In every major city, people with and without children are quietly cobbling together more flexible schedules. We can all learn from their success.
Several months ago a good friend recounted a conversation with her 6-year-old son. He was excitedly describing a cartoon that concluded "with a cat hopping onto a motorcycle and racing off with his girlfriend." Sensing a parenting opportunity, she asked if he knew what a "girlfriend" was. He didn't. She explained the concept of boyfriends and girlfriends. He paused and then declared, "Well, when I grow up I'm going to be a [sic] single." "How do you know?" she asked, intrigued. "I'll be too busy playing in the World Cup to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend!" he said.
We marveled that this little boy already sensed the conflicts adults face as they contemplate the shape of their lives, and could intuit that extreme commitment requires extreme sacrifice. (As someone who's recently researched the "single condition," I particularly appreciated his locution of "a single.") This anecdote came to mind as I read Anne-Marie Slaughter's honest Atlantic story, one of the most important points of which, to my eye, is that seeking out a more balanced life isn't just a women's issue, it's a human issue, and we'd all -- men and women -- be a lot better off if we addressed (or at least legislated) the issue that way.
For my purposes, I'm going to extend "all" to include the unmarried and childless. In May, the Wall Street Journal's Sue Shellenbarger wrote about single people who are actively addressing the work-life conflict by "opting out" of their fast-track careers. "As more young adults delay marriage into their 30s while career demands intensify, many increasingly feel overloaded," she reports. "Many set high expectations for themselves, dating, staying in shape, doing volunteer work, and helping family -- while still getting stellar performance reviews." She cites a McKinsey & Co. study in which mothers and non-mothers alike said they wanted to leave their jobs "to gain more control over their lives."