Book Review: Downshifting
From time-to-time, as we receive career-related and job-hunting books and other resources from publishers, the staff of Quintessential Careers will review them to help you make better decisions about the best books to use in your career and job search.
Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More, John D. Drake. Paperback, 138 pp. ISBN: 1576751163.Publisher: Berrett-Kohler Publishers. Pub. Date: February 2001. $15.95.
Reviewed by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Americans are certainly part of a culture that rewards hard work. Many of us had parents who instilled these work-ethic values into us — by their words and actions. Many of us do not work “just” 40-hour work weeks, nor do we regularly use all of our personal and vacation days (and don’t even mention sick days). Some of us have daily commutes that add hours to our lives away from our home and families. And some of us work multiple jobs. We are a society driven by income and other perks and rewards.
And so there I was, working on the Quintessential Careers Workaholics Quiz, doing my usual balancing act of the many hats I wear — full-time professor, full-time publisher of Quintessential Careers, part-time speaker and consultant — when I stumbled upon a tiny blurb about this wonderful book, Downshifting: How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More.
Downshifting, written by a former top executive at one of the largest human resources consulting firms, is an extremely powerful tool for anyone who feels like he or she are at their wits end, perhaps trapped by a high income, perhaps feeling the effects of a crumbling family life, perhaps suffering serious mental or physical health problems, or perhaps simply wondering if work is really all there is in life.
My life is crazy — and I love it — but I also realize there will come a time when I am ready to downshift. And when you hit that point, this book should be your guide. Downshifting is not about giving up work and living on a commune, but about finding ways to reduce your work so you can enjoy life more.
Specifically, Drake states that Downshifting is for anyone who is:
- Fed up with long work hours and wants to cut back;
- Scared about the risks that come with working less;
- Looking for more satisfaction in life;
- Making a good income, but wondering if the price is worth it;
- Questioning, “Is this all there is?”
- Wanting more time with family, but unsure how to accomplish it.
Of course, it’s not just our jobs, but the technology that has made our jobs easier — and unfortunately also made our lives so much more demanding by making us available to our employers and customers almost 24/7. Whether it’s the cell phone, fax machines, e-mail, or instant messaging, we are a society that is almost always connected. And be honest, did you take a cell phone on your last vacation, check your office e-mail, or call in to the office?
For such a small book, Downshifting is packed with everything you need to consider and implement a plan to move off the fast track and reclaim your personal life. This well-organized book includes strategies for all levels of downshifting — from low-risk downshifting such as reclaiming a few of your lunches just for yourself to high-risk downshifting such requesting a lateral job transfer. Downshifting is also full of anecdotes of successful downshifters, thought-provoking worksheets, practical advice, and points of reflection that will guide you every step of the way.
Drake states that there are three approaches to downshifting — and he provides great details about methods and strategies for implementing those methods — in perhaps the strongest chapter of the book. The first approach is the safest and involves changing the way you work, such as setting more reasonable deadlines and saying no to some new assignments. The second approach is a bit riskier and involves changing your work arrangements, such as requesting flextime, telecommuting, or a lateral move. The third approach is the riskiest, and involves quitting your job and following a new path.
Can you afford to downshift? Drake would counter, can you afford not to? This book, of course, is not for those job-seekers who work multiple jobs and excessive hours just to survive — the low-wage workers. But for those fortunate folks who have led successful lives with good careers, money can also often become a trap, and Drake does a good job of showing the reader how we often box ourselves in — and then demonstrating how to bust out of that box.
Finally, Drake includes a chapter on finding happiness — even if you never quite get the nerve to act on your desire to downshift. He discusses factors common to happy people, going into detail about the value of building and nurturing close relationships with other people.
In all the books I have ever read about career development, job-hunting, or the workplace, I have never read one that could make such a powerful impact on the lives of its readers as Downshifting. If you — or a loved one — has reached that breaking point in your career, this book could literally save your life.
Check out all our book reviews in Quintessential Reading: Career and Job Book Reviews.