In an age when the work week enroaches more and more into the hours of each day and even reaches its hand into weekends, holidays, and vacations the notion arises that we need to have good work-life “balance.” I would like to suggest, however, that work-life balance is a myth, and a dangerous one at that.
The term work-life implies a duality. Work is set against the rest of life. These are now in competition for our precious time and energy. If one wins, the other loses.
However, life is a unity. Any separations we make are constructions, arbitrary boundaries drawn on the seamless fabric of life.
One night during my training, long after all the other doctors had fled the hospital, I found a senior surgeon still on the wards working on a patient note. He was a surgeon with extraordinary skill, a doctor of few words whose folksy quips had become the stuff of department legend. “I’m sorry you’re still stuck here,” I said, walking up to him.
He looked up from the chart. “I’m not working tomorrow, so I’m just fine.”
I had just reviewed the next day’s operating room schedule and knew he had a full day of cases. I began to contradict him, but he held his hand up to stop me.
“Time in the O.R.,” he said with a broad grin, “is not work; it’s play.”
There is no duality for this surgeon, no opposition of forces. Work is play, and thereby presumably joyful.
We spend approximately half of our waking life in the service of work and as suggested above that percentage continues to grow.
“We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold
competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way. These hidden
human dynamics of integration are more of a conversation, more of a synthesis
and more of an almost religious and sometimes almost delirious quest for
meaning than a simple attempt at daily ease and contentment. “
In his first book on working life, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, he offered this bit of wisdom:
“Human beings must, in a
sense, always, in order to create meaning, in order to create an ecology of belonging
around them, must bring the central questions of their life into whatever they
are doing most of the time.”
Well, that would be work.
The Buddha threw down the gauntlet challenging us to awaken. To be awake is not part-time or divided. It is always now and in every thing. No separation, no division, no preference. Instead, a stark, beautiful, and breath-taking (and breath-giving) engagement with being alive.
Our challenge is to be awake on our way to work, while at work, and on our way home from work. Our challenge is strive towards being open, receptive, and truthful with each moment.
Work is our life in this moment and we’d be best served not to squander it with wanting to be somewhere else.
This is not to say that work can’t be difficult, miserable, or the wrong-fit for us. Obviously, we need to pay attention to this and make changes if necessary and possible.
However, these difficulties can be calls to awakening. “How can I transcend myself in this moment?” “How can I get beyond my story of how awful things are?” “How can I find meaning and grace in what is happening now?”