Harried Life

Posted: March 10, 2008 in Culture, Economics

My employer sponsored an in-service luncheon recently on the topic Achieving Balance. The presentation was essentially a PowerPoint presentation conducted by a representative of a professional human resources company (which will remain nameless since I’m about to criticize the presentation harshly). The presenter promised an interactive, fun, lunch meeting. The part that was true was lunch. If the presenter had any public speaking experience or credentials on the subject being presented, they weren’t evident. In fact, just about any classroom teacher knows that the surest way to lose the interest of students is to read from an outline given as a handout. That’s no less true of adults, and compounding the issue by having lunch led to a particularly uninspired presentation. The interactive part consisted of querying attendees and mostly ignoring the responses when no clear segue to the next point was offered, which was most of the time. Nobody there would have called any part of it fun unless they sat in the back and made sarcastic comments.

But that’s merely form. The content is what really irked me. The balance to be sought is between the demands of professional life, family life, and what is commonly understood as “having a life.” Everyone registered recognition that we’re all pulled 100 directions in the course of a day, leaving precious little time for quiet contemplation or enjoyment. The tips and suggestions included things such as taking a self-inventory; prioritizing time and goals; discarding unused things, unrealistic expectations, and toxic relationships; adopting a healthy lifestyle; and keeping an activity log and to-do list. All well and good, but these are all elements warmed over from just about any self-help book or time-management pamphlet. And worse, they were all ultimately aimed at recovering lost time and improving efficiency so that one could accomplish more. And that, as they say, is the root of the problem: more. We want more, and more … and more. Yet there isn’t enough time in the world to watch all the TV and movies, listen to all the music, read all the books and magazines (and blogs), eat at all the restaurants, have all the personal relationships (and sex), do the exercise, get the sleep, and still hold a full-time job to afford it all. Plus, with all the new media and experiences being added to the to-do list every day, some with the best intentions of actually do them, most of us just keep piling on without every really diminishing the pile.

What little discussion there was in the seminar, considering how poorly the presenter guided participants, all took for granted the notion that the only solution was more — more desires and more accomplishments, even if only something as mundane as organizing a closet. Ugh! I kept my lip buttoned, lest I be regarded as disruptive and confrontational, but I really wanted to examine this assumption. My initial question would have been in two parts: “What do you think about the time most Americans waste watching TV and what would you recommend regarding insulating oneself from the influence of manufactured desire?” The first part might have gone over okay, but the second would doubtlessly have opened a Pandora’s Box for those able to see even the initial implications. Other questions I might have entertained if I thought the presenter had the first clue how to answer them professionally would have included how to be satisfied with what we have; how to say no to others (and ourselves) piling on expectations; how to avoid feeling stressed at being idle; how to be comfortable in quiet, stillness, and solitude; and how to adopt an other-directed orientation as an antidote to narcissistic self-absorption. (I had others I can’t remember anymore. But I’m not stressed about it.)

On the heels of the presentation, which I was mulling for a few days, I came across two related blog posts (here and here). Both resonate in the direction opposite that of the presentation, namely, do and expect less and be happier for it. What a refreshing and serendipitous reminder. As a personal example, I update this blog on average once per week. The interval varies, but unlike many bloggers who report feeling stressed to keep up with new posts to drive or maintain traffic, I write when I’m ready. I notice that hits double for a day or two after each post (and fall off on weekends invariably), but I’m content with the intervals between posts and the diminished traffic. I’m doing other things that matter to me more.

  1. I understand what you’re saying.
    What I’ve never understood is the admonition to spend precious time making lists. I hate making lists and my memory works fine. Why run through evaluations of pros and cons if you know what you want? Don’t most people do what they want in the end, anyway?
    Even more to the point, however, I know right from wrong. If my sense of morality conflicts with my desire the unfortunate conflict will interfere with every other thought in my head until I resolve it.
    Further, balanced or not, we all need to decide and decide again.

  2. Tammy says:

    This is really amazing information.

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