“Suffering is normal.”
“Work is supposed to be hard.”
“I have to keep busy.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“Idle hands are the Devil’s playground.”
“Life is not supposed to be easy.”
Damn that Protestant Work Ethic.
It’s those deeply ingrained PWE messages that hold us back from making changes leading to more satisfaction, happiness and meaning. We’re all so nose-to-the-grindstone, unhappy-as-hell, but-hey-what-can-I-do-about-it people.
What frustrated folks may not know is this: the key to a balanced life is a fair measure of joy. Of purposeless fun. Of play.
Which is diametrically opposed the good old PWE.
Know what I mean? We take something that is supposed to be joyful fun, like, oh… running through a forest, feeling the wind on your skin and your hair, smelling the fragrance of the deep woods, spying a shy fawn, or a curious fox. And we turn it into, “Gotta go nine today so I’ll be ready for the marathon.”
Sure, having a purpose gives us something to strive for, but often bypasses the underlying joy of simply doing a thing we love.
A woman I know was lamenting this week that her just conferred Master’s degree didn’t seem to be that valuable in this job market. I asked, “Why did you decide on that field of study?” She answered, “Because I was really interested in it, and I thought it would be fun.” I paused a moment. “So you enjoyed the learning?” She said, “Oh, yes!” I asked, “Isn’t that enough?”
Learning for learning’s sake — ever known that feeling?
To achieve balance in your life, sometimes you need to allow yourself to do something for the sheer fun of it — and not because it will lead to something else. Something “productive.” If you have the time, the money and the interest, why not take a class? Or get a Master’s degree? Or a PhD, for that matter? With no eye toward where it will “get” you?
Why not enjoy yourself?
There’s a point that comes in everyone’s life — and for some of us it comes more than once — when you know things have to change. Yet you ignore the stirrings of your heart, the urgings of your soul, because making a change might seem indulgent.
Which is a definite PWE no-no.
There’s the doctor who would really like to open a bead shop, but how would that look? All those years of medical school — a waste?
Or the lawyer who would like to be a non-profit case worker. Law school down the drain?
Or the one-time-CPA mom who would like to go back to work, but do something that doesn’t involve numbers. At all. Ever. Shouldn’t she just keep up her certification, just in case?
We are all the sum total of our life’s experiences. I know that nothing I’ve ever done in my life — the good, the bad, the extremely ugly — was a waste. It’s all added up to make me the person I am today, and that feels pretty daggone good.
When you get the chance to reinvent your life, you get the chance to use everything you’ve got. When you get the chance to increase your joy, and, nifty by-product, achieve that elusive life balance, take it. Regardless of the little messages that tell you that following your heart is indulgent or purposeless.
If you are stuck, or itchy, or worried, or out of balance — forget the PWE. Focus on joy. And the rest will follow.