Back when I was a corporate lawyer working 70+ hours a week, I came across this poem:
You Want a Social Life, With Friends
You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.
There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?
Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.
—by Kenneth Koch
Koch’s poem struck such a chord that I taped it over my desk where I could read it every day. At that time, I had work, plenty of it, and a relationship, but what I really craved was a Social Life, With Friends. One of the first things I’d learned as a young law associate was to stop making evening plans, because 9 times out of 10 I had to cancel them for yet another late night at the office.
Then, after seven years of seventy-hour workweeks, I quit practicing law, ended the relationship I was in, and plunged into the New York City social swirl. For a few years, I went out every night, just like Homer with his banquets. (I look back on this period with amazement, but even then, I socialized introvert-style, at every party sticking to the edge of the room or curled up on a sofa with wine glass in hand, enjoying “real” conversations with kindred-looking spirits.)
I had work, too. I started my writing career and paid the bills with consulting gigs.
What I did not have was love. I dated a lot, but there were no Michelangelos to my Vittoria. Nor did I crave attachment (which is unusual for me, but there you are — life unfolds in phases).
Then I fell in love with my husband-to-be, we had kids, and I entered today’s phase, brimming with love and work (and love of work). What I don’t have time for now is maintaining all the friendships I made during my Social Life phase. I try to keep them going virtually and with occasional visits, but it’s not enough, and I feel badly about it. Too often I rely on friends’ forbearance and understanding. Recently I gave a negotiation seminar, and a few friends attended. It was the first time I’d seen them in person in OVER FIVE YEARS.
But the balance will shift again, in time. One day our kids will decide that their parents are ancient and annoying, and then I expect I’ll see my friends once more.
This is why I think Kenneth Koch was incredibly wise. The conventional wisdom is that you can’t do it all. But he said you can. Just not all at once.
How about you? I’m curious whether any of this rings true.
As someone recently posted on my blog (The Betterment Blog, http://www.bettermentblog.com ): “You can do anything you want to do. You just can’t do everything you want to do.” That rings very true.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alexis Yee Lyn Chan, susancain. susancain said: Love, work, and friends: you can have them all, with ONE CAVEAT: http://bit.ly/gxKkSk […]
Half a century into my life, I can say that I finally have all three! My two daughters are grown and living independent lives so now that I am loving them from afar, my husband of thirty years and I are enjoying one another as a couple again, providing the love in and for my life. Together we have developed friends who are couples and enjoy our combined social life with them. We also have separate interests and friends, which we explore solo. My work life is fulfilling, but I have drawn healthy boundaries with my work so that it allows me to have a life full of the three elements of love, social and work…in that order! Getting ‘older’ can have its perks!
I think this is what has been trendily called “sequencing.”
Thx, I’ve never heard of “sequencing” before! In what context — work-family stuff? I’m going to ask my friend Cali Yost about this. She is an expert without peer on work-life fit: http://www.worklifefit.com, if you’re curious.
Loved the poem — and loved the article — I never thought of “doing it all” in that context — but it is SO true…
[…] originálním znění si báseň můžete přečíst například zde (a velmi vám to doporučuji, protože můj překlad je dost neohrabaný a vím, že „makat, […]
Hello! The poem is so wise and funny and I liked it so much that i tried a Czech translation…
(I am a Czech blogger writing about happiness.)
My father wrote this poem–he actually got the idea from something the composer Virgil Thomson said to him, in his snappy, no-nonsense way: “Kenneth, in life there’s love, work, and friendship. You can have two at the same time, never all three, can’t be done.” my father used to encourage me with this bit of wisdom, when I was in my clueless college years.