Despite what we’ve heard about the workforce and climbing the corporate ladder, achieving a “work-life balance” is not a skill most of us learn in our careers. Maybe, though, it will be for Gen Z.
Over a year ago, I graduated college and started working as a full-time podcast producer. As a young Black woman and first-generation college student, this was an exciting opportunity to be working in a creative industry right out of college. I could tell this was going to be one of those defining moments for myself — one that I’d look back on and sing praises about what it means to work hard, become a storyteller and be the first person in my family to do it. And so far, it has been all of that. I just didn’t know to what extent.
Just like the millennials who have come before me, it only took a few months on the job to realize that working more than 40 hours a week without proper rest was for the birds. Things like getting eight hours of sleep every night, enjoying my favorite hobby, even spending quality time with family and friends turned into a total luxury.
The balance between my work life and personal life was a struggle. Every week, it seemed like my efforts to prioritize my life manifested into all sorts of bad habits. Instead of going for a walk or reading a book to give my eyes a break from the screen, I turned to watching TikTok videos to try to unplug from work. It left me feeling unsatisfied and even more anxious about the work I hadn’t done. This is how I started experiencing burnout for the first time.
It was hard trying to find the right schedule and routines that could keep me replenished. I already lacked energy after work on weekdays. Then, on the weekends, I was a complete couch potato. It became very clear to me that building a career was going to take more than just a paycheck and watching funny videos on the weekend to find the rejuvenation I needed.
According to Business News Daily, having a “work-life balance” is about being able to prioritize — the ability to pivot between the demands of work and your own personal state of flow. It is said that in achieving the balance that is best for you, you can lower your risk of stress, burnout and, ultimately, gain a greater sense of well-being.
In theory, this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it work and instantly overcome this problem I was having. But in reality, I had to take inventory. I realized the harder I tried to achieve the ideal balance, the greater emotional toll it took. Not to mention the creative toll that weighed on me. I became so anxious about staying on track that I began to experience writer’s block for the first time.
No matter how hard I tried to change my routines, it wasn’t going to happen overnight. Even asking for help wasn’t like it was in college. I couldn’t just email my boss and ask for a day off in the middle of the work week, could I? I mean, that’s just unheard of. And for what it’s worth, the work doesn’t stop because you need to. I was in need of a hard reset. So, after my first year on the job, I quit.
This was not an easy decision to make, nor was it something I imagined I would do. But to my surprise, I wasn’t the only Gen Zer to experience burnout and to want to redefine work-life balance for myself.
Amira Warren-Yearby, the 2015 ThreeSixty scholar, started working as a volunteer coordinator after she graduated.
“It took me a while to find a full-time position after college,” she said. “It made me feel worthy and valued [when I found one] because I had my name somewhere.”
Just like me, this was her first “big job” after college and her introduction into the professional workforce. She, too, realized early on that she wasn’t being fulfilled enough outside of her work; her work life and personal life felt unsustainable.
“When I was working my job as a volunteer coordinator, I was only allowed to be seen in the precepts of that role,” Warren-Yearby said. “It didn’t really say anything about my creativity, my abilities or even what I was called to do. I feel like people are doing unnecessary work all the time. I like space to learn. I like space to build relationships — go out in nature and read a book. It’s like we get penalized for having a life. As if work is first and life is second.”
In my experience, work-life balance is mostly a corporate issue. But I’ve realized that to show up as my best self, I must simply have time for myself. I think as storytellers, as professionals and for many of us who identify as Gen Z, it’s really hard to be honest about the things that make us physically, spiritually and mentally taxed.
Creating a work-life balance is a continuous process that evolves as your work, life and work life change. It’s important to find space for rest, to set boundaries and to find systems that work well for you. As a workforce, and as a generation, my hope is we move away from making folks feel guilty for wanting more accessible, sustainable and enjoyable careers.
Erianna Jiles is a ThreeSixty alum now living in Los Angeles.