Work Stress is an Extra Layer: Why Work-Life Balance Can’t Be Achieved in a Suit
Everyone has a work persona. Leaving it behind helps me become the person I want to be before I see my kids.
Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent and the dads we feature recognize that and address their stress in a variety of ways in order to ensure they can be there for their children and their families. For David Shurtleff, 36, of Seattle, Washington, that means leaving his suits at work and changing into casual clothes on the way home. Why? Because work David is different than home David and he wants his kids to know it. Also, he wants to remind himself.
I started showing up to work in my casual clothes for purely logistical reasons. At the time, I lived in Alaska and, as a professional, I was finding it difficult to get to work in a rainstorm or a snowstorm wearing a pair of leather dress shoes and a wool suit. One day, I just started leaving everything at work. Now I live in Seattle, but I still do this. When I got into the office in the morning, I’m usually rocking New Balance throwback shoes, a pair of jeans, a flannel, and a hoodie. I keep an umbrella in my backpack. Peak comfort. I leave everything at work: shoes, socks, ties, suits, everything. That means I can show up at office without planning and throw on my stuff when I got there.
It was a practical solution, but it has real mental benefits as well. I feel like when I change at the end of the day, I leave it all behind.
Who you are in the workplace is a persona of sorts and personas take effort. When I’m still in my work clothes, I’m wearing that persona and the associated stresses that come along with it. If I’m wearing a suit, I bring all that home with me. Changing helps me not do that. It helps me keep it as separate as a possibly can; it’s not foolproof but it has helped me out.
I’ve also found that people treat me differently when I’m in my regular clothes — more like I want to be treated.
I’m a grown up punk rock kid and I think changing is my own little way of rebelling against some of the things I view as wrong. Americans are obsessed with work. We do it all day every day. And, not surprisingly, our self-worth and identity is tied up in it, dangerously intertwined in our careers. So, this is a small way I try to avoid that. We have class markers everywhere in our society, and a lot of them you can’t avoid, but to actively ignore the ones you can? It feels really good.
Also, my street clothes improve my mood. I still leave the building with my phone in my pocket and my laptop, but it helps me remove myself to the degree I can. It’s good to have a life outside of work. And if you leave what you can at the office, you’ll end up happier.
Leaving my suits at work is logistically a lot easier to do than people think, too. On Amazon, you can get a stand-up closet pretty cheaply, where you can fit almost everything you’d need. I’m lucky enough to have a dry cleaner a few blocks away from my office and to have an office. I have a shoe-rack in there. I hang up my clothes in there. I put a tie rack behind the door. That’s it.
It takes some mental strength, I think, out of the gate, to be comfortable showing up in the office looking casual. But I just put faith in the fact that if I’m doing my job well people will respect me. It’s not fun walking past your boss wearing jeans and a black t-shirt, but it’s better than coming home dressed for a meeting.