Working to Live

Janna - Seattle, Washington
Entered on October 30, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: work

My father was 47 years old when he died. He’d been married for 13 years. He was the father of two children: myself, 11, and my brother, 9. He worked for a defense contractor located three hours roundtrip from our home, and often worked late, arriving home well past my bedtime. My brother and I barely got to see him except for weekends, when he’d sit on the couch with me and page through National Geographic, or set up electric trains for my brother.

He was a young man when he died — at his office, preparing for another long day of work — and the business of his life was unfinished. My memories of him are few and piecemeal. I remember him at the beach in tan Bermuda shorts, a yellow short-sleeved shirt and a straw cowboy hat, dark and robust. I remember him singing Allan Sherman songs: “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda.” I remember his gravelly voice, the texture of which I hear in my brother’s voice today. At his office, a plaque was mounted in remembrance.

As an adult, my career took me into high tech, where long hours were often the norm: really long hours, hours that stretched late into the night. Hours that eliminated the time I spent with the family of friends I’d built over years. Hours I wanted to spend writing, doing volunteer work or singing with the local choral group I belonged to — in short, having a life. But it didn’t occur to me until I found myself driving home from work at 3 a.m., fighting to keep my eyes open, having missed another rehearsal, that something was dramatically wrong.

I’m unmarried. I have no children. What little family I have lives across the country. My life is the people I love and the creativity that is so important to me. So the parallels between my father’s life and mine are few.

My father died at 47. I’m 44 and healthier than my dad was. Still, I can’t help but eye the calendar and wonder if I’m in for the rude surprise that befell him. If I should die at the age he did, then my time is limited and precious, too short to work long hours in an unhappy situation. Making a living is about making a life; there has to be balance. My father’s death reminds me daily to have perspective, to value the time I have and make choices based on that valuation.

Even if I live to be 100, my life is too short. So I’m making a change. Looking for a new job is a scary thing, and finding one that gives me back the hours I covet in order to pursue the things I love and believe in is tough. But here’s what I know: the choice I made — working to live, and not living to work — will make the time I have sweeter and well worth living. This, I believe.