Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Rat Race

The "Rat Race" - society's term for the chase of the almighty dollar. From childhood, we (as people, as a culture) are encouraged to do whatever it takes to make the most money we can. Usually this is at the detriment of our personal needs and desires, as well as that of our families and friends. We're taught that work comes first, above all else, because money is the most important thing and you can't have enough of it. Those who have alot of "it" want more of "it." Those who have none of "it" want to get some of "it." Somewhere in the middle are the ones who get a little of "it" and wish they had more of "it".

My brother once brought up a question, in a discussion about working alot versus spending time with your family, that made me stop and think. The question: "In 10 years, will you look back and think, "I'm so glad I worked harder and longer to make an extra $5,000.00 a year. It doesn't bother me that I missed all these important events in my child's life." His point was felt clearly: my daughter, and being there for her through all her first experiences, is more important than an extra $100 a week. Don't get me wrong, if you can't make 2 ends meet, then you probably need to work some extra hours. Maybe you need to cut back on all your unnecessary expenses. I've been there, I know there are ways to work through anything.

At a job I had when I was just 20, I worked with an elderly woman who was nearing retirement. She relayed a particularly telling story to me about her life: she and her husband had spent their entire working lives taking every overtime shift they could get. She figured she had worked six days a week most of her life. Her husband had done the same, taking on side jobs, odd jobs, etc., whenever he could. They did this, and scrimped and saved every penny they could with their eyes on retirement. At the age of 60, at the time just a few short years from retirement, her husband had a heart attack and died. My coworker was distraught; all the years of hard work and planning was destroyed in a matter of moments. As she told me this story, with tears in her eyes, she said to me: "what I wouldn't give to be able to go back in time - instead of working all those extra hours, I would spend that time with my husband."

There are a fair amount of people who could read this and think that I simply don't like to work, and I'm trying to make a case against overtime. That's not true; I enjoy my job, and I do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. I also enjoy making extra money; there are plenty of things I like to have and activities that I like to do that, of course, require money. But I have found that often overtime is just an excuse to pad a paycheck, and not always necessary; and also the best memories usually do not require an extravagant expense. I doubt my daughter will look back on her childhood and think, "wow, I'm so happy that my dad made extra money so that I could have a TV in my bedroom." She will probably remember the times we played with chalk on the front porch or how every night I read a book to her, making up voices for each character and acting out the stories.

As I write this, I'm spending the night out of town in a condo, having a fun weekend. It wasn't very long ago that I wasn't in a financial position to do this, so I do appreciate making some money. But it also wasn't long ago that I could have afforded to do this, but was working so much that I couldn't have made the time to do this. When I started looking for another job, the number one goal I had was a "better work / life balance." I feared that this would prevent me from finding another job; most employers want you to make your job the center of your universe, forsaking all others. To blatantly tell them that I was intending to NOT do this was career suicide. I was very fortunate to find a job that I enjoy and did not expect me to give up a family life.

I realize that not everyone can do this, but I encourage everyone to try. I know that my life has changed completely for the better because of my family. I believe that this is the true meaning of life; never have I felt more complete than now. I wish this for all of you.

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