Navigating online connections
Those free organic meals and discounted Apple products are really nothing more than golden handcuffs beautifully disguised by Silicon Valley’s savvy tech behemoths.
One close friend wakes at 4.45am every day to drive to the Marin bus station to make the 6am Apple Shuttle so he can get to work at 8.30am, only to do it all again in the evenings. He justifies sitting through two to three hours of heavier-than-Auckland traffic every morning by saying he meditates and plans his day ahead while on the bus, but I can think of better uses of my time and less stressful places to find my zen. Those free organic meals and discounted Apple products are really nothing more than golden handcuffs beautifully disguised by Silicon Valley’s savvy tech behemoths.
The stress of not delivering and that constant “on edge” feeling like I was never on top of things led to burn out. And without the weekends to fully relax, my body rebelled in protest.
I was frequently sick, bloated and gained weight due to the stress levels, sleepless nights worrying about work and sub-optimal levels of exercise. Despite my best efforts of maintaining some semblance of balance, each time I returned home to New Zealand, my doctor would remark how much worseoff my hormone imbalance had become. The infertile, middle class corporate woman syndrome ringing alarm bells in my ears.
One friend joked to me that Americans think they are having a holiday when they take a threeday weekend. She might be right. Aside from a few token days off tacked onto work-related trips, most people I knew hadn’t taken a proper holiday in years. I certainly didn’t while living there. While some companies like Netflix, Dropbox and LinkedIn pride themselves on their unlimited annual leave policies, in reality very few of their employees take these simply because they have too much work to do. They also fear that if they are gone too long, they won’t have a job to come back to. In New Zealand, this lack of balance really doesn’t seem to exist.
To top it off, the Bay Area’s out of control housing market, which has recently been dubbed the “rental apocalypse”, means even if you are lucky enough to live and work in Silicon Valley, a perversely disproportionate percentage of your income is spent on renting a home you barely get to spend any time in. Thanks to the tech boom, the median rental price of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is now around NZ$5,000 a month. Even a basic room in a flat share with around ten others will cost upwards of NZ$2,800 a month. An independent, multi-bedroom dwelling will cost you up to $10,000 to $12,000, a single figured income (pre-tax) to cover rent alone.
Even well-paid senior engineers, who earn on average close to US$200,000 annually, spend between 40 percent and 50 percent of their salary renting an apartment close to their work. Last year, Facebook’s engineers reportedly asked founder Mark Zuckerberg if the company could provide rent subsidies to make living more affordable.
Despite all this, there is still a lot to love about Silicon Valley, and I will always love the place dearly. But being so blinded by the beauty of the Golden Gate and the lure of the Valley, I didn’t quite realise just how fundamental my New Zealand support networks and more balanced lifestyle were to my happiness and health. Sure, we might not earn as much money as in other countries, it can seem stuffy and small at times, some of us have to work insane hours at times, and Auckland’s housing market is beyond crisis point. But as a whole, New Zealand has managed to achieve an envious work-life balance that most of the world – especially Silicon Valley – could only dream of.
Next time you’re thinking New Zealand doesn’t quite cut it, perhaps stop for a moment and think about the mere two weeks off over Christmas you’d be getting in the States while working like a dog for the remaining 50. Then just think about what a great place New Zealand is to work, live and be happy.
That said, would I go back? Yes, in a heartbeat. The pull of Silicon Valley is getting to me already.