Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Life. Really.

Balance. I admit that I have had little, if any, balance between work and "life" over the past 20 years. (I'm in my early 30s. I started young.) If anything, work has been my life. And not in the sense that I'm an incredibly productive workaholic. But recently, I have had to recognize that work accounts for the overwhelming majority of variance in my identity. For example, a new colleague recently commented on the progress of her DIY home renovations and how enjoyable the process has been. My internal response was How on earth does she have time for that? She's only been in her job two years - doesn't she feel pressure to spend more time on her work?

There was absolutely no negative judgment in my reaction. Just awe. And I remained in this state of mind for several weeks. Fortunately, I eventually recognized that there is something unnatural about my response. Not only because it indicates an absence of balance, but also because it is completely out of touch with social reality. Plenty of people  - including academics - have time for and do their own home repairs! They also read novels, play instruments, and go to the theater! And, most important of all, they take vacations. Real ones! Away from work and visiting family. 

These all are activities that I enjoy, and would love to spend more time on. But I don't. Particularly scary is that I haven't taken a real vacation (for more than two days) in several years. Living to work is great when work goes well (e.g., when I get to start my independent career), but as many of you have experienced, it's soul-crushing when it does not. And then what?

My next response: Home repairs, novels, vacations, etc. are what sustain you when work doesn't go well. You need to make time for them. This is by no means a revelation to anyone but me. I'm a health psychologist, and I would be the first to guide a patient toward such an insight, because I know that it's true. Yet somehow, I was the exception. I spent the past two years in a major city and did not take advantage of it. Partly because I do love my work, partly because of my particular circumstances, partly because I lived in that city when I was younger and took advantage of it then. But I missed out on seeing it through the eyes of an adult. I won't make that mistake again.

So. For someone like me, what does "life" actually mean? Is it simply "whatever I enjoy doing when I'm not working?" It's much more than that, I'm sure, but I'll start there. I just moved to a new, smaller city, which afforded two excellent opportunities: 

(1) A full week of not working, because there was that much packing and unpacking to do (which continues), and
(2) A chance to appreciate a new location, which I know little about. And it's gorgeous! Every day, I marvel at how beautiful it is (see below), and how no one tells you that when they describe it. I won't make that mistake, either.

Treehouse in the park behind my new residence.
View from a  nearby shopping center.

This is your life moment of the week: This is your LIFE. And it's more than your work.

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