Horse Treats, Pajamas, and Work-Life Balance

In Opinion

Today I woke up to find a pile of horse treats in the bathroom. It is not an uncommon occurrence to also find riding apparel and other paraphernalia strewn about the house as well. Breeches, bits, and bridles. I’m glad that horse shoes are lucky, since I also find them frequently ‘on display’ as well.

(Note: when I read Elisa a draft of this post, she commented by saying “at least I had the presence of mind mind to check my pockets. It wouldn’t have been the first time that I put horse treats in the washing machine”)

Odd though these deposits may seem sometimes, they are actually similar to the artifacts of my own work day. We all bring work home. It sticks to us like a tag-along or a burr. The difference between Elisa and me is that the artifacts of her day are tangible, where as mine are abstract. With each physical deposit, Elisa releases the day and liberates herself from her work. These are real gestures that are also symbolic, and they have very real and positive psychological effects.

Because my work is not physical, it can be more difficult for me to release the mental products of my day. I don’t have anything to lay down, and so I have nothing to symbolically unbind me from the stresses and obligations of work.

Where the body goes, the mind will follow. Elisa and I will sometimes disagree about pajamas. When Elisa is finished for the day, she immediately takes a bath and puts on pajamas and insists that I do the same (It makes her anxious if I don’t. This is also a practice exercised by her father, Rick). This is not something that I am accustomed to, in large part, I think, because I am not accustomed to not working. But I am slowly coming around to appreciate the importance of rest, and the fact that the movement from work into that restful state can only take place through specific decisions that I make about my orientation relative to specific objects in my environment. I don’t have horse treats that I can empty from my pockets, but I can put on my pajamas.

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  • Karen McGoldrick

    Yes and no Timothy. I may be able to empty my pockets but I never can put down the responsibility for the safety and health of every horse in my care. The better things are going the more pressure you feel. You know that no matter how vigilant you are that s*** happens. Not an easy burden to set down.

    • Timothy D. Harfield

      This is an excellent point, Karen. I do think that we can distinguish work from responsibility here, though. I would also like to think of the sense of ever-present responsibility, not in terms of burden, but as a kind of love. The Greeks use the word ‘storge’ to refer to the kind of familial love that takes place between a parent and a child, and I think that it can apply very well here as well. It is also something that is experienced by anyone who’s work is vocational rather than occupational. Where you are driven by purpose — where you are driven by service — you feel a responsibility to others and in a way that cannot be put down like the discrete tasks and experiences that characterize work. I agree with you, Karen: if this is something that you CAN lay down at the end of the day, then you are doing it wrong.

      • Karen McGoldrick

        So true. As someone with a brother with mental illness…no matter how bad it got my parents never gave up and never stopped loving him. As Sibs though, my other brother and myself don’t carry that same burden…in fact, I gave up a long time ago.

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