Another Day at the Office

I think many of us expect to be facing tumultuous times. While I am sure there will be a great deal to say, one message I keep repeating to myself is that I cannot control national or world events. I can pray and do what is within my abilities, but I most effectively have power only over myself, and perhaps influence over those closest to me. I can’t let fears of what I cannot do stop me from doing the things that I can do, such as keeping my own house in order.  

In that spirit, I’d like to add a new phrase to the words that I hope you have already banished from your lexicon. One of my husband’s pet peeves is the phrase, “Giving back to society,” when referencing a charitable donation. Giving is wonderful, but giving back implies that you were taking from society all the years you were working hard to earn money. Unless you are a repentant thief, or perhaps a self-serving, venal politician, while you were making your money you were actually contributing to society, not taking from it.. Why should your words suggest that you were involved in a nefarious and immoral activity?

I would like to recommend another sentence to this aggregation of misleading words:  “No one ever said on their deathbed, that they wished they had spent more time at the office.” I have seen this phrase, usually in regard to parents being on hand for their children’s activities.

I am a huge advocate of carving out large quantities of family time, of building community relationships and of devoting volunteer time to various causes. Nonetheless, the above sentiment is unadulterated bilge-water.

Let’s try hearing what it sounds like in another iteration:  “No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they had spent more time on the sofa.” If you are a couch potato and lazily sink back into your sofa to watch endless hours of movies, that might be a meaningful sentence. But sitting on your sofa is usually not the goal of the action. I spent many hours on my sofa cuddling babies, reading to toddlers or older children, telephoning elderly relatives, and keeping my finances organized. I clocked many more sofa hours with other necessary and worthwhile activities. I might well wish that I did have more hours to spend on my sofa. 

I spend many of my waking hours in the kitchen. Will I, after 120 years*, say that I wish I had spent more time in the kitchen? Not if the focus of my kitchen-time was simply being in a certain room. But will I wish that I had prepared more nutritious meals for my family even if they took a bit more effort? Will I wish that I had prepared more meals than I did for new mothers or families with a hospitalized child? Will I regret not having shared more hours baking with my children and grandchildren? Possibly. Once again, the heart of the matter isn’t the room but what I was doing in it. 

Will anyone feel bad that they didn’t spend more time at the office? Doesn’t that depend on what he or she did there? Will someone actually rue the hours he spent keeping a company going during a difficult time, thus allowing three or thirty or three hundred employees to continue supporting their families in an honorable manner? Why would anyone regret office time that provided  a product or service that benefited one’s fellow human beings as well as providing food and shelter for his or her own family? I can’t think of any respectable man or woman I know who wishes they lived off charity or taxes forcibly taken from their fellow citizens so that they could diminish their hours at work. If anything, the number of people suffering because they have lost the ability to work this past year, even if they are not struggling financially, should remind us of the centrality of work. The important thing is what is taking place in the office, not the location. 

So, yes, it is entirely possible that some of us might wish we had spent more time doing those things that take place on the sofa, in the kitchen, and most definitely at the location of our economic productivity, even if that location is an office. 

* See Genesis 6:3 and Deuteronomy 34:7. A Jewish blessing often given on birthdays is “until 120 years.” (and be ready to see the connection between the two verses as we go Scrolling through Scripture.)

Whether or not you’re getting ready for Valentine’s Day
(it’s not our cup of tea, but maybe it’s yours), you do want to prepare for a successful marriage (even if you’re already married!)


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28 thoughts on “Another Day at the Office”

  1. Janice Aldridge

    You have brought up some very good points.

    We should not feel ashamed about our earning money to care for our family.

    Thanks for the reminder about we don’t have anything to give back to society, if we didn’t steal it.
    We definitely need to remember that our working is contributing to society.

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    1. People used to be ashamed to take government money (not salaries, but what was called welfare or being on the dole). Now, people are made to feel ashamed for earning money, Janice.

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      1. That is so true! My grandparents went through the Depression. They just barely managed to keep their heads above water, but I can still hear the pride in their voices when they said they had NEVER gone on relief (as it was called then). They scrimped and saved and did without, but would never take “charity” from the government. That was considered shameful. How times and attitudes have changed!

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        1. When good people supported having an ’emergency net’ for citizens, they would have been shocked to hear that it would turn into an entitlement that people used as a matter of fact and even resentfully rather than gratefully.

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  2. I’ve been opposed to the phrase “give back” for many years and only use the term “give” (related to charitable giving). I’m so happy to see someone else on the same page!

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  3. I would like to add my two cents. I was a prosecutor for 25 years. Did I wish, frequently, for more hours in the day to stay at the office? You bet I did! We worked long hours as it was, but there was always, unfortunately, another case, another victim, another travesty, that needed to be addressed. A far as I could tell, we were all conscious that we were working on the taxpayers’ dime, and tried to make sure that society got their moneys’ worth out of us. I can’t predict how I will feel on my deathbed, but I will be proud to introduce my work record to the Almighty and let Him decide if it was worth it or not.

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    1. What an absolutely lovely comment. Thank you. And thank you for being a dedicated public servant. I hope that you had much influence on those following in your footsteps.

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  4. I have also always hated the phrase “give back.” That is so great to hear Rabbi Lapin agrees. But I am not surprised.

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  5. Susan — Regarding the saying that no one on their deathbed wished they had spent more time at the office, I believe that in this case you might be overthinking and/or taking it too literally. Of course I agree with your observations about those situations where it does not apply, but in my view you are misinterpreting the basic meaning of the expression. I have always thought that it simply is a way of recommending a healthy balance of the various aspects of life, to not become so caught up in one part of it, i.e. in your job, that you give too little attention to the rest of life—even if it’s a job you enjoy. (And many people spend their work lives at jobs that they do not really enJoy or find much fulfillment in, it’s just a job which they need to pay the bills, etcetera.) Some also spend their lives working, working, working with the mistaken idea that they have to do that so they can enjoy life later, discovering only too late, at retirement, that, well, it is too late! They are too old, too sick, or too exhausted. The energy and the motivation are gone. So yes, I think it is all too possible to be on one’s deathbed thinking, “Oh, there are so many things I wanted to do, yearned to do, meant to do, some of which at least I could have done if I just hadn’t been so obsessed with the notion that I had to stay at the office, to keep working, and THEN I’d get to those other things later.” To use another expression, tomorrow never comes.

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    1. Mark, I hope you have read The Holistic You, our free ebook where we make exactly the point you are emphasizing about balance. I understand that you hear the phrase differently from me. When I hear the phrase, it is often, quite frankly, an excuse for slacking. It is also sometimes said by spoiled people who can choose to take time off, not those on the ladder upwards who are choosing between feeding their children from the sweat of their brow vs. being at their children’s soccer game. Coming from them, it sounds a bit tone-deaf to me.

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  6. Such good points Susan. My pet peeve is the phrase “public servant”, almost always used when referring to a politician. Anyone who provides a good or service to the public is a public servant. A clerk at a store, a owner of a hot dog cart, a custodian at a restaurant. Politicians elevate themselves as if their contribution is more noble.

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    1. Jonathan, as George Orwell knew so well, language molds our thoughts. It’s so important to be careful with our words.

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  7. I am freed by reading this new perspective. Forever, I’ve been at conflict with spending time at the office vs. caring family or serving others in community. It never occurred to me that my commitment to my profession can (& probably should) be both. I have balance, and now I can be at peace with it. Thank you for a gift I will now pass on to my family.

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    1. Marie, what a lovely thing for you to take the time to tell me that I hit the spot for you. Having balance and feeling good about all the parts of our lives is essential for peace of mind. That is very much what my husband and I had in mind when we wrote The Holistic You.

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