“Why are you always working?” My mother’s voice echoes now in my head. It was a question she frequently raised over the years about my career, especially when she felt I was overstressed or losing my work-life balance. “I like working,” I’d always answer. And that would usually be that. At least until she asked again.
When I was little, my mother was the only woman on our block who worked outside the home. She started out of necessity during difficult financial times for our family, when I was four, continuing past my college graduation. She worked beyond when she “had to,” finding satisfaction in contributing at a job she liked. Still, for her, work and life were always separate, and her “life” was what happened outside of work.
That’s not the case with me. Maybe it was because she was an atypical mom in the 1950s and I had two working parents, that I evolved a philosophy about work as not separate from life. No matter the job, like it or not like it, self-employed or working for others, my mindset was simply that work was part life.
But life’s ebb and flow can challenge us all with mounting to-do lists, consuming workloads, growing obligations, festering unfinished tasks, and “life-happens” events. Too much to do and too little time to do it. I hear those words and feel them, too, no matter my philosophy, feeling at times time-deprived for what I want to do. But, the reality is there will never be enough time for all we need, should, and would like to do.
How we use our time, the currency of life, shapes our results and our life. We get the same 24-hours a day as our neighbor or co-worker, but use differs. Practice the piano eight hours a day and you’ll be better than people who don’t. Practice and hone any talent or skill and the same applies. Or, spend the day poking around, getting ready to work, shooting the breeze, texting or fiddling with email, and you’ll complete the day having traded your time for limited results.
For most of us, our problem isn’t a time problem; it’s a choice problem. Life isn’t what happens outside of work; it’s what happens within the life-time we have; it’s how we spend, use, or invest our time. After all, isn’t our life a reflection of our choices? How we spend our time puts value on what we’re spending it on – the people we love, the dreams and passions we have, the gardens, hobbies, or ideas we grow, the things we learn, commit to, or explore, and the work, paid or unpaid, that uses our uniqueness.
In the scheme of things, I can’t imagine not working. That’s because I believe “our work” is about living our life’s potential, in an ongoing process of becoming who we are capable of becoming. And I have a lot more work at becoming to do. What I said to my mother was right: I do like working. I also like playing, exploring, learning, and loving. But, no matter how any of us spend our own time, there is wisdom on the plaque that hangs on my wall: “Enjoy this moment for this moment is your life.”