Forced Labor

I heard something on the radio the other day. I forget the exact context, but it had to do with work / life balance, and the interviewee said:

“If your job is your life, you need to get a new job or get a new life.”

And this kind of made me sad, because, for me, it’s impossible to separate the two. Until that nasty incident in June 2009, I’d worked constantly since I was 14 years old, with the notable exception of my first semester freshman year of college when I spent my time on more worthy endeavors. Like smoking in the dorm room. Yes, back then you could still smoke in dorm rooms. Crazy! I know!


I’ve been lucky in that most of my jobs have been very meaningful to me, but it’s really a double-edged sword. Because when things have meaning, they have weight. And when they have weight, they can drag you under. This is to blame, in large part, for my breakdown – too much heft assigned to the job, too much self-worth wrapped up therein, too little time spent cultivating other interests – but I couldn’t have helped it if I tried. And then, without it, I felt so lost. How strange that not working can be just as unhealthy as working too much.

So you think about it, though, and at some point you have to land on the notion that without work, you really can’t live. I mean, work brings money, and who can live without money? Nobody normal, certainly. And people even work who don’t NEED the money, right? Look at Warren Buffett! So those who need work to live, and those who have live to work, but, either way, work is the key. There’s no getting away from it.

I’m curious again, Internet. What’s your work / life balance? How do you strike it?

And, perhaps more to the point, could you smoke in YOUR dorm room?


2 responses to “Forced Labor”

  1. Answer to the most important question: we could only smoke in our dorms under very careful conditions.

    Answer to the job question: I have found it is a very tough balance. I have not had the pleasure of working a job of choice that has brought me pleasure or life aspiring meaning (besides paying bills). Yet I have had activities outside of my work that do bring meaning to my life. Which brings me to my next step in life: pursuing the education to obtain a job that is more meaningful and rewarding.


  2. I got 2 ideas that that I always come back to when trying to find balance.

    The first is part of a commencement address at San Jose State College by John W. Gardner in 1969. It goes like this: “The conventional thing for me to at this graduation would be to wish you success. But success as the world measures it is too easy. I would like to wish you something that is harder to come by. So I am going to wish you meaning in your life. And meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life, starting fairly early and working at it fairly hard. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of mankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the yardstick by which the world measures success will hardly be relevant.”

    The other is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The definition of success – To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.”

    Both of these address balance in intangible ways. When I feel pressure in terms of stature or money, think about these words.


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