Living to Work

May 14, 2009

This past weekend one of my husband’s co-workers passed away.  He was in his 50’s, in seemingly good health and fit.  It made me think of all the professionals I know that spend 10 or more hours a day, not including their commute, in the prime of their lives (their 30’s) and the youth of their children’s lives, at an office away from their families.  Many miss important milestones hoping that some day, all their hard work will pay off and some day they will have time to relax, travel and experience fun.  Some day typically means retirement.

I have to ask…… why?  At the end of the day, the golden years often aren’t very golden.   In fact, if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement, not having been stopped by the two biggest killers in the US  heart disease or cancer, we will likely not have the energy or the money to just do what we want.    Why wait until our kids have kids to enjoy spending time with a child? 

I say work less now, pare down expenses to live on less, take time out for our children now while they are young and developing, take time to travel now while you can enjoy the experience without fear of health issues and fixed incomes weighing on your minds. 

I hate to break the bad news but you can’t bank time and experiences to be saved up and used when you are ready for them.  You either live now….or you don’t.

After a very long absence due to family illnesses, I have returned. I hope to restart this blog and resume my place as a guide to creating a work-life balance now that my own life has settled down. I hope to see my readers back as well.

I do have something to report.  During my absence here my family radically altered our lives once again to find that elusive work-life balance.   My husband left his stressful, job with long hours as an engineer in the private sector and returned to his first place of employment – a state agency.    Three years ago, we were both lulled by the siren song of high pay opportunities and he left his job at the state agency for the private sector.   Three years later, he had seen the sun come up at his office more times than either of us care to think about, he worked six days a week and thought about work 24/7.   Our lives were unravelling. 

We looked around at friends who are also engineers and realized it would be years before he saw any relief, if he ever did.    We had to really focus on whether the money was worth him being an absentee father and husband in order to join the ranks of the upper middle class.    Our decision….the money wasn’t worth what we were having to give up. 

Today my husband is back at the state agency.  He will never earn six figures.  His job isn’t sexy or glamorous. But he goes to work at 7 am and comes home at 4 pm.   Without exception.  I have my husband back.  Our son has his father back.  And the state has a damn fine engineer. 

This means we will never be able to move into the tonier part of town…but we like our small home in our modest middle class neighborhood.  I will never have granite counter-tops or a pool in my back yard nor will I be able to quit my own job to devote my time to writing…but my question is…why should I be able to pursue my dreams at the expense of someone else, namely the man I love?   Everything requires sacrifice, who better for me to sacrifice my dreams for but the man I love and with whom I intend to spend my life?   And I still get to write, I just have to juggle it with my job. 

So there you are.. I put my money where my mouth is and you know what?  Life is sweet.

Downsizing

November 2, 2008

Last week I caught up with several friends from high school, people I haven’t seen in almost twenty years! It is surreal to chat with someone whom, in your head, is still seventeen but, in reality, is a practicing attorney, an elected official, or a triage nurse at a children’s hospital. 

One friend in particular inspired me to think about my own life and the choices I make.  This friend left a fast-paced, probably well paying, law firm in a large city to move back to our home town to spend more time with family, or just have more time.  I admire the guts that move took.  It is obvious an attorney will earn far more working in a large urban firm than being partner in a firm in a town of two thousand.  It is easy to let that financial knowledge and quest to have more be the sole decider of your fate.

Let’s forget the fact that I am now old enough to have spent my formative years with people who are now either prosecuting or defending capital murder cases – and think about what my friend gained.  While he is currently working on a significant case that involves a great deal of time, he still has control over what cases he takes, how many cases he takes and where he takes them. 

Many of us that continue in the urban grind do so because of our children and their education. It is no question that many suburban or upper class urban schools have far better resources, more money and incredible parent involvement than small town schools, giving our children an “edge” in higher education.  But I wonder at the cost. My child is lucky, his mom works from home and while his dad has a demanding job, he works with a family friendly firm.  Many kids at our son’s school aren’t so lucky.  They go to outside care before school, after school and see their parents for a few hours a day so their parents can work in their, granted high paying, demanding jobs so they can send their kids to the “best” schools.

I think back to my own education.  It was lacking, to be sure.  My husband and I were not as prepared for university as some of our higher ed classmates.  But still, we both went on to be professionals.  While some of our classmates continue to toil in small jobs, many went on to become doctors, lawyers, dentists, nurses, teachers, writers, lobbyists and other professionals.  So it couldn’t have been that bad.

I think my friend may have found the modern day equivalent to Thoreau’s Walden.  I don’t know if I would do it, but he has my full admiration.  And has made me take a moment to pause and wonder…what if.

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According to the Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary 2003-2006 Voluntary Simplicity is a lifestyle that is less pressured due to a focus away from accumulation of goods and more toward non-material aspects of life.

It is no longer a theory that the earth is headed on a collision course due to human consumption.  A 2005 report backed by over 1,000 of the world’s leading scientists warned that almost two-thirds of the world’s resources have already been consumed.  That is a frightening thought.  And even more shameful is that the largest portion of the world’s resources is consumed by the United States in our quest for more, quicker, faster, better products.  We glibly throw away containers that cost more than many people in the world make in a month.  We easily toss precious natural resources down the drain and into the sewers or into huge holes in the ground where we bury our unwanted, out of fashion but perfectly workable items.  Or we buy inferior, cheaply made products that have to be replaced time and time again. 

 This quest for bigger, better, faster and newer is the modern American dream.  Instant gratification is the name of the game.  We see advertisements every day that a new living room suite of furniture can be yours with no interest and no payment for three years.  What they don’t tell you is at the end of that three years the interest has compounded, circumstances may change or the furniture may need or want to be replaced again driving you further and further into debt.  Not only is this modern American dream destroying the environment by using resources at liberty without thought to where it comes from or how it is made, but this constant cycle of debt is endangering  the economy, our health, our mental and emotional health, our families and our communities.  People have to work longer and longer hours to continuously purchase items that drastically outpace their income.   Debt has become fashion and workers are tied to the “company store” to repay their lenders.  

Voluntary simplicity is rejecting the modern American dream of consumption, debt and slave to work in order to find more a more meaningful life.   All ages and types of people practice voluntary simplicity.  Many people reduce as a social justice statement.  Others do so to make a political statement.  And others still are simply tired of being tied to a job they once loved but came to resent after years of grinding away getting further and further behind.  Whatever the reason, the movement is growing across the first world and people are actively seeking a different, better way of life; a life where they are in control, not their debt or their employers.   A life that is full, rich in ways that money cannot purchase and socially and environmentally balanced.