A number of years ago, Dan and I had dinner with a couple we had known in college but whom we hadn't seen for a while. They had gotten married and moved to Boston where he had a post-graduate fellowship to do medical research. She was working at a job she didn't love and complained--not just a few times--that her husband was constantly at work. He only talked about his work, too, and after our dinner I told Dan, "He's going to wreck his marriage if he keeps that up." Dan looked at me with surprise and said, "Yea, but I have to say, it would be worth it. Did you hear what he's working on? That guy may well discover a cure to cancer!"
I've thought of that conversation and that couple many times since that night, especially when the subject of work-life balance comes up, which it does quite frequently in my brain and in my social circles. And I thought of them again--and all of the questions our evening with them raised--when our family saw the movie "The Social Network" yesterday.
I put a lot of thought and effort into making sure there is more to my life than my work. I do this because I value being a parent and a partner to Dan and a family member and a friend. But I also seek balance in my life because I am convinced it is a requirement to being half-way decent at my job. The quality of my work as a pastor, I've come to see, is closely related to my emotional and spiritual well-being.
But is this really true of everyone? I've met a some people who are clearly doing (or going to do) exceptional things with their lives. Negotiate peace agreements. Perform music at a world-class level. Run a winning presidential campaign. Find a cure for cancer. My impression in each case was that the rest of us should get in line to help this pursue do what they do best. To mutter under my breath something about how this person probably doesn't have enough quality time with her children seems ridiculous. To suggest that they should take their turn coaching soccer or running the Girl Scout cookie sales seems absurd.
Now before anyone accuses me of Ayn Rand-ish tendencies, I should point out that this theory of mine hasn't really been put to the test. Watching "The Social Network" made it clear to me that it's probably good that I am not best friends with a world-class computer genius. I know the movie is a fictional portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. But it is based enough facts (including several highly publicized law suits) to suggest that there is some truth to its portrayal of Zuckerberg as valuing the advancement of Facebook over his friendship with many of the people who helped him get started.
But the movie suggests--and I can imagine this is true--that this was really for the best. In the end, Zuckerberg's instincts were in fact better than those of his early partners. So he ditched his friends and his site grew exponentially and influentially. I left the movie stewing about this. Was I supposed to feel bad about his loss of his college friends? If he had spent his time explaining his vision to his friends and waiting until they had consensus, wouldn't he have been wasting his genius? Wasn't it their job to recognize his brilliance and fall in place behind him?
I have become famous (or notorious) among my family and friends for declaring that every movie I like is actually about Jesus. I liked "The Social Network" but it is most decidedly not about Jesus. Jesus was exceptional--and his contemporaries recognized him as such and wanted to be around him and gain his favor. When one of his closest disciples, Peter, challenged his vision, Jesus famously responded, "Get behind me, Satan!" But in the end, a big part of what Jesus did was call out the gifts of others. He told his disciples that they would go on to do "even greater things" as they live their lives in him.
I have a hunch that if "The Social Network" was a documentary and not a fictional work, the story would look at least a bit more like the story of Jesus. I bet that Facebook really is the work of a collection of people who have been inspired by and empowered if not by Zuckerberg himself, then by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg or someone else who works as a buffer between Zuckerberg and the rest of the company. I believe that there are geniuses in the world--and I have been honored to meet more than a few. I think that "life balance" can be overrated. But in the end, the people who make a lasting difference on the world are the people who can activate the intelligence and passion and Divine Spark in others.