I'm no expert, but here's how I understand it.
Some delineations in life are really clear. Black and white. You know where something starts and something ends. For me, early in my career, it was clear whether I was at work or play. In my early- and mid-20s, when I left the office, I would change my tie — from a long, four-in-hand to a bow tie. I kept a few bow ties in my desk drawer.
Other delineations in life are murkier. More on those later. For now, let's stay with the bow ties.
Why I Lived Separate Lives
Mallory, the boss, once asked me, "Why do you change your tie at the end of every day?"
"Because I'm leaving work and going out with my buddies," I replied. "I don't have time to stop at my apartment to change clothes. And, yet, I want to draw a line between work and play. I don't want to be at work tonight. I'm going out to play."
Mallory had a quick mind. "No," he said. "You are separating yourself into several lives. Right now, your friends are your friends and your work associates are your work associates. Over time, you will find that your separate lives merge: your friends will be your clients, your clients will be your friends. You will be living one life. It's a milestone of maturation."
That sounded sad and soulless to me. I didn't want to merge my lives. Probably because I didn't truly enjoy my work (and because I didn't really know who I was).
Milestone of Maturation
Mallory's words have come true. To be sure, I have clients who aren't friends and friends who aren't clients, but the edge has blurred. For example, I would consider most of my clients to be friends: I like them and I believe I could call any one of them and ask him or her to be responsible for my children.
The edge has become porous. It's hard to tell where something starts and something stops.
A blurry edge isn't much of an edge at all. In this case, the clients/friends edge, a merger seems healthy. Less edge there, less boundary between, is a good thing. I like liking my clients. And I like working with my friends. Mallory was right.
So what edge is blurry — and worth protecting?
An Edge Worth Protecting?
On the other hand, I have strengthened one of my edges. It's the edge of time.
For much of my life, I ran late. I was late to meetings, or — just as disorienting — I was rushing through the door at the last minute everywhere I went.
I might have been technically on time, but I wasn't mentally and emotionally in my seat until long after the moment of physical arrival. The essential result? I was late.
All those years, I rationalized my rushing in as the necessary behavior of a busy person. Hey, I have a lot to do. I'm doing it. Why would I ever show up early anywhere? I'm going to do this one last thing at my desk before I leave. And, so, if etiquette requires I not be late (that's rude and disrespectful), then I will always arrive at the appointed moment.
But the effect on me and those around me was the same as if I were late. The conversation started with panting.
Until I realized: this is a choice.
One Thing Over Which We Do Have Control
There are a lot of demands. There are many folks who crave your time. That's a compliment to your value to them.
Same here. My calendar is chock-a-block full of scheduled moments with smart, ambitious, creative, effective people. This is heaven on earth.
The one thing in this life that I really do have control over is where I am and when. That I am here typing to you right now is proof. There are other tasks before me. I'm leaving for vacation in 22 hours. A week unplugged. I have much to do. So why the heck am I writing to you?
Because it's a choice.
I can't satisfy all the requests and demands on my time. But I can choose to sit here at the keyboard. And that's my choice.
During the past ten years, I've learned to enjoy making the choice: where I am and when. I run 10 minutes early almost everywhere every time. That's my goal.
It gives me time to prepare for that next moment. To prepare by getting grounded and aware of what I am doing and who I am — rather than rushing in the door and falling like a well-dressed heap into a chair.
What's the choice? Before doing yet one more thing at my desk, I choose to leave, so I may arrive calmly at the next meeting.
The Marital Edge
As I head for vacation, to catch up with Alisa (who is already there), I am very aware of an edge. It's the edge between Alisa and me. When we are separated — as we have been for two weeks (when I was in Cleveland with Gestalt and, now, as she has started vacation a week before me) — I have been acutely aware of the edge.
She and I are separated by so much distance. It makes me sad: I have a lump in my throat. I feel somewhat adrift. I haven't been sleeping. And I've been making uncharacteristic sleep-deprived errors, somewhat like I'm drunk.
But I'm reflecting on this and wondering: when we are together, is our being together as vivid as when we are separate?
I miss her when we're separated, but do I take our being together for granted?
When we are together in the home and in our city, we move in and out of orbit together. I might be at my desk; she at her easel. We talk. Then it's quiet. We are together, then separate. The porous edge makes our being together less vivid. It's wonderful, but what am I missing by not being more conscious of the edge between being together and being separate?
It's an edge worth protecting.