There is more to life than money. This is something Mr M always tells me, and something that I am finally starting to believe. I have always been driven career-wise and have measured my success on the size of the salary I received. However, while visiting friends this weekend, I began to question just how important is money when compared to a decent work-life balance?
This was prompted by a London-based barrister friend of mine who is concerned about potentially moving chambers when she moves house. Her current chambers are very well-respected and she has a reliable in-flow of cases. However, these jobs take her across the country from week-to-week, never knowing if she will be in Carlisle or Cardiff, spending her evenings reviewing cases and weekends drafting closing speeches. Even on days off, she checks emails regularly to avoid missing out on good opportunities for the coming weeks. The work-life balance is the problem. The new chambers would be less prestigious but also less work. She wasn’t sure what to do.
For me, this is something that I found out very early in my career. On the face of it, my first school had everything going for it; an up-and-coming school, full of young and enthusiastic staff. Unfortunately, it turned out very different. The essential “school hours” were ok but every evening would find me plonked in front of the computer from 4.30pm to 10.30pm with a small break to eat. I’d finally finish my work and stumble drowsily to bed – only to wake up and repeat the next day. Friday night would be bed by 8pm, guaranteed. Saturday was free to do housework and run errands but Sunday morning would be back to the grind until mid-afternoon at which point the Sunday-night dread would kick in. Even holidays weren’t protected; you were expected to put on revision sessions for exam groups in your free-time. Work-life balance was non-existent and the school simply did not see a problem with that.
I made the decision to move on with some guilt. I felt that people (and by people I meant me) would consider it taking the easy way out. Was I just weak? Couldn’t I “handle” it? But then a term into my new school Mr M said something I won’t forget. “Taking that job was the best thing you ever did”. In my mind I thought he meant salary-wise but now I realise how things have changed.
Admittedly my contact hours have increased significantly since moving on and it is fairly standard for me to be at school for 60+ hours a week. However, when I am home, I am home. No more nights sat in front of the computer planning tomorrow’s lessons, ignoring Mr M and slowly nodding off. Rarely do I have to bring work home at all. Term time is manic and my hours might not work for everyone but they do for me. My free time is my time; for me to waste in my own special way.
Nowadays, I know that you can’t put a price on happiness.