Rat Races and Whirlpools


I watch some of my students at the business school take on jobs which they know will require 100-hour weeks, all year, every year, cramming what used to be a forty-five-year working life into twenty or twenty-five pressurized years, and then what I wonder? I see others postponing motherhood until it is too late, and I have watched my son and his friends, these last three months, shut themselves up in a dark studio every day and night until 4:00 a.m. to make their album. He is only twenty. There is more to life than just this music, I say. There is, for instance, the sunlight which you never see. He answers in the catchphrase of our day, there is “no alternative” if he wants to succeed.

I admire the dedication. I worry that they lose their balance, their way, and their sense of truth. What makes young bankers, I wonder, risk their careers for $30,000 profit on an insider deal when they know, they must know, that finance houses have their own ways of catching up with them.

Caught up in our own whirlpool, what the others do quickly becomes the measure of what we should do, of what is right. In my world we call it “group-think.” “You people,” the Indian mystic said to me, “have lost yourselves in busyness.” I could be more dramatic and say that we are in danger of giving away our souls.

To re-find those souls we must learn to leave our whirlpools from time to time, to withdraw and then re-enter, refreshed and redirected. We need, I feel, to walk awhile in other people’s worlds or, like the desert fathers of old, to go out at times into the desert and vomit up our double, the one that isn’t us. We need, or at least I need, a regular place of stillness to reconnect myself with the God I believe is in me, my true me.

“Be still then, and know that I am God,” sang the psalmist,  but it’s hard today to hear this song amid the din of all our doings. — Charles Handy, Waiting for the Mountain to Move: Reflections on Work & Life

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