No, I’m not beginning this week’s newsletter with a crude joke about a bodily function. The “stool” I’m talking about is the little one that farmers sit on when they milk their cows – or at least they used to.
Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud’s most famous mentee, modified many of his mentor’s initial constructs for better understanding and application. Adler shed light on Freud’s murky concepts with simple metaphors that allowed his clients to move forward.
One of Adler’s theories involved our “three life tasks.” He listed them as “love,” “friendship” and “occupation.” Adler believed that a functional life flowed from one’s ability to balance his three “life tasks.” Like a dairy farmer’s stool which had one leg too long (or short), the milker would lose stability and fall over. Unable to complete their daily task of attending to their herd efficiently, the farmer would lose control of life in all its aspects.
The wisdom of Adler’s metaphor should be clear. His concept of “love” assumes a committed, intimate relationship, be it with a spouse or partner. I believe that Adler’s choice of the term “friendship” was meant to describe an individual’s ability to establish an amicable network of acquaintances, both close and more casual in nature. Family members would qualify as part of that “leg.” Adler’s theories were built upon a social framework, in contrast to Freud’s focus on the nature of the individual. And finally, Adler understood that everyone needed to invest one’s abilities, both intellectual and physical, on a life work. Whether the individual was a laborer, a professional, or a homemaker, Adler understood that occupying one’s time in some beneficial way served both the individual and society in general.
So, as we understand our construct of the “stool,” it now calls for each of us to look into the Snowman’s metaphorical mirror. How balanced is the “stool” that each of us is perched upon? Extending Adler’s ‘three tasks” into our daily functioning, we can arrive at some useful insights and understandings. Imagine, for example, the destabilizing impact that the loss of a loved one has on the surviving partner. Or consider the harm done when we become unemployed earlier than we planned. Or envision how a change in an individual’s social framework can adversely affect us. A job promotion requiring re-location or a college student arriving on campus in a different town will produce a mix of exhilarating hope with destabilizing separation from the norm.
At this moment, however, most of us probably haven’t experienced the major examples I have just listed recently. Still, taking a look at one’s stool is a worthy exercise for any of us any time. Often, great investment of time and energy in one of Adler’s life tasks, be it our job, our family and friends, or our partner can lead to short-changing one of the other two.
So, as we gaze into that self-analytical mirror, what do we see? Which leg needs attention and repair? You know the answer to that question already. Now act accordingly.
Balance is not something you find; it’s something you create.