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Poverty & Equity Thought Leadership

Choosing Balance Over Business

By: DePriest Waddy, CEO of Families First 

Quote from Anne Frank…”Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude.”

One of my mentees, a young, successful IT junior executive, whom I’ve known since he was 17 years old and at the time making $8.00 an hour in a retail job, reached out to me and told me he was finished!

My baby boomer self kicked in, “What do you mean…”FINISHED?!”

We had worked so hard to get him here…I coached him through his workforce development program, his internship at a global communications company; his bachelor’s degree; we practiced job interviews, I even bought a metronome to help us with the rhythm and cadence of his answers.  We both went all in; I snapped my fingers like a drill sergeant…”you need more inflection;” “don’t pause there;” where’s your confidence;” “you sound sappy;” “sell yourself;”; “there ya’ go.”

Now we were on the way to the millionaires club with this young man approaching his 25th birthday and he has the audacity to do what???? Give UP! All my baby boomer sensibilities kicked in..”think about your wife and kids”…”your mortgage” …”the personal brand you’ve built…we’ve built.” 

I felt like I’d failed him, until I realized that it wasn’t me, it wasn’t even him; it was the anomaly that so many young people face when success happens very fast.  The monster of feeling unappreciated is real.

In this scenario, my protégé had risen through the ranks so fast, and his stock value was so high and his choices so pervasive that he was bored with success; stressed out thinking this was the norm and life was over.  He had now become a highly paid robot, widgetized, not recognized for his ideas and innovation but reduced to keystrokes and codes.

My reality check to him was a mic drop. Keep living brother, life always hits. And sometimes if you’re not careful life’s experiences can leave you a bloody mess. Marriages are tested, kids often pose challenges to the family dynamic, elderly parents misbehave, and the economy does what it does. So, this too will pass, and bigger issues will prevail.

We as employers can learn a lesson from young professionals.  For many young adults, it’s not about the money and the prestige, but the flowers along the journey. My protégé had consistently expressed to his superiors that he was assigned to a job that didn’t nurture his spirit. His role took away time spent with his children, and he was concerned that his kids would not have childhood memories of him.  

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the top seven issues that command the attention of Generation Z include: healthcare, mental health, higher education, economic security, civic engagement, racial equity and the environment. In Georgia, we rank 38th overall in the Foundation’s 2020 Kids Count Data Book  that measures how children are faring in key areas including health, family and community, economic well-being and education

As we consider our state’s future and look at the thousands of IT jobs that remain unfilled due to a perceived lack of talent, we need to question whether this is due to the lack of qualified people, a standoff in cultural paradigms or lack of resources to help the next generation build resilience  – maybe a combination of all three?

35 percent of Generation Z feel that their mental health has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, according to the MetLife’s 19th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study, 51 percent of workers in their 20s including Gen Z and young millennials say their work-life balance is better now than before the pandemic, while only one-quarter of baby boomers say the same. How do we support today’s youth to ensure they are receiving the support they need from mental health to job readiness?

There is no right answer in these situations because employers and employees both have their pros and cons regarding what works best for them. However, I do see a trend in young, talented professionals having so many lucrative choices that they are drawing a proverbial line in the workforce sand… electing to turn down lucrative job offers in favor of work-life balance, equity and overall happiness and well-being.  

As Anne Frank so eloquently stated…expressing gratitude today is exponentially better than memorializing a system of status quo. 

Maybe the young ‘uns are on to something.


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