There's the common perception that once women have children they suddenly look around at their careers and realize that it's meaningless compared to the joy they derive from spending time with their children. Or, even if they love their job, the demands of childcare mean there's just not as much time in the day for them to indulge in their workaholic tendencies. So they step off the fast track to success and instead search for something which allows them flexibility and time at home. Well, surprise, surprise, it's not just moms who are doing this. Plenty of single women are opting to have lives that don't revolve totally around work. Gasp!
I know this is very difficult to understand, but according to the Wall Street Journal even people without children enjoy time away from work. Yeah, it's weird, right? They get sick of slaving away for endless hours at work to the exclusion of all social activities. They don't even have enough time to get their dishes done or cook themselves proper meals. In the words of Anne Marie Bowler, a lawyer who quit a draining job at a big law firm and started her own firm with a friend, "I wanted to have a life—a full life—which meant not just always working." Ms. Bowler is 36 and single, and, frankly, it sounds like she's still working an awful lot. It's just on her own terms, which does make a difference.
While moms get the majority of attention when it comes to thinking about work-life balance, a More magazine survey from last year found that actually 68 percent of childless professional women say they'd prefer having time over money, and only 62 percent of women with kids said that. McKinsey & Co. did a survey of a small sample of women at 60 companies and found that both moms and non-mons who were planning to leave their jobs in the next two to three years had very similar reasons for wanting to go: "a desire to gain more control over their personal schedules and needs." Huh, imagine that.
Some argue that being single and maintaining a busy work schedule is actually harder than doing it with a partner. Sherri Langburt, who owns an agency that helps brands market to singles, says, "People talk about, how do working mothers do it? But how do singles do it?" Since they don't have anyone to help them, they have to "get the laundry done, get to the gym, buy groceries and get to the job." Langburt argues, "No one is focusing attention on those women or men, who are achieving such great levels in their careers, all alone." While that may be true, it seems like everyone, with or without kids or partners, has trouble getting all the things done that they need to in life. So, it doesn't seem that useful to argue about who has it harder.
The basic point of all of this is that whether you have kids, have a partner but no kids, or are living alone, working too much sucks. It's no way to live, and we're not dummies. So at some point, most of us realize that we'd rather do something that allows us to actually have a life, rather than commit every waking hour to a job, no matter how fulfilling we find it. For some women, maybe it takes having children to make them realize that or maybe the kids help them to justify it to themselves. But it makes perfect sense that single ladies would also want to opt out of dedicating 100 percent of their time to work.
Of course, for many people, with or without kids, getting more flexibility without sacrificing much needed income is not an option. Sure, Sheryl Sandberg might leave work whenever she pleases, but for the rest of us it's a bit more thorny. As much as everyone might yearn to spend evenings at home instead of in a windowless cubicle, our current system isn't really set up to encourage such sustainable living. But, the good news is, the more people who opt out of the traditional workaholic fast-track to success, the faster companies will be forced to adapt to keep good employees. When the work-life balance issue is only the domain of moms, it's easier for the corporate world to marginalize it. But if all the ladies—and even the men, too—stand up and say they want some time to spend actually living life, it will be a lot harder to ignore, and, who knows, maybe we'll wake up one day be able to have both a successful career and a successful home life. Well, either that, or robots will have taken all of our jobs, and we'll have nothing but free time on our hands.