That’s Men: Bitter widow rues work-life imbalance

Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 01:00

You probably haven’t heard of Prof Andrew Taslitz but if you’ve ever been told you’re working too hard, you might benefit from reading what his widow, Patty Sun, had to say about his busy life.

He was professor of law at American University Washington and when he died recently from cancer, aged 57, colleagues and students spoke of his dedication, his erudition and his fun-loving nature.

They also spoke about the vast amount of work he got through – including more than 100 academic articles and many books.

But, according to his widow, in an article she posted on his Facebook page, the sacrifice of family time and of time for recreation and reflection wasn’t worth it.

“In the entire time we were married we only took a two-week vacation once, and just about every vacation we did take was wrapped around one of his conferences or presentations. The furthest he went on each of his two sabbaticals was his front bedroom, because he spent every single day on his manuscripts.”

Due to the pressures of work, he turned down trips to China, South Africa and Japan “and then last year when we finally booked a two-week cruise to Alaska we had to cancel it after they found his tumour a month before we were supposed to go”.

He enjoyed his productivity, she writes, “but he also killed himself trying not to disappoint people or to break deadlines”.

“I’m glad his peers all loved him for the reliable genius that he was, and I don’t know how he feels wherever he is now, but I am very, very bitter.”

His success “only spurred him on to work harder to prove, I think mostly to himself, that he really did deserve it”.

Risk of having no balance at all His heavy work rate “kept him happy, but love always involves other people, and anyone who cares about that other part of the equation would do well to remember that if you always decide to choose the work side of the balance, you run the risk of having no balance at all”.

Two points stand out for me in her account. First, I think that the nagging belief that they are just not good enough, a belief that would astonish those around them, keeps many people with their nose to the grindstone when they could be kicking off their shoes and relaxing.

She also writes of her husband that “he could always find another reason to choose work over play” and that, I think, is a big trap for many people who work too hard. For them, play needs to be justified but work comes with its own built-in justification.

That’s why sometimes the partner who works too much simply doesn’t understand the complaints of the partner who wants to spend more time with them. And sometimes the partner who works too much is doing so out of the belief that without the work he or she is not good enough.

Holidays revolving around meetings A reader who commented on the PrawfsBlawg website

that reproduced the article recalled of her father that, “Every family trip started with a stop at his office to ‘pick up a few papers’.” Family holidays tended to revolve around meetings . “He died of cancer at the age of 31, just weeks after grading the exams of the last class he taught and finishing another manuscript.”

You don’t have to be in the academic world, which is a far tougher place than it looks from the outside, to experience a flash of recognition in these accounts if you’re a person who works too much.

If you’re working a lot harder than you need to work, and if you’re losing out on the important things in life – the things that don’t happen at the office – you might need to reflect and learn the lessons before it’s too late. And I’ll be joining you – because I recognise too much of this in myself.

You can read Patty Sun’s article about her husband at bit.ly/taslitz.

Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. pomorain@yahoo.com