the comments. We'll link the original post in the show notes so you can see it for yourself. But before we dive in today, here's a quick message from our sponsors. 

Sponsored content: Paid non-client of Betterment. Views may not be representative. See more reviews at the App Store and Google Play Store. Learn more about this relationship at betterment.com/moneywithkatie. Investing involves risk. Performance not guaranteed. This segment is brought to you by Betterment, the online investing platform that gives you the tools, inspiration and guidance to help you and your finances stay on track no matter what's happening in the markets.

Katie: All right, Henah. So this tweet surfaced my attention. Originally, I think I actually did see it in feed and scrolled past it. And then you sent it in our team Slack and you were like, “Can we please roast this take?”

Henah: I did. So yeah, Katie, I was also scrolling past it and then I said, you know what? This man needs a talking to, so… 

Katie: Let's flame them. 

Henah: Here's what the tweet said: “Work/life balance in your twenties is an easy way to guarantee a mediocre career.” So Katie, you and I have not actually discussed this one on one, so I just… 

Katie: No, we haven't; we intentionally saved this so the conversation would be truly live. 

Henah: So I wanna hear exactly what you're thinking, 'cause I know you know what I'm thinking.

Katie: Okay, so I guess I cheated in the sense that I did read the comments on the post. I don't…how many comments did it get? 

Henah: Like 300-something. 

Katie: Okay, so just for context, that's unbelievable. Like we rarely crest even like a hundred comments. So I was reading them and I love our community, because they always bring the receipts, and there were multiple people that were like, “I just looked this guy up on LinkedIn. He graduated from Yale 18 months ago.” 

Henah: No he didn't. 

Katie: He worked at Goldman Sachs for like a year and is now trying to do a startup. And so people were like, “Homeboy is 23 years old.” Like, how can someone who's in their early twenties even have this take? How can you say a mediocre career is built from work/life balance if you're 23? You don't…

Henah: I didn't know he was 23. I thought he was in his thirties. Like I thought he had actually done something first. There are people who work full-time from the time they're 17 or whatever, but I think it's just so early on in your career to decide if something is mediocre. 

Katie: How do you know if your career is mediocre? You're 23. Like, like give it a minute, right? Like it hasn't played out at all. 

Henah: Right? 

Katie: So that was my first kind of instinct. My second instinct was almost like, I wanted to lift it out of the context. Work/life balance, mediocrity, these are all very loaded, charged terms. And so when I was trying to think about it objectively, I was thinking, okay, anything that is really, really important to you should probably take up the lion's share of your time. And I think there's something specific about saying that a career will be mediocre, because it presupposes that a career is the most important thing to somebody, and that it should be the most important thing. But it leaves out every other aspect of one's life. Like, you know, do you wanna have a family? Do you want to have hobbies? What does a good life look like to you? Ideally, a career is only one element of it, but to try to even a little bit play devil's advocate, it's like, if you are someone that has decided, “The only thing that matters to me in my life is my career, I never wanna get married, I never wanna have a family, I don't even really care that much about my friends. Like all I wanna do is start a unicorn and be a billionaire.” Okay, if that is your goal, then maybe, yeah, you shouldn't be striving for work/life balance. But that is so niche and specific as to not be applicable to like 99% of people. 

Henah: Yeah. But that also removes the part of “life” from work/life balance. Like then there's no point in saying work/life balance at all, right? But I wrote about this actually, where I had issues being like, I'm not as successful as I thought I would be. What does that mean? And I ultimately ended on, you know, I'm not so much focused anymore on “making it,” quote unquote, as I am about making my life, and it's gonna come with highs and lows and career successes and wins. If work is the only thing you care about, then sure. But I think he knew what he was doing when he put that tweet together. And I think he meant to be kind of inflammatory. 

Katie: Well, for sure. I mean, engagement…I mean, it was clickbait, and we've capitalized on it because we also shared it to our audience. But the other thing that I wanna say is, it almost scans to me in the same way that people will kind of glorify not sleeping, or like, “Oh, well, if you're hustling, I only sleep five hours a night, or you know, I'm up late grinding, up early.” And it's, to me the similarity is like, you think, or it sounds like that's gonna get you further ahead, but newsflash, you need sleep to function. You're actually gonna make yourself a worse performer by constantly working. After a certain point, I wanna say it's like 50 hours a week, your performance significantly declines and you're actually not getting as far ahead anymore. So to me it's kind of the same thing, where if you really care about being successful and if you wanna be successful, you can't have any balance. Whereas I would challenge that. I think some of the most successful people have found a way to be really, really effective in the time that they're working, but have a richer life outside of work that actually makes them better at what they do.

Henah: I agree. You and I have talked about, we've both worked ourselves to the point of burnout in our twenties, and despite our professional success where we are now, I don't know that…I won't speak for you, but I don't know that I would say I felt like it was worth it, or that I was a better worker or more productive worker when I was working 60 hours a week.

Katie: I do think there are seasons to life, and that some seasons in life you're gonna be more focused on family and friends and being social and having fun. And in other seasons of life you're gonna be more goal-oriented and you may be working a little bit harder. And I think that's okay. I don't think your entire life is going to be one monotone. I spend 40% of my time working and 20% of my time with friends. I do think that there was a phase in building Money with Katie where I didn't have as much balance as I probably would've wanted, but it was necessary in the short term to get it off the ground. 

Henah: Hmm. 

Katie: But it was a very short period of time. It was not a lifestyle. It was like, okay, over these few months I'm gonna be a little bit spread thin to make this happen. And that has been worth it, but it was not a long-term sustainable “I'm gonna do this for my entire decade of my twenties.” It was like, okay, from January to April. You know what I'm saying? So I think it was okay in short spurts and maybe even necessary in short spurts. 

Henah: The other piece of this hustle porn mentality is, it ignores the reality that so many people have, as if work/life balance is a choice that they get to make. Because if you're picking up second and third shifts because you have to pay the bills, that's not really a balance that you chose. That's just your life. And then on the other side of it is there are people with chronic illnesses or like single mothers; they have to balance non-work. So it kind of…I mean he's 23, and it sounds like he's early on in his career where that is his only focus. But I think it ignores a huge part of the population where that isn't just like, yeah, the default “grind and hustle and you can go far.” 

Katie: I've just finished reading Getting Me Cheap: How Low-Wage Work Traps Women and Girls in Poverty,  and have been absolutely mind-blown by the statistics that they've included, that 44% of US workers are low-wage workers. The average wage for 40% of Americans is $10 an hour. And to your point, they almost said something super similar, which is, in the professional world, we focus on work/life balance and career and family balance as this feminist issue. And I guess as in a broader sense, like the hustle culture “should you/shouldn't you” issue. But they made the point that for that 44% of the American workforce, this is not even a question that they have the privilege of asking. 

Now, having read more material like that and being more acquainted with the blind spots of my own upbringing and privilege, it makes me even more intolerant of takes like this because I'm like, dude, you don't even know what you're talking about. If you broaden the scope to the reality of how most of the world, if not almost the majority of the country lives, it doesn't make any sense. 

Henah: I mean, look, right, those folks who are low-wage workers, they are working two to three shifts. So you can make the argument that they're working on their career as much as they possibly can. And then you're gonna be like, it's mediocre? One of the comments that someone left on the post we put on Instagram really stuck out to me. 

Katie: Yeah. Let's read some comments.

Henah: Well, it speaks a lot to what you were saying, that it's important to hustle when there's a clear goal and reason. So this comment is from someone whose handle is @thedailybike. So they said, “I believe there needs to be a regulatory cycle of self-checking to make sure that your path is still the right one and that you're not burning out. I'm not a fan of the extreme hustle bro culture, but applying all of yourself in pursuit of a goal is different.” And I think that speaks so beautifully to you being like, “I have to do this. I know it's not sustainable forever, but I think once I get there it's gonna be great in the long run.” 

Katie: I love this other comment that says, “I like my job, but I truly don't care about my career. My life is my family, friends, and hobbies. My job is just how I pay for things,” which I'm like…

Henah: Hell yeah. 

Katie: I honestly respect setting that boundary and being like, “Yeah, I like it. I like that it can pay my bills, but it's not my entire life.” Which, there is nothing wrong with that. 

Henah: No.

Katie: Like that's the big lie, is that it has to be, “Oh, it should be the most important thing to you.”

Henah: The larger quote that we often hear is like, “Do you work to live or do you live to work?” And there's nothing wrong with either one of those. I just don't love the idea of glorifying… 

Katie: Like one is inherently better. That's true. 

Henah: But not even that. But like I don't wanna glorify that you should live to work if your desires don't match up with that. 

Katie: Yeah. I also liked Kate's comment, Kate Hamilton. She said, “This is absolutely false. I've set firm boundaries at every company I've worked for and firmly believe those boundaries allow me to be more productive and present at work. I've never been passed over for opportunities. I am a much more engaged manager and employee because of it. And I see a long-term career as something I'm excited about because it enables me to work to live, not live to work. And I work for some of the biggest tech companies.” 

Henah: Hmm. Beautiful. 

Katie: Same idea: efficiency. And it's possible to work smarter, not harder, and get further ahead in doing so. And to close us out, I think it's important that you said, you can, if you love what you do and you want to do it all the time, it's not to say you shouldn't. It's just like, don't feel like you have to, if that does not align to your desires. I think that's a really important point. 

Henah: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat, because I know we switched things up a little bit, but I thought this was really fitting for a topic this week. 

Katie: Thanks for listening to Rich Girl Roundup. We will be back next Friday with another interesting topic: Is college worth it? We'll see you then.