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Is the Practical Life Practical?
by John Okulski
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Have you ever had a sense of just muddling through life, of just existing from day to day? Your life, you may think, and the things you do in it are done simply to survive another day. When you go to work each day, do you derive any pleasure from the experience, or is the sole purpose of your labor to pay the bills? If you stay at home with the kids, do your children give you any true joy, or do you just hope to get through another day with them? Do you have any joy in living, any sense that, yes, this is the way I want my life to be going? If not, then you're probably like most people in the world, which, however true, is also a great pity.

You may find many reasons for the loss of happiness, and for that sense of muddling through life with no true end in mind. Perhaps you feel stuck in your current occupation. Your education, job experience, and certain outside pressures keep you in the job you currently hold, yet the only result you get out of the job personally is increasing bitterness and resentment. You may have a mortgage, mouths to feed, and a family to support, so it doesn't seem wise to change things and rock the boat now. Yet, deep down inside of you, there's a sense that you weren't meant to do what you're currently doing. This is not why you exist, but practically speaking, it makes sense. The job, though it may not pay lavishly, pays enough, and the benefits may be good. Or, perhaps the job doesn't really pay well, but it pays enough now to support you and your family, and to take a chance on something else seems irresponsible. That occupation you've always wanted to pursue, after all, may not pay well or you may not be well-suited to it experientially or educationally right now; you may even have to go back to school. If you stay where you are, though, misery and regret shall haunt you, even though you may keep it well hidden from others, particularly if your family life is happy.

Of course, people may have other reasons for the loss of joy in life, including marital squabbles, lack of a partner in life, or some other thing. Here, though, we shall focus of job satisfaction. Why, you may ask, does a section on making the home a haven present an article related to job satisfaction? The reason is simple. We spend much of our waking days working, whether it be at home with the kids or in an office or some other place. Even if we don't talk about our jobs with anyone, not even our spouses, they impact the quality of our lives. Should we be unhappy with our work situation, it will impact our interaction with our family and friends. It is impossible, I suggest, to completely separate work and home lives.

That being said, let us consider our motives for the jobs we take. What do week seek in life? For some, the quest for money consumes them, so that they work harder and harder in the quest for more money. Typically, though, it's not the money that the person wants, but the material things that money can buy, whether they be a better house, a nicer car, more security in the bank just in case something should someday happen, or something else. Often, those things they wish to provide are not simply for their own pleasure, but either to keep up a respectable appearance in the eyes of the world, and/or for their family that their children, say, might not lack for anything.

Unfortunately, when the quest for a greater incomes to provide more things for family consumes a person, it often means less time actually spent with the family for which the person labors so hard. It's like a person given to investing who takes any proceeds from the investment and invests it again and again. When, you might say, will the person cash in his earnings so that he might enjoy the fruits of his labor? Similarly, when a person works so hard to continue to provide good things, and even better things, for his family, when will that person stop to enjoy the things he works so hard to provide. What's worse, when will his (or her) family get to enjoy the person who works so hard on their behalf?

The type of person I just described works harder and harder to get more money to get more things for his family, yet there's another type of person who works not to buy more things but to sustain the level of comfort he currently enjoys. For this person, there may not be much joy in the work he or she does, yet the money that work provides maintains a certain standard of living that he or she finds comfortable and secure. This person may fret and worry that life isn't as secure as he or she might like, yet more than anything else, he doesn't want to lose the particular advantages he now has. So, he remains in his current occupation, doing the same thing he has done for years, though he derives little joy from the act. Such a person seems stuck in a rut.

My wife and I actually faced a similar situation one year ago. Laura earned a Master's in Teaching degree four years ago. All her training and education had been directed toward teaching, yet she found the profession itself not to her liking. Yes, she loved kids, but interacting with them in a classroom setting was proving to be a less than satisfactory experience to her. Perhaps, we thought, it was the particular school in which she worked, but both of us had a feeling it was more than that. She needed to leave teaching altogether. Her work had affected her home life to the point where she did not feel capable of spending quality time with our child. Though teaching afforded considerable vacation time, the wear and tear that teaching took on her made those times less enjoyable than they might seem. She needed that time simply to recover from the preceding weeks and months of teaching.

So, less than a year ago, we decided that she should switch jobs. She wound up taking a job at a preschool for homeless children. It wouldn't involve classroom teaching, though it was in an educational setting. The pay cut was significant, with her salary cut nearly in half, and she lost all those desirable benefits that teachers enjoy, including vacation time. Yes, she would work many more hours for much less pay. Yet, the practical, seemingly wise decision, isn't always practical or wise.1 Enjoyment of life is something no one can quantify, yet it is precisely this that Laura would have sacrificed to continue in the teaching profession. Even though she would have less time time spend with our child, the time spent would be more enjoyable for Laura herself would be happier. Again, though on the surface, it made sense to stay in teaching, what we think makes 'sense' often doesn't.

Are you stuck in a similar rut? Have you become so obsessed with being practical and keeping your life going that you've lost sight of where exactly your life is heading? Do you sacrifice the enjoyment and pleasure of life for the sake of mere comfort and security? Certainly, comfort and security are nice things to have and can indeed allow for the enjoyment of life, they are not to be the primary goals of one's life. Please understand that I'm not urging people to go ahead and quit their jobs to follow their dreams. I have opted to follow my dreams by pursuing a career in writing, yet I retain my full-time job. Though the practical life isn't always practical, there is such a thing as responsibility; taking care of and providing for your family is good. Yet, we must consider exactly what we actually need to provide for our family most and what are those things that we should be seeking out above all else.

Before I finish, though, I'd like to leave with a word of caution. Any changes you feel the need to make in your should be made in consultation with the family members whom the decision will affect. For example, Laura didn't simply leave her job, but spoke with me about the troubles she had endured during her years of teaching. We mutually arrived at a decision and therefore experienced very little tension over how the changes we made affected our lives. Our decisions should not be rash or made without concern for their impact on others. Rather, we should make all efforts to promote peace in our relationships, for 'blessed are the peacemakers'. (Matthew 5:9)

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