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A colleague of mine is extraordinarily productive: reams of articles, books, editing duties, institute-leading, fundraising. It’s the kind of performance his peers envy, all the more because lurking behind his energies and accomplishments are the realities of a troubled family: spousal illnesses, children’s suffering. I asked him once how he managed it all. “I’m good at compartmentalizing,” he said.

Most of us are pretty good at compartmentalizing, if not so spectacularly. We need to be. We are all juggling the burdens of work, family, health, politics, each of which could, if allowed, suck us dry with their emotional and intellectual demands. Were we always to ask “Is this worth it?” before some assumed task or face the full depth of a child’s agonies or wonder “Do I have the energy?” our lives would grind to a halt. We’d be swept away by the sheer power of a single challenge’s importunate mystery. 

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