For Dmitri Brown, the whole idea of work/life balance unfolded gradually. When he graduated from college in 2004, he was headed for a career in corporate law. He went to Maine for a year to study for the LSAT and snowboard. But two funny things happened on the way to law school: He figured out he didn’t want to be a lawyer and he didn’t need a lot of money to live on. That was his first a-ha.
His second came after a move to North Carolina, where he taught surfing and discovered his true professional calling, photography. There, he realized he could make enough to live on and still have control over his time. When the surf is up, he can usually get there. “At some point, I molded my being around that flexibility,” he says. Now he can’t imagine a job that isn’t flexible.
Brown (who is single) isn’t alone, according to a survey of 60,000 members of Gen Y (those born between the late 1970s and late 1990s) about the most important characteristics of an entry-level job. Work/life balance was their top characteristic, above meaningful work and pay.
Is it because they are too young to know the trade-off they are making? I doubt it. Brown, who doesn’t have health insurance, recently chipped a molar. He can’t afford the dental work but “this hasn’t made me rethink anything,” he says.
In previous recessions, work/life balance has dropped on the list. But cutbacks, once used only as a last resort, have become business as usual. Gen Y watched their parents lose their “secure” eight-to-five jobs and maybe they’ve decided that if nothing is for sure, they may as well build time for fun into their lives. Some people call Gen Y selfish. I call them smart.