The Art of Living for Woman Today


By ELEANOR PALFFY, Vice-Chairman, Red Cross Nurses' Aide Corps

Over Station WWDC, December 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, p. 224.

IT'S the day after Christmas, and as you're probably all exhausted. This gives me an excuse to talk on my favorite subject. One that I learned in sorrow and paid for in tears. And what, do you suppose that is? Something so simple you've probably never even thought of it. Just this. The proper expenditure of nervous energy is the least understood thing in the world.

"Now what," you say, "does she mean by that?" It means,—Be Stingy with Time, and Time is Yours! Stop saying: "I haven't got time for that, or I wish I had time for this!" In the time you are talking about not doing it, it would have been done. There is nothing so satisfactory as getting things done, is there? "But how?" you ask.

Well, I'll tell you my formula, my own personal prescription that made me well, and able to function to the top of my capacities.

You, the person to whom I'm talking are not one person, but a whole lot of people. You're not a personality, you're a battlefield. In you there is a spiritual self; in you there is a physical self; the self that keeps the candle of your religious life burning, your family relations alive and whole. Your hobbies; bookbinding, painting, or what have you. And don't forget your aesthetic side which may have to do with your clothes, the decoration of your home, or planting a line of tulips in the sun.

All these elements go to make up you, and make you what you are.

What we all want to do is to give all we can, to squeeze every ounce out of ourselves, for it is only when we are functioning mentally—physically—emotionally—at our highest level that we are healthy, and in consequence happy. It boils then down to this. How are we going to run the machine that is ourselves—our souls and bodies—without grinding of gears, or brakes that don't work? A doctor taught me; I didn't have the sense to think it up for myself.

He said: "Take all these different selves of yours. Look upon them as so many lions, sitting on drums in a great semicircle at the circus. You, the Will Power are the main spring, in short you are the Lion Tamer in tights, and let's hope they are spangled ones. . . . It's up to you to see that these lions that are your different selves not only go through their tricks, but what is more important, neither attack you, nor each other. . . .

How do you do it?

You feed 'em!

You give them pieces of meat,—and so you keep them content.

Don't feed just your physical side.

Don't feed just your business side.

Don't feed just your family side; and neglect all the others. For if you do, if you don't give all the sides of your nature a chance to get at least a little something to eat, they not only will grow thin, and mangy, but in the end—lashed by hunger—they will turn and rend you. Then either you will have a nervous breakdown—which is a great nuisance—or you'll be all tuckered out, or you'll become one of those dreary little clods of humanity thrown on the scrap heap complaining that the world has not time to make you happy. Budget your time and your energy,—remember that haste is as destructive as fear; make out a schedule, and stick to it and give you, the only person really vital to yourself, a chance to make good.

Here's another point.

For heaven's sake . . . learn to delegate authority in whatever you do, be it home or office, and when you've done so let people carry out their own jobs. Don't wear yourself, and them out by interfering with them all the time. If they're no good, sack them and get somebody who is, but DON'T fuss. Remember the art of working is to make other people work for you.

It's all very well to preach. But, alas, after I had budgetted my time, and had everything beautifully worked out so that all my lions would be fed, and I should go smoothly on spreading sweetness and light to a grateful world, I found the unexpected tripping me up. The unexpected telephone call, the unexpected maid who would cut her thumb to the bone just when she was starting the canapes for the cocktail party, you know, all those things, and there was I full of good intentions, but also full of adrenalin and sugar from losing my temper and from hurrying, and scurrying about I took this problem to my doctor who seemed to think it pretty stupid of me not to have thought out the answer for myself.

"Leave spaces in between," he said, "for the unexpected.

"But what shall I do then if nothing turns up?"

"Do," he said, "Couldn't you read a book, or look at the paper, or perhaps you knit?" "But," he went on, "if the worst comes to the worst, you might," he paused doubtfully, "you might even . . . think."

There is only one answer to life you know, and that is,—Life. We can make this business of living hard, or we can make this business of living fun. We don't tolerate inefficiency in the people who work for us, why should we tolerate it in ourselves?