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03.20.2017 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

When Life Gets in the Way of Work

Life will always get in the way of work. And, it should because, well, work is only part of life. Work isn’t life.

Seems this has been a season of need. Over and over I’ve heard the mantra. People are trying to balance work with the more immediate needs of people they love and care about.

Maybe it’s a family member who’s ill. A friend who’s lost his job. An aunt who’s recently widowed. The list goes on. The people I know are responding the best they can, but it’s not easy.

Why Is It So Hard?

I’m thinking we just don’t leave enough white space in our calendars. We’re booked solid. Minute-to-minute. Day-by-Day. The Hebrew slaves of Egypt had more time off than we do. No cell phones. Less bondage.

We’re overwhelmed with kids, dogs, birthdays, angry bosses, meetings, phone calls, emails, clients, and in the midst of it all, the air conditioning blows or you need new tires. And, don’t forget to exercise, pay taxes, and get your teeth cleaned.

Daily life can be exhausting, so when people get sick, die, or just plain need a shoulder to cry on, it’s hard to find the time.

But, what if the richness of life is in meeting those needs and everything else is just rehearsal?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the many interruptions of life, consider this:

Prioritize

If you’re like I am, it’s difficult to put people first. I previously confessed that I’m a workaholic. I’m not the woman who’s going to bring you a casserole when you have the flu. Please, don’t wait for me or you’ll starve to death.

Oh, I’ll help you think through the stuff of life. Or, find the resources you need. But, when I make myself available as a mentor, coach, or advisor, it’s congruent with, you guessed it, my work.

So, it’s really not a stretch for me to show up for someone in need when their need is congruent with my own. It’s like asking a pastor to pray for you, duh! It’s what he does.

Making a conscious effort to put people first means we have to step outside our comfort zone and put the needs of others before our own.

I don’t do this often enough. I’m not even sure I do it well. I’m a work in progress. I’ve learned, that in order to make myself more available to others, flexibility is required. I have to be willing to let go of my to-do list.

When I did this the early part of this summer for my friend Jonathan, I can tell you that it was far more meaningful for me than it probably was for Jonathan.

Imagine that! When we make space for life to get in the way of work, everyone WINS!

Fantasize

Some years ago, a woman I knew died of cancer. We weren’t best friends. She wasn’t even someone I knew that well. She was a trainer here in town, and we respected one another’s work.

I never visited her during her final days at Hospice because I had somehow convinced myself that we both had more time.

Then, she was gone.

If you struggle as I do with life interrupting work, try spending some time fantasizing about what life would be like without this person who suddenly needs your attention.

I’m thinking that many of us tend to believe that the people in our life can wait until we “have time” to get to them. But, too often, time runs out.

Here’s my rule: If God places a need before me, I view this need as an opportunity to serve this individual.

Obviously, we can’t be all things to all people which brings me to my next point.

Specialize

Know what you’re good at and how your gifts can best serve the person in need.

No, I won’t take time out of my work day to cook you a meal, but I’m the one to sit and listen. I’ll bring you the perfect book, pray with you, or help you strategize on what’s next.

For me, it’s a question of getting out of my comfort zone in some way that still allows for the marriage between my gifts and your needs. Without this marriage, there’s a good chance that I’ll resist, resent, or avoid the situation all together.

When we serve people in need with our best self, we tend to serve them well—out of unconditional love rather than obligation.

Organize

When life interrupts work, organization looks different. It can even feel like you’re foregoing other responsibilities.

I’ve learned that when I prioritize and put people first, I also have to be highly organized and structured in the midst of flexibility.

Sounds like a contradiction, but here’s what I mean. I’m making decisions about what to do and what not to do. I may let go of workouts or cancel a specific social event. In other words, I let go of trying to “do it all” and focus on the fact that I have someone in my midst who requires my more immediate attention.

If this sounds odd or obvious, let me just add that much of this came to me during my own son Michael’s four-year illness. I had to learn how to put Michael’s increased needs before every-thing else during a time when my business was at full speed.

In retrospect, I didn’t do it perfectly, but I did it just the same. The important thing is that I loved Michael well throughout this process, and I have no regrets.

More importantly, I learned that when life interrupts work and we engage in that interruption—life becomes richer, more robust. Strangely enough, we become the recipients of our own generosity.

We are designed to be relational. When we’re fully present to the people in our lives, we become better people. People who are connected to more than our cell phones and calendars. People who make a difference.

To all my friends out there who have been busy during this season of need,  thank you for being who you are and for loving as you do. I am honored to call you friend.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. March 20, 2017