Sunday, April 13, 2014

Adult Interruptions: "Overwhelmed"

For some time, I had been thinking about interspersing children’s book reviews and notes with a very occasional feature about adult books, just to spice things up a little. While I’m a kids’ book fiend, I will admit that, now and then, I do enjoy reading an adult book. It’s also important for me to have at least some knowledge of adult books – fiction and non-fiction – when I’m staffing the desk at my public library on Saturdays, and patrons ask me for recommendations.

OK, so I was thinking of doing writing occasional pieces about adult books anyway, and thought of calling it "adult interruptions." Then, real life hit – a real adult interruption in my life as a children’s librarian and children’s book reviewer. If you wondered at all why I haven’t updated my blog here’s the reason: my husband had emergency surgery. He spent seven days in the hospital and, thank goodness, is recovering nicely at home.

All this real life stuff, of course, wasn’t conducive to writing blog posts. I did do lots of reading while my husband was napping and I was hanging out in the hospital, keeping him company and hoping to catch his doctors on their rounds. Writing about what I was reading, however, just required more psychic energy than I could muster.

One of the books I read while I was hanging out at the hospital was an adult non-fiction best-seller that had been getting a lot of buzz; I had checked it out from my library on a whim just before our family’s hospital hiatus. Titled “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time” (FSG, $26), this book is chock-full of information and scientific studies showing why our over-stuffed lives aren’t good for us. Author Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post journalist, skillfully weaves all of this research in and around anecdotes about real people dealing with the stress of trying to do your best at a job that requires 24/7 availability while still trying to have a life and, in many cases, a family.

In particular, I liked the way that Schulte’s information and analysis not only targeted overwhelmed parents, but also anyone who desires a better balance of work and home. That speaks to me, as someone who has an almost empty nest that is allowing me more time and a better work-life balance. But "Overwhelmed" is an even more important book for my older child, a 23-year-old who has just started her first job and is totally consumed by it. Learning ways to cope with this workload – and, even more importantly, ways to resist it! – are really important for young people, especially if they plan to have families. Perhaps they can even lead the much-needed revolution towards a saner work-life balance.

While “Overwhelmed” can seem, at times, overwhelmingly packed with facts and stories, Schulte fortunately provides an appendix where she pulls together everything she has learned. It’s titled “Do One Thing,” and the first item is blunt: “Time is power. Don’t give yours away.” Agreed, but I believe that reading all of “Overwhelmed” – not just the appendix – is worth your time. It resonated with me, someone who was literally on call 24/7 in the nearly 30 years I spent as a journalist, although I was "part-time" (and paid that way) for more than half of those years.

By reading Schulte’s book, I finally gathered a much deeper sense of perspective about my work life. This was especially true for me in her discussion of the “ideal worker,” someone for whom work is the be-all and end-all, and how that impossible ideal permeates not only our workplaces but more importantly our own thinking about ourselves as workers. I plead guilty to always trying to measure up to that ideal worker, but I’ll admit right now that I didn’t consciously realize the psychic burden I placed on myself – and that our work-driven society placed on me -- until I read Schulte’s book. That’s just one of the many things I learned from “Overwhelmed.” (To learn a bit more about the book itself, check out an NPR interview with Schulte).

Eight years ago, I traded my crazy work life as a journalist for new career as a children’s librarian. I’m definitely in a saner situation now, in a job that I love, in a workplace that values work-life balance. Still, I have lived too much of my life feeling overwhelmed by trying to balance work, love and play, and that’s why Schulte’s book seems like an important one for all of us to read. To me, the book compellingly demonstrates that there must – and needs to be – a better way to balance our work and our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Karen, I enjoyed reading your comments and agree that college and post-grads need to start building good habits. Want to read and share with my boys. Thanks!