Thrift comes too late when you reach the dregs of the barrel” Hesiod
A philosophical approach to work life balance is often characterised by thrift. Whatever thrift maybe, it is essential to ponder it and it’s antonyms. Writing about your idea of thrift is a resolute first step towards realising your own vision of the good life that is actually good. It will move you forward in the project of freeing yourself for yourself.
What are you freeing yourself from? Enslavement – by the ideas and beliefs that have been deformed through your particular life experiences, or growing up in particular community at a particular time in your culture’s history. And of course, your vices. We are all enslaved one way or another, and taking on a philosophical way of life is a conscious move towards freedom. This sense of freedom is a significant component for the development of work life balance and can be a central undertaking in life coaching.
If you want to free yourself through philosophy, then, like personalised career development, the sooner you start, the more comprehensive the freedom you create and the better your life is likely to be across your journey. Assimilative writing is an important exercise. It is a way of writing that uses prompts from age old wisdom to generate thinking that is distinctly your own. Doing it regularly fuels the intensification of the relationship with yourself that is a signal the ancient healing studies are working.
The type of aphorisms you select are those that contain some ancient words of the wise that speak to you personally. Seneca uses them liberally throughout his Letters. In particular he closes each of the first 29 letters with an aphorism, mostly drawing on Epicurus. By doing that, Seneca is illustrating the importance of the techniques as a way of working through his program. He has provided examples of how to make those wise quotes part of our self, and our life.
We can take the first letter of Seneca’s masterpiece to be a demonstration of assimilative writing – taking the aphorism from Hesiod as its prompt. When we study his book of Letters on Ethics we first have to come to terms with the principles and concepts he uses as the foundation of his course. However, to reorient your self in a philosophically healing way requires writing about the thoughts you have while working through his program. In a later letter Seneca explicitly advises reading and writing, and weaving the two together, as a requirement for the development of a personalised and unified philosophy you can call your own.
Philosophy can be demanding
Philosophical study can be arduous. So people often think it can be kicked down the road to start some other time. The outcomes of philosophical study are more beneficial the earlier in life you start. There is not much point expending the very limited resources of old age in pursuit of freedom. Just as in career coaching, were there is not much point making a big effort to improve or change when you are approaching the end of your career, so too, there is little point making a big effort to free yourself with a philosophy of life if you have little life left.
When is too late to make progress is hard to judge. Like volcanic eruptions, you cannot predict exactly when the mental, emotional and social resources you need for such a program will fall below the required level as you age. For some professionals it might be as early as their late 40’s if they have gone through life wallowing in their vices, or stuck in patterns of living that never use their innate talents and potential strengths.
If we think of those big barrels of wine used to finish off wine making as a metaphor for life, Hesiod’s message points to several things. When we are young there is a lot of wine. And we need to draw heavily from that supply to make our way in life. We have to create bonds of love and friendship, carve out a career, and connect with our community’s to establish the foundations of a good life. You can be a spendthrift in youth and enjoy the magic of your twenties. And like wine, we age, and find ourselves drawing less from our barrel to live our good life. We notice that it tastes better as it ages, and we can become reluctant to draw on it for new personal projects. For some it will have dawned on them the need for a reserve to draw heavily upon when the time comes, as it always does, to adjust to life again after a meaningful grief.
Philosophy as a framework for our work life balance draws on our supplies too. It is possible to lean in and begin, but at some point, to get the deep benefits of making philosophy a part of our life, there will be a period of rocky adaptation and transition. That time will require some large draughts to work through. As it isn’t possible to predict when will be too late for you to begin, the sooner you do, the better off you will be in the long run.