I’m currently reading “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. In the chapter on happiness, he identifies schedule flexibility as a key to happiness:
The single biggest trick for manipulating your happiness chemistry is being able to do what you want, when you want… Step one in your search for happiness is to continually work toward having control of your schedule.
Parents understand what I’m talking about. Most parents love their kids and are glad they had them. At the same time, kids remove almost all of the flexibility in your schedule, especially if you’re the stay-at-home parent.
…In your personal life and your career, consider schedule flexibility when making any big decision.
Based on where I am in life, this is solid advice. There are a couple of areas in my life where flexibility has proven to be a tremendous benefit. The first one is my job: I still have a regular corporate job to pay the bills, so I don’t have the freedom of the full-time bloggers to write from wherever, whenever. But I still have a pretty good deal at the moment: a job where I’ve been in the same group for a few years, a stable group where we’re all known commodities; where working from home occasionally is no problem; and where employees are expected to have personal lives. If I need to work from home one day so the wife can go to the doctor, no problem.
How much is this worth? A lot. Having had my fair share of bad jobs, I am sufficiently satisfied in my current job that I want nothing to do with recruiters. It would take a ridiculously unrealistic pay increase to get me to leave.
Another area of my life where I’m seeing more flexibility is my children’s schooling. We started homeschooling this year, and while homeschooling is more work it also provides more flexibility. I’ve grown dismayed at the trend toward more homework for younger kids in schooling these days (yes, they have homework for kindergarteners now), as it’s a lot of work for no apparent benefit (the opposite of how they do things in Finland). My wife and I concluded that we could do a better job of educating our children than any available schools could, AND that we could do it with less stress and busywork.
It’s still early in the process, but so far we’re happy with the decision. We have less stress in the morning and less stress in the evening. And from a points and miles perspective, here is one benefit I’m looking forward to: we don’t have to travel when everybody else does. We can schedule school for whichever days we want so long as we have 180 days of instruction. Or we can travel and have some schooling on the trip.
This benefit is purely theoretical at the moment but we’ll give it a test on our field trip to Asheville next month (I’m finally getting rid of those Club Carlson points from that promo a few years ago!) and then during our trip to Nicaragua a few months after that. Will we have a science lesson on volcanoes during that trip? Will there be lessons on Central American geography? You bet!
Obviously, career and schooling decisions are huge YMMV situations. I’m not telling you what to do or how to do it. But for those of you early in your career, I do recommend you keep flexibility in mind as you’re figuring out what to do with your life. One of the formative experiences of my MBA came during a mixer between us full-time students and a bunch of the executive MBA students, who were older and further into their careers. Several of them seemed really beaten down: they were working long hours, they didn’t see their families, and they were more or less trapped in their current jobs, or at least they felt like they were.
The encounter made enough of an impression on me that one of my goals in life is Don’t end up like those guys. So far, so good.