29 January, 2009

When is Enough Enough?

Ever hear that saying about being on your death bed and considering all that life that you didn’t live?  The one about not worrying about what is in your inbox as you sit and contemplate the end and the past?

It is something about considering whether you are going to worry about what is in your inbox while you are on your death bed.  You know the one?

It is one we have probably all heard and yet, I can’t remember how it goes exactly.  The point is that life is more than work; that we, at work, are fairly replaceable; and that life is short and precious.  We are not going to regret the work that we didn’t get done as much as we might regret the life that we didn’t live. 

In general, Americans work hard.  We are known for long work weeks, few vacations, and great dedication to our jobs.  In part, I have no doubt that this contributes directly to the success of the country economically and internationally.  I do wonder, however, if we are as successful at living life? 

We are a wealthy nation financially, but are we a wealthy nation when it comes to living a quality life?

I realize that people define quality differently.  For some, it is a pay check, a few houses, private schools, stocks, etc.  For others, it is time, contentment, joy.  For still others it might be travel, theater, nice meals out, adventure at one’s finger tips…

But I am talking about the quality that doesn’t come from the material objects – the things money can buy.  No, I don’t mean quality in the size of the house, the make of the car, or the dimensions of our home theater and televisions.

I mean quality.  The quality that comes from how we spend our time.  The quality that comes from compassion and love and emotions.  The quality that comes from exploring our passions and our curiosities.  Hey, the quality that comes from our family and friends.  The quality that is found in a balanced life.

A friend of mine is coming to DC.  Given our busy ball life on Saturday, I suggested that she spend the day in the city and we would meet her there after rehearsal.  She replied, emphatically, “no.”  Despite her love of DC, she is staying the extra time after her conference to see the Diva and myself.  So she has to stay in Virginia and be a ballet mom for half a day… it is worth it as one never knows what tomorrow will bring.  For her the “quality” of life is friends and family – spending time with those she loves.  For others it is work.  Thousands of people brave horrible road conditions to get to the office.  The office, the inbox, and all that comes with it are of highest priority.  

Of late I have been thinking a lot about this.  Is it an American thing?  Perhaps it is regional?

And, is there a tipping point when each person says “Basta?”  “Enough is enough!”  I would rather do without the two cars and two houses and the 75 hour work week.  Is there a point when we decide that it is time to start attempting to live our lives?

“We went to the ballet” an architect told me with great satisfaction earlier this week.  “We never go to these things because we are trying to save money.  We don’t end up saving money and we don’t end up doing anything.  I decided… we are going to the ballet.”  She decided that enough was enough.  They loved the experience and are looking at future performances.  Thinking back on it, I am glad she had a great time but, moreover, it was interesting to see how happy she was to have made the choice to go. 

The architect’s job, like mine, is fairly straight forward.  The hours are pretty set without much over lap.  There are times when more than 40 hour weeks are required, but they don’t happen often.  There are other jobs that come with hour quantity requirements – doctor, lawyer, high placed business executive, to name but a few.  There are times when I think that these people have to schedule in their lives in order to have them… and even then, the social life is not as sacred or as carved in stone as one might think.  The social life is something that can be lived another time if something “important” comes up.

It is supply and demand, right?  There are enough people willing to take that pay and work the manic hours and give up their social lives that the system doesn’t have to change.  With enough people willing to work those hours, business owners don’t need to hire more people to lighten the load on the staff in general. If they hire more, hey, that means that they have more people who are willing to work killer hours and give up their social life.

But does the number of hours worked contribute that much more to the wealth and quality of life in a country and/or society?

Are these people really making more money?  Yes.  That pay check is larger than is mine, no doubt.  But if we break it down to identify the amount of money each makes for an hour worked… things are a bit more equal than one might think.  Sure, the lawyer makes 300K a year but he works 12 to 14 hour days and many weekends.  He can buy the second or third house and the German car, but he has to cancel lunches, skip dinners, and rarely see his wife or kids. 

Is there a point when the money and the lifestyle stop mattering as much as the time he is not taking to live his life?

Or there is the power couple, both working long hours, making large salaries, visiting their other properties, and they rarely spend any time with their kids who are raised by the nanny. 

Does it have to be like this?  Is the success of the country or the society based upon our working long and hard hours in order to… have great houses and nice cars? 

A friend of mine says that, if it weren’t for the money, she would like to teach little kids.  She would be great at it too – to be in the classroom with the small kids doing art projects and teaching them so many different things.  But she has to have a job that pays well.  Luckily, for her, she has found a job she doesn’t like much but that allows her to make the money and have time to spend with her family.  But she would rather teach.  But she has balance.  Is the lack of job satisfaction balanced by the fact that she has time for a life outside the office?

The life balance issues puzzle me sometimes.  Would the US be less of a successful country if we didn’t work killer hours and live our work?  Would our lives be less full if we didn’t have the huge houses or the home theaters?  Are we teaching our kids to spend their lives in the office over exploring the world around them – not to mention spending time with family and friends?

We each make our own choices – choices as to how we spend our time, the work that we do, the quality of life we enjoy and how we define the word “quality”.  We determine what is important in our own lives.  I understand all that, but I go back to the idea at the beginning of the post, at the end, when we review our lives, are we going to regret putting more emphasis on the inbox than on living outside the office?







T said...

This reminds me of the saying about using your "best" china everyday... I can't remember it exactly. Why not live life now?

I had the big house and lived the Power Couple lifestyle. Frankly, it was nice to sell it and get rid of all of the accumulated stuff. Now the kids and I are settled into a much simpler home and lifestyle. But to each, his own, right?

dadshouse said...

Exactly why I left the rat-race years ago. Well said. It's better to find work the fosters self-actualization. If it pays well, too, great! If not, you're still living a rich and fulfilling existence.

searchingwithin said...

I went through four years where I worked 12-14 hours a day to keep up with the workload. It started during my divorce, and then I became a single mom with the stipulation in the divorce there would be no child support, so I kept it up. When I found the relationship of my dreams I kept it up so we could have the things I thought he desired. But he desired me, and my companionship more than those things, and I lost not only the job, but him, in the process of trying to be the best at too many things.

Wonderful article.
~Best Wishes~

mama llama said...

TE, I really like what you have written here. This is a lesson I have been working hard to teach my children now, earlier, than later. Also included, much like your ballet illustration, are the "better" ways to spend your money besides fulfilling basic needs. Hence our ice-skating this year. Definitely one of our more expensive activities--but the time spent and the new skills had, at the risk of sounding cliché-ish---priceless.

I would have been along the same lines as your friend regarding the ballet. If I travel from afar to spend time, I intend to spend time in no matter what way, shape or form. I take what I can get, drink it up like water...I have learned way too many times in my life so far that we never know when it will be the last time.

Wonderful, pensive post TE. Thank you for that.

Be well.

MindyMom said...

Great thought provoking post. I think as we get older and wiser the desire for the material wanes and we seek more qulaity in our lives. Not true for all, of course but I do think life circumstances such as divorce make one look at things differently and can change our priorities.