Work: a way of life – or in the way of life?
“I’m trapped in a spider web of endless work/stress and I have lost my sense of balance – is work my only life?" a career counseling client once said to me.
Too many American adults are struggling with work demands that are overwhelming, endless, and limit the full development of adult life.
We seem to have come full circle since 1998, when my counseling staff at InfoPLACE, the adult career planning program at the Cuyahoga County Public Library, began to counsel adults struggling with work/life balance. We researched and wrote the first edition of ABLE (Adult Balanced Life Enhancement) and began to use it widely in workshops and individual appointments. Since then, and several editions later, ABLE is a vital element of my career counseling with a broad range of clients.
The starting point of ABLE was to see adult life as focused in six core areas: meaning/purpose, physical, emotional, social, intellectual, occupational. ABLE is about life planning, integrating a rich life among these six elements as an integrated life system, where over- or underinvestment in an area can lead to stress and a feeling of loss of control.
For example, how many of us spend endless time updating our professional profile on LinkedIN, or reading endless articles/books on networking techniques, or building a 30-second commercial selling you, like you were a dishwashing liquid. The ABLE inventory has a statement in the social section: “I develop friendships in which I share ideas, feelings and mutual interests with people other than networking contacts and business associates."
While resume and job search techniques are a part of the process of adult life, they don’t have much to say about how to find meaning and purpose in work/life. ABLE helps us to open this dialogue with some statements from the meaning/purpose section: “I spend time reading and reflecting on issues related to life’s meaning and purpose,” or “I am involved in a religious tradition or set of ethical/philosophical guidelines that provide me with a framework for conducting my life.”
In individual counseling work I often use the ABLE concepts to build a point-by-point plan for changes in an area of concern to my clients – we set specific, observable change goals, not dramatic or life changing but small measurable steps: “Sit calmly in my herb garden 15 minutes three times per week” or "Turn off my cell phone Friday through Sunday for a half-hour of family dinner.”
The ABLE process believes that we can make choices and changes, difficult though it may be, I am often reminded of the insight I found when first researching these issues in the book "Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom" by Father John O'Donohue: “Each one of us is doomed and privileged to be an inner artist who carries and shapes a unique world.”