I knew her poodles’ names before I learned hers. Over the years we’d had many pleasant chats, usually when I was on my balcony in the morning, watering plants or having coffee, and she was walking them below.
In this rare eye-to-eye moment, we got talking about work. She’d like to be retired, and she’s more than old enough. But she lost the money she’d saved when the company she’d worked years for went bankrupt. Lost her house, her company car, her secure future.
I didn’t tell her I would be writing about “Work to live, don’t live to work.” Now I kind of wish I’d asked for her take on that maxim.
I’ve had a hard time with this week’s subject for several reasons. First, I don’t know who’s out there and what would be most helpful for you to hear.
Some of you have full-time jobs in demanding places where they probably secretly wish you didn’t have a family. Some of you, like me, have full-time jobs where you number some friends among your coworkers, you like what you do and whom you do it among, but it’s not a place you’d die for. Some of you are at home caring for and educating children and there’s no way you could peel apart “work” and “live.” Some of you work at things you love, work that you might not make much (or any) money at yet, but work that makes you feel alive. Some of you are lucky enough to do that and get paid for it.
So “take all your vacation days, every year” is spot-on for some and completely misses the target for others. I don’t know how you define work. Heck, I’m not even sure how I define work.
I Googled around. Thought I might try to find the source of that saying. Came across some interesting post titles, some of them worth clicking through and reading: “We Don’t Live to Work, We Work to Live. Why Don’t We Say So?” “The Company You Work for Is Not Your Friend.” “Who You Sit Next to Can Have a Huge Effect on How You Work.”
Then, as can happen when you think about any common saying too hard, it started sounding empty and slightly ridiculous. So did that other oft-used phrase, “work-life balance.” I pictured a seesaw, Work and Life on either end, taking turns pushing off, taking turns getting the best view or trying not to crash too hard into the dust, “balance” that brief, gravity-defying moment when both are level but neither is grounded. If work-life balance is a seesaw, what’s the fulcrum?
I was ripe, then, for reading “The Argument Against Work-Life Balance,” in which Ray Oranges summarizes another writer:
[Blake Commagere] says that the problem is not that we don’t have a balance—the problem is that work is our life, and we are trying to incorrectly define the “life” portion as this separate thing for which we have to make time.
Whoever you are, whatever you do that you call work, however you are compensated for it, I’m thinking you know what drains you and what fills you. You know when the tank is low. You know the checklist—eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, cultivate connection with the people around you.
I know, too, that possibly I have circled this topic because those boxes are too often unchecked on my imaginary daily to-do list. I’m thinking I should tell you that for many years, I had this on a card above this very desk where I’m writing now:
Work is the backbone of a properly conducted life, serving at once to give it shape and to hold it up.—Anne Truitt, Daybook
I believe that. Yet work is the spine. It is not the hands, or the stomach, or the heart.
I’m thinking this is a conversation we all could work at together.
By the way, my neighbor did take the plant—a glazed pot full of last fall’s big-faced pansies, come back to life. There was a just-right spot for it in thriving container garden.
We’re writing our way through some of the chapter titles in a Valorie Burton book. You can read it, or not; the titles are writing prompts all by themselves. You can find the list of titles and publication dates here, and a list of all the self-care posts here. Have something to say? Please join us. Simply drop a link to your blog in a comment on the corresponding post.