A recent study published by Harvard Business Review penned it perfectly: “We’re obsessed with work-life balance.”
The irony in that sentence is striking. To be obsessed with finding ways to not be so obsessive about work is worth reflecting on, in itself.
The study looked closely at how the work habits of parents affected the work habits of their children when they entered the workforce.
According to the article published by HBR, “Most individuals fall into one of four categories: (1) They willingly adopt their parents’ model of work-life balance; (2) they unintentionally adopt their parents’ model; (3) they willingly reject their parents’ model; or (4) they unintentionally reject their parents’ model. Interestingly, although the majority of individuals belong to one of these four categories, there are a limited number who straddle more than one category.”
The article then goes on to explain that if your father was the sole breadwinner of the family, working long hours and constantly stressed, then as a male child you are far more likely to internalize those same habits.
Conversely, women who had mothers that stayed at home and didn’t work, were more likely to distance themselves from their mothers in search of a fulfilling career path — to avoid a similar fate.
As someone who grew up in a high-achieving household with two very busy parents, this makes a lot of sense.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been busy. Busy with projects, sports teams, music lessons, clubs, camps, and personal obsessions I had to keep hidden from my family (like becoming one of the highest-ranked World of Warcraft players in North America).
In fact, growing up it was established very early on that if you have time to relax and watch TV, that means you have time to do more. More studying. More practicing the piano. More anything.
This way of thinking was very much a reflection of my goal-oriented parents.
My father is a very successful spine surgeon. And while he always found time to attend my Saturday hockey games or quarterly piano recitals, most nights he came home from work late, sat down with a microwaved late plate for dinner, and asked me, “What tests do you have coming up?”
My mother, although a voice teacher and advocate of the arts (the right side of the brain that complimented my father’s left) was equally as driven. My siblings and I all studied classical music — my brother and I, classical piano, my other brother and my sister, classical violin. We all attended summer Show Choir camps. We all could sing, dance, and were heavily encouraged to pursue the arts.
If I audit who I am today, it is nearly a direct reflection of my two parents professions and their work habits, combined.
My mother would often say, “You make your closest friends when you’re working toward something together.”
The result? My social life consists of entrepreneurial friend groups who are all driven toward building something of value.
My father would often return home late from work and say, “Day’s not over. What else do we need to work on?”
The result? I have to consciously work on not-working, because my go-to habit is to relentlessly obsess over all the things I want to do and build and work toward — from the moment I wake up, until very late at night.
Truthfully, I’m thankful for the environment I was raised in, even if it was difficult to handle as a child. Expectations were high, and a tolerance for failure was low.
However, studies like the one by HBR confirm just how influential our early upbringings are to our personal development. And equally so, how easy it can be to forget why we make the choices we do, or where certain habits and beliefs stem from.
With conversations like these, it’s important to remember that regardless of your upbringing or earliest influences, it’s not about blame. It’s not productive or conducive to look at those experiences and say, “That person made me the way I am and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
What’s important is that each of us reflects on our influences — past and present — and audits what aspects of those influences are still conducive, and which are counterproductive or even harmful.
Personally, one of the hardest things I’ve had to confront over the past few years has been perfectionism and unnecessarily high expectations for myself.
At the same time, I’m thankful for some of those high expectations. They’ve pushed me to reach for the stars.
Life, and personal development, is a balancing act.
And who you are is a direct reflection of how deeply you know yourself.