Balance or Optimize: Is the Grass Green at All?
The grass is greener on the other side. This quip is meant to encourage you to water your own lawn; that all isn’t as it appears over the fence. But what happens when both sides are filled with such anxiety and burnout that there are only tiny tufts of grass that everyone is scrambling to occupy?
Silicon Valley has long been the golden goose of big tech. Though it’s not much more than a city of strip malls, freeways, and condo complexes, the tech elite flock there nonetheless. It’s a largely homogenous population of [mostly] men in branded Patagonia vests, figuring out their way to the professional top.
Yet, despite this conglomerate of the world’s brightest technical minds, there is widespread is burnout. Business Insider recently published a story about Blind, an anonymous professional network that serves as a job board and social forum. Though anonymous, Blind requires users to verify their employer and their total compensation.
While Blind is largely used to discuss offers, ask questions, and seek out jobs, it has also proven to be a barometer for the overall vibe of tech workers today. And it isn’t great. Beyond anxiety over layoffs or the looming recession, everyone is constantly seeking the key to happiness. It feels elusive; the paths to maximizing career opportunities, earnings, and fulfilled personal lives don’t seem to intersect.
Enter the Optimizers and the Balancers. These two camps of engineers are seemingly opposite, and yet they face the same dilemma. Optimizers eat, breathe, and sleep productivity. They are learning non-stop, without any thought for external relationships. Every waking moment exists to maximize learning, absorb information, code, and ultimately reach the peak of their potential earnings. They are at the top of their profession. And yet, they’re deeply unhappy as more money and responsibility yield diminishing returns.
Balancers have families, seek out drama-free work, and limit their exposure to micromanagement. They thrive on work-life balance. And yet, they too are unhappy as they are not reaching their professional peak fast enough. Optimizers seek balance. Balancers seek to optimize. Neither has found the ideal solution, and both are burnt out and riddled with anxiety over their futures.
Moreover, this struggle is not contained to Silicon Valley. Major tech hubs, including New York are facing similar challenges as everyone jockeys for a spot at the top. Tech workers are mimicking the Wall Street grind and burnout from twenty years ago (while juggling layoffs and a public health crisis).
By sustaining these impossible expectations to the best at both optimizing and balancing, no one wins. There is no greener grass. In fact, there’s almost no grass at all.