Saturday, June 26, 2010

owning our choices

Earlier this afternoon I enjoyed a long phone conversation with one of my two best friends. She reads my blog sometimes, so my apologies dear, for appropriating a piece of your life to make a point about my own.

My friend has what I would consider (and I think she also considers) the workplace from hell. It is not her own position per se which is so dreadful, but the larger conditions of the institution for which she labors that are so problematic. It is an institution that appears to be run by the worst assemblage of leaders, managers, and administrators of which I've ever heard. Every few months my friend regales me with fascinating stories of venal, callous, petty, and sometimes even Machiavellian machinations on the part of the decision-makers at her workplace.

My friend who is now past full retirement age and already receiving social security, has been talking about retirement for sometime. So each time we connect I ask if she's notified those above her that she is retiring. And each time we talk she has a different, well thought out, reasonable explanation why it is just not yet the right time to announce her retirement.

We've had nearly the same conversation now every few months for more than a year. But this time, as I listened to her, I realized that as dreadful as this institution is, as many horror stories as she has told about it, there is a deeply embedded part of her that loves working there. In that toxic environment someone who is a compassionate, carrying, principled and decent as my friend makes an enormous difference. She is a bastion of integrity, a protector of the weak and defenseless. This gives her work and her life meaning in a way it would not have in a more benign environment.

Just because it seems to me as a caring friend that she would have a more pleasant life away from that cesspool, does not mean that she should leave. If this is where she finds purpose then perhaps it is not time yet for retirement. I'm sure that there are many other ways that she could and would contribute if she did retire, but there's no reason to retire if she's full-filled where she is.

It is easier to have insights about other people's lives than it is about our own. My friend does not seem to realize how much value this workplace has in her life, and does not understand why she is so reluctant to leave it, having spent so much time over the past few years complaining about the conditions there.

As I drove to the store reflecting upon my friends situation, I began to realize that I too spend a great deal of time complaining about the very things that give my work and life meaning. My favorite phrase is "too much work, too little time." Yet I'm always accepting new assignments, choosing to take on additional projects.

Being "too busy" is what makes me feel needed and necessary, gives my life a sense of purpose and value. It makes me feel important to complain about how busy I am. It gives me an excuse not to do things I don't want to do, because "work comes first." Although that's not really true -- I find time for the things I really value, like talking to my husband, reading mysteries, taking care of my animals.

I think from now on, I won't complain about "too much work" but rather brag about it -- that's what I've really been doing after all. I won't be "too busy" but rather "wonderfully busy," or "blissfully busy."

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