A Time To Work, A Time To Enjoy

As Notre Dame students, we all share something in common: We all work, in our own way, really well. Whether we work alone in our room, with friends in a 2–4, or in the stacks in Club Hes, we all have our spaces and methods of churning through our work. With all of our classes, clubs, and other involvement, our work can end up becoming all-consuming. Rarely is there a time when there is not work. After all, if there is not work that we need to do, there is generally work that we can do. There’s a paper that can be improved, a networking email that can be sent, or an idea for a club project that can be put into reality.

Recently, I had the opportunity to offer some words of advice to a new freshman who, after a semester at Our Lady’s university, was faced with a crossroads of taking on additional work or preserving time to pursue personal, relational goals. In thinking about what musings I could offer, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend of mine, a Holy Cross priest, last year about this time. I encountered him, on a warm sunny day, much like the one we enjoyed this past week, sitting down and enjoying a cigar. I asked him, after a fashion, how did he have time to do so, as I had seen his to-do list earlier that week. His answer was striking. While his exact words are lost to time, they conveyed the following message: Yes, there are a half dozen things that I could be working on and a half dozen projects I’d like to make a reality. Each one will be worked on in due time. But now, I’m smoking my cigar. There is a time for work and that time is not now. Join me for a cigar?

As Notre Dame students, I believe that is a sentiment we should consider more often. Is now a proper time to work? Our schedule as students does not particularly aid this pursuit. In fact, the structure of class and homework that we adopt blurs the lines far more than if we were to have “work hours.” While the flexibility of choosing when to work can be delightful, there is something to be said for having your work schedule set.

In some fashion, we try to carve out those times, blocking out football Saturdays and Friday nights for play and not work. But in the midst of the semester, blocking out that time can be more than we can bear. That hour of enjoyment could be spent getting a better grade on the test, adding another line on our resume, or practicing for a job interview. As a freshman in principles of microeconomics will remark, the opportunity cost becomes too high. There are times in our lives when enjoyment and relaxation do not have a place. Reading days are for reading. Nights before organic chemistry tests are for studying, and days before papers are due are for writing papers.

Just as it is proper for those times to be times of work, it is equally proper that there be times for enjoyment and to relax.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of all their toil—this is a gift of God.” As a professor I know frequently remarks, do you really think that God rested because he was tired or ran out of things to create? As students, striving to be adults, to prepare ourselves for the world, we can forget that fun is not something we outgrow. G.K. Chesterton believed the reason why adults do not play is that they find it too difficult and that they forget how.  

Detaching from our work and enjoying the moment can be difficult for us to do. Our phones ride in our pockets, alerting us when emails arrive with more work to begin and notifications about new opportunities. Looking around our campus, we see our friends hunkered down and working.

How then, do we know when to work? That is not a question that can be answered concisely, in one pithy line. But, as I told my friend, what can help us decide is to view enjoyment and relaxation not as a benefit or a reward but rather as something meant to be integral to our lives. If we view enjoyment and rest as sacred and as gifts, maybe we will take the time to appreciate them. Perhaps we will realize that to not grasp these gifts is bad manners on a cosmic level, as it is a refusal of what God has created for us.