With the rise of technology, it’s not surprising that a nine to five workday often blends into an all day and night workday if we let it. We have access to clients and colleagues on our phones, computers, and through email at any time of the day or night. As a society in the United States, we place a high priority on our careers. They oftentimes become what we identify ourselves as. In generations past, we may have introduced ourselves as Jewish or Catholic and now we start by saying, we’re an accountant or a teacher. Have our careers become our new defining characteristic?

What has shifted

Many argue that our use of technology has given way to longer work days and longer work weeks. We have access to our co-workers 24/7 and they have access to us. It has become harder to shut off our work when we get home. To obtain a work-life balance, we’re often doubling shifts and taking work home to be able to leave early for a kid’s soccer game or take a vacation. This wasn’t the norm thousands or even hundreds of years ago. In the past, even in more recent decades, the more someone earned, the more leisure time they could afford and the less they worked. Leisure time was a status symbol. The higher you rose in society, the less hard labor you did.

Some feel that burn out, overworking, and this idea that we can work 80-hours a week while still being present parents, physically active, religious, physically fit, and well-rested is creating a hamster wheel of stress. The Harvard Business Review discusses how one in five employees is at risk of burn out. You could look at this information and see that it also means that there are four other employees who are doing just fine. Loving your career doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burning the candle at both ends and not living a fulfilling life.

A career is different than a job

Some could argue that is isn’t all necessarily a bad thing. Being an entrepreneur means you’ve followed a passion, you’ve created a job or a company that wasn’t there before. You may employ other people and have created more jobs. You’ve found something you love to do and you have the freedom to create your own path. While this may mean a lot of long hours, it also means the freedom to be your own boss and live a life you’ve created. Similarly, having a career over just a job you have to get through every day means you may feel more fulfilled. You’ve found something you love to do and has made it part of who you are.

In today’s society, even the wealthy tend to use their wealth to gain more work. They buy investment properties, trade on the stock market, invest in businesses or start their own. This all creates more work instead of less. The higher you rise in your career, the more you may be working. More responsibility can lead to more hours working outside of the office. This can be especially apparent in entrepreneurs or self-employed. There’s no paid time off or vacation time to fall back on so this group of workers tends to work more to compensate for any time taken for personal reasons.

In terms of a job versus a career, this is a very personal distinction. While other generations looked at work as something to get through, younger people are trying to choose work that they enjoy doing. Of course no one enjoys every aspect of their job, hopefully, we’re able to choose something that we enjoy most of the time. This is where younger generations differ. If you saw your parents drudging off to a job they hated every day, it’s only natural that you’d want something different for yourself. Millennials, in particular, are increasingly good at this. They may delay school, take longer in school, or take a job that pays less to work towards a career that is more fulfilling. One important note, however, is that being able to choose a job we love is also a luxury that not everyone can afford.

What does this mean for society

We often identify ourselves by our careers because they are such a big part of our lives. It may be something we went to school for a long time for or something we created all on our own. Hopefully, our careers play to our strengths and fulfill our passions. We often think of ourselves as multiple selves. We can be a doctor, a Baptist, a mother, and a marathon runner all at the same time. It’s not that anyone is any less of anything than they were before, it’s that now we may think of our multiple selves in a different order than we used to.

Another interesting thing about how we think of ourselves and what we think of as a status symbol is how our perception of wealth may be shifting. In generations past, the amount of stuff we possessed or how big of a house we had may have been a symbol of wealth. Today, having a more glamorous work-life balance seems to be something to strive for. Long distance travel and experiences are the new show of success. As a whole, this can be a really positive thing. Making memories and seeing the world is far more valuable than buying a useless trinket. Our money goals have changed.

Social media has only enforced this. We now have access to what all of our friends and family are doing with their leisure time. We can see pictures from everyone’s travels and how they are spending their time off. We may also see them at work, traveling with colleagues, at events, or socially being with co-workers. Obtaining a positive work-life balance and one that is fulfilling is something as people we’d all hope to obtain. This shows that despite our careers playing a bigger role in defining who we are, it isn’t all we are and it also isn’t always a bad thing. Being proud of what you do, happy with what you’re doing and being able to balance it with our other selves can be a rewarding way to get the most out of life.