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Article posted: 9/1/2013 5:00 AM

A Labor Day editorial: Is our work the sum of who we are?

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Most of us lead twin lives of sorts. We move in two interconnected but still largely separate worlds. We build two somewhat separate existences. We create two somewhat separate identities.

That is the duality of life for most of us.

There is the life of work.

And there is, well, there is the rest of it: The life of play and bill paying and housekeeping and exploration and parenting and altruism and spirituality, the life of trying to figure out who we are outside of work.

That's not to say there isn't an element of play in work. There is. And an element of exploration. And certainly a declaration of who we are.

All of this stuff interconnects.

And for some select few, it all comes together and rolls evenly into one, the life of labor and the life outside of labor.

But for most of us, there is a separateness that no amount of welding quite puts together.

Have you ever gone to the funeral of a colleague and discovered with some amazement how precious little about that work friend you knew?

Have you ever gone to the wake of a relative and been fascinated to learn of an essential part of him that his office buddies knew?

Two lives. Work and home.

What's the first word that pops into your head when someone asks you to describe who you are? In other words, how do you identify yourself?

Do you identify yourself by your profession, your career? Are you a teacher or a bricklayer or an editorial writer?

Or are you something else? What's the first word? Are you a husband or a wife? Or a Christian or a Jew? Or an American or an immigrant? A runner or a poet? A woman or a man? Young or old?

What's the first word?

We are, each of us in the end, a collection of adjectives, a vast assortment of interests, allegiances and DNA.

But the first word, we suspect, does not slip out by accident. The first word, we suggest, provides the clue to our priorities, the clue to who we really think we are.

On this Labor Day weekend, we celebrate our labors. The country's labor is important. Without it, the world does not progress. And without it, food and a large measure of fulfillment does not get put upon the table.

Labor is important. What you do in life matters. It makes a difference.

But while remembering that, remember also that healthy lives are built on balance.

So ask yourself two questions on this sweet holiday weekend.

Question one: In describing yourself 10 paragraphs above, what word came to you first?

And a second question: In looking at who you want to be, what is your first priority?

These are fundamental questions for all of us.

Two lives. Two questions

If our answers do not match, we still may have our most important work to do.

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