This week—the days after Labor Day we are inclined toward a last hurrah before the New Year begins. January may be the official start of a new calendar, but for most of us, September is the psychological start of the New Year. With this though comes a carryover from our earlier back-to-school preparations bringing younger questions into our adult lives: Who do I want to be when I grow up? Should I work harder this year? Or try to enjoy myself more? and How do I balance all that I want? These questions have a special resonance for people in recovery.
“Love and work,” Freud said, “are the twin capacities we must resolve to achieve maturity.” Our life’s challenge is in his words, and there is contradiction at the heart of trying to sort that out. With love, our task is to balance autonomy and intimacy: can I join with another person and remain myself? Similarly, with work, we have to decide if it’s a delight or punishment. It’s a Biblical dilemma: When Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden his sentence was to labor all his days; that would suggest work as a bad thing, but in Proverbs is the beautiful line, “Labore Est Orare”, to work is to pray, signifying work as something holy.
This Labor Day it’s fair to consider how we can love our work without sacrificing the rest of our life.
Some common advice from time management gurus tells us to look at our life as a pie that we should slice up giving each piece a separate place and weight and value. The good intention of this strategy is to protect our time and psyche. But, after years of trying that I’ve come to disagree. Most of the stress so many of us feels results from splitting ourselves into these slices. What if, instead of carving up our lives, we could just be the whole pie?
Years ago, I heard this described more eloquently by the poet Mary Oliver. She advised us— graduate students who were worried about how to make time for our writing--that we should not compartmentalize our lives. Rather, she warned, “Your greatest loss of energy will come from trying to change from one sensibility to another,” and that, “The poet can make supper; the novel writer can drive through traffic, the writer of short stories can feed the baby and let the poet make the speech.” Maybe there is a parallel for our recovery as well? After all we know the admonition, “ We practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Managing a busy, complicated life is the challenge of everyone I know. Most of us are working and caring for family members—young or old-- and studying something and seeking some kind of spiritual life and having a good recovery life and trying to be an asset to the greater community as well. The tension arises when we try to balance it by holding those parts separate from each other—like those slices of pie.
Thomas Carlyle wrote, “Blessed is he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness.” My prayer for all of us is to claim lives filled with love and work as we celebrate, this New Year.