Friday, November 13, 2015

Workaholic or Perfect Job? How Can You Tell?

I promised to write a blog post every day for National Blog Post Month, but I was stumped for something to write about today. Luckily, BlogHer is kind enough to provide writing prompts for just such a block.

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Interestingly, today's prompt is this: 
Describe your ideal day off. What would you do with your time?
I feel like the universe might be conspiring against me (or, perhaps more accurately, conspiring for me). I wrote yesterday about how a meditation attempt sent me into a panic when the guiding voice told me to imagine that I had nowhere to be.

To then turn unknowingly to today's prompt and be faced with this question feels like a very personal challenge.

Honestly, I haven't had a whole lot of days "off" in my life. School alone has provided me a very steady stream of responsibilities. I went straight from high school to college, college to my master's, and my master's to my doctorate. Though I officially defended my dissertation a few weeks ago, I've still been consumed with the technical tasks of submitting it to the school's database and getting the format approved. I have been solidly in student mode for 25 years.

Of course, students get days off. They get spring breaks and winter breaks and summer breaks. They get weekends and holidays and random school closings.

But since turning 15, I have very rarely been just a student. I worked two and sometimes three jobs throughout high school and undergrad, and for most of graduate school I was employed full-time in career-related positions.

A true day "off," a day in which I have nothing to do for either school or work, has been a very rare day indeed. But since becoming a parent, I've had to carve them out more often. The weekends, in particular, are sometimes work/school-free, even if not by my choice.

But here's the thing, those can feel less like days off than work does. The weekends are consumed by all the tiny tasks that have accumulated over the week: grocery shopping, house cleaning, car washing, dog bathing, junk sorting, bill paying, calendar syncing.

When I really do take a day off from all responsibilities, I usually feel terrible about it. I don't feel terrible that I shirked duties. I think I have a fairly healthy sense of work-life balance and make a lot of time for enjoyable activities with my family, friends, and self. I feel terrible because a weekend not spent doing all of those annoying tasks that pile up means the pile grows higher, the work grows heavier, and the sense of being able to relax gets further away.

I realized yesterday that my post about meditating probably made me sound like a workaholic.

It's true that I work a lot. If I can't sleep in the middle of the night, I'll get up and work on one of the many projects I have going at any given time. But I don't do it out of a sense of obligation. I do it because I genuinely (probably even annoyingly) love the work I do.

This has not always been the case. I've worked retail and fast food, and I certainly wasn't getting up in the middle of the night to figure out the best method for arranging the canned good as Walmart or how to make a faster DQ blizzard. I find myself drawn to my work because it is a vocation. The lines between work and just living blur not because someone is placing unrealistic expectations on my time but because I was doing this work even before I had a job that paid me to do it.

I feel incredibly lucky to do something I love for a living. And the thought of having nowhere to be is essentially the thought of having that taken away from me.

Of course, the meditation guide didn't mean that. And, as I revealed yesterday, he didn't even say most of the things I remembered hearing. That was my subconscious. But I've been thinking all day about why the thought of time off sent me into a spiral of panic so deep it caused auditory hallucinations.

I think the answer is simply this: I really love what I do. Not just at work, but at home, too. I am genuinely happy, and that happiness is the result of a particular architecture that I worked to build, one with a fragility of which I am highly aware. If I have nowhere to be, something has gone wrong.

So what would my ideal day off look like? It would come after a series of days "off" that I spent doing all the annoying things I don't like to do. My house would be clean, my refrigerator would be stocked, and my laundry would be folded and put away. And then I would spend the day on the beach, playing with my family and reading books that I don't have to write about.

And then I would go right back to the life I lead every day. I would go right back to the hustle and busyness and stress. I would go right back to the papers to grade, the research, the trips to gymnastics, and the reading of bedtime stories.

But if someone else wants to keep the refrigerator stocked and the dishes done, I won't object. Can someone make me a guided meditation about that?

Close your eyes. Imagine the sink. It is bare and shiny. The refrigerator is full of fresh vegetables, chopped and labeled for a range of dinners. Breathe in and smell nothing, not a litter box needing cleaning or a trash can needing emptying. Breathe out and stretch your hands behind your head without hitting piles of clothes to be put away and a forgotten homework assignment about the letter K. Just breathe.

Photos: manfred majer, Taber Andrew Bain

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