Evolved ambition continues to resonate with people in the workplace, as many employees prioritize their health and wellness over stressful jobs and work settings. According to Microsoft's 2022 Work Trend Index, "Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work," 24% of individuals surveyed states they left their job for "personal wellbeing or mental health" reasons - the top response - followed by "work-life balance." Now, people are searching for the ultimate balance between ambition and wellness, working towards their goals but stepping down – and acknowledging why they feel that is necessary – when the stress of a career interferes too closely with their personal lives.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she would be stepping down from the position in January, ending her five year term as the youngest global female head of government in February. In her announcement, she harps on her prior dedication to the position and to her country while acknowledging “what this job takes,” and goes on to say that she “no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice. It’s that simple.”
Prime Minister Ardern publicly prioritized her personal wellness, preserving and protecting her life outside of work when she felt that was necessary. Some have criticized her, calling her resignation a lack of ambition. The BBC was widely criticized for their headline that covered the news, which read “Can women really have it all?” and have since changed the title to “Departure reveals unique pressures on PM.”
Others have praised Ardern for her honesty and integrity in stepping away when she felt it was appropriate and necessary to do so – something that aligns very closely with the wellness priorities of gen Zers entering the workforce. In a work and career survey conducted and reported by Cosmopolitan in December, gen Zers overwhelmingly responded in favor of mental and physical health being their life priority over their job and career prospects. The “Future of Work” survey, which focuses exclusively on gen Z, quoted one respondent who stated they were “not willing to go above and beyond my job title, and I'm not afraid to leave."
Several women in the spotlight have turned away from their popularized careers, talents and pivoted towards something that better serves their mental health and wellness. Tennis star Naomi Osaka and Olympian Simone Biles have made headlines in the last few years for taking a step back from their professions with clear intentions of focusing on their mental wellness. Comedian Chelsea Handler spoke out in her recent special about not wanting children, and despite a broader expectation and taboo that accompanies older women without children, she decided that was a healthy choice for her. Marie Kondo, famous for her de-cluttering series and "spark joy" motto on Netflix, released a book in November that focuses instead on the little things people can do to organize and bring happiness their lives without obsessing over the fine details.
What balance and health looks like to one person can be very different for another: a concept that these women have embraced publicly, and one that resonates with gen Zers and their depictions of what work-life balance should look like. A desire for balance, positive mental health, and holistic wellness does not deign a lack of ambition. Gen Z and these public figures are redefining what success can look like on their own terms.