Finding balance in this life isn’t easy. Work, family, hobbies; all of these clamor for our time. The first one, work, is happy to eat up all our waking hours. Work is who we are; at least that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. Is it possible to break free of that conditioning and find a life of greater substance?
There’s another side to that question. If work fails to deliver meaning, or at least a path towards something greater than ourselves, it’s easy to become disillusioned, cynical, or worse, tuned out.
With so many Americans out of work, significant numbers of them unemployed for extended periods—not just weeks or months, we’re talking years—this is a growing problem.
Then there’s the other malady; living to work, rather than working to live. The professional set—who we once called “white collar” workers—can now literally work 24/7, thanks to advances in technology, sacrificing any chance to achieve work/life balance.
This is an interesting conundrum and has been discussed in a number of books, addressing this issue with surprising clarity and even offering a work-around to the rat race. It rarely gets more than a mention in most mainstream circles, which when I think about it are driven by corporate concerns. What’s best for the corporation is rarely what’s best for you, especially if you care about creating balance in your life.
While some employers recognize that their workers aren’t machines, and there are some that encourage and promote balance in the workplace, most companies, driven only with an eye towards the bottom line, don’t care about anything other than productivity.
I write this from experience. I’ve been on both sides of this work quandary.
At one point in my life, work had become so intolerable and soul-sucking that I had to walk away in order to find myself. This wasn’t easy on our family, or better, it put a great deal of pressure on my wife, Mary.
For a couple of years, my income wasn’t close to being what we needed to cover our monthly expenses. Ignoring the financial ramifications, my quest for deeper meaning drove us deep into debt.
There were other things going on with me during this period, but one thing it allowed me was some space. I began to recognize that my personality and skills were ill-suited for the path I’d been walking for nearly 20 years after leaving school.
Mary and I have talked about this often the past couple of years. First, I’ve told her how her belief and trust in me, and her own journey of reinvention, which saved our financial asses, really is quite remarkable. More than that, it probably saved me from continuing down a dead-end path.
I realize that not everyone has that kind of support. I’m grateful to Mary for what she allowed me to do.
She actually has been on her own journey of reinvention. Both our journeys are different, yet are paths run parallel; this allows us synergy and more compatibility than we’ve ever had in our relationship.
Finding a way forward, one that doesn’t lead to psychic death, is a difficult slog.
If you Google the term “psychic death,” you’ll find this blog entry at a site called afro-therapy, referencing Dr. Cornel West’s use of the term. He used “psychic death” in reference to America’s youth, especially African-American youth, and indicated that the lessons coming from our culture were false. There is a thread in the article mentioning how West indicts American culture as being “… a superficial spectacle, focused on clothing, money, drugs, and fame.” It’s also a culture that transmits a number of false values, including the fallacy that work centered merely on income and devoid of meaning is the definition of success for many. For others, they have little hope of ever achieving success, even though they have little idea what this might mean for them, personally.
It took me 40 years to finally begin to recognize the falsity of the cultural framework I was initiated into through school, and even family. It’s taken another 10 years of struggle to fight my way forward to this point.
The challenge now is that I’m moving against the crowd and the beliefs of most of the people around me. I’m also coming face-to-face with a great deal of dysfunction.
The new trick that I’m working at learning is how to remain functional in a world framed by dysfunction?