Finding the Time

Another column from the past.

Finding the Time

by Selene Vega

Santa Cruz CAMFT Newsletter, Sept/Oct 1995, Therapists for Social Responsibility column

I know of someone who recently realized that he had saved up enough money from his well-paid job over the years to take early retirement. He’d been working and planning for this day – now he could stop working so hard and just enjoy his life. He hesitated for quite some time, staying at a job that was not intolerable, but also not deeply satisfying. What kept him there? Despite the rational understanding that he really did have enough money invested to manage comfortably for the rest of his life, he was somewhat fearful of his ability to survive financially without a salary. However, this was something he could work his way through, and there was a more compelling inner conflict blocking his way out of that job. He wasn’t sure what he would do with his time, or what would give meaning to his life.

What convinced him finally to take the leap were the words of several friends. The suggestion that broke through his doubts was that he take all that free time and find work that is meaningful to him without having to worry about whether or not it pays well. He had never had that luxury before, and now a whole world of possibilities opened up for him.

Even when we find meaning in what we do for a living, we can all see work that we believe needs to be done in the world that doesn’t pay enough for us to live on. Some of it doesn’t pay anything at all. The causes I support generally rely on volunteers to do the necessary tasks to create change in the world. How much time and energy any of us has to contribute to the work we believe in depends on how much we have left after doing what is necessary to survive. For some, there just isn’t anything left over after hours each day spent with clients, paperwork, managing a practice (for those of us self-employed), dealing with a bureaucracy (for those of us with agencies or organizations), and then attending to our homes and relationships.

For me, volunteering time feels essential to my sense of hope. I need to be contributing on some level, no matter how small, to the ongoing process of change sustained by organizations that are trying to do something. This can feel like a drop in the bucket, as there are many, many worthy causes, and much work to do in each of them. I can only do so much, and I am constantly aware of how limited my contribution is to the large picture. I seem to have made my choices about where to put my time and energy by following opportunities that presented themselves to me, rather than attempting to judge which cause is the most worthy. My focus changes now and then and I have relied on that to reassure myself that even if I’m only working with a small part of what needs to be done, I may find myself later in another camp, approaching the problems from a different angle.

As I work with a group of people striving towards some goal or mission, I get the benefit of a sense of community that grows out of these working relationships. This is especially important for me, as I have consistently formed my closest friendships with housemates or co-workers. Now, earning my money from my private practice and teaching, I am struck by the fact that my main contacts through work are people with whom I must keep appropriate boundaries. Clearly, my clients will not form my supportive community. Even with students, the relationship is circumscribed by situation. Only when I reach out to my colleagues for peer consultation or get involved with work-related organizations can I find a sense of community through my professional associations.

Reaching beyond our immediate work requirements to find places where we can come together to contribute creates community on another level, one where we have the satisfaction of doing our part to bring about the changes that seem important to us. For example, at the last CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists) meeting, as we listened to the folks from Santa Cruz AIDS Project talk about their programs, it became clear that several of our members have been volunteering their skills to help SCAP fulfill its goals. After the meeting, one of them told me that this has been an incredibly fulfilling way to do essential work and at the same time satisfy her need for community involvement.

We are so very busy, running to stay in place. If we can find just a little bit of time to reach out beyond our individual survival pathways and join in where a collective push is needed, perhaps we won’t have to wait for retirement to find a world of opportunities awaiting our involvement. Right here, right now, we can be part of a movement towards our visions for this planet and its inhabitants.