If each week got its own word, last week’s would be “painful.”
Painful overcrowding. Painful frustration with not being able to get enough done. Painful sense of shame over both of these.
Worse, even as I built this week on my calendar over the past month or so, I knew it was going to be painful, because I could see the over-scheduling and overcrowding and lack of room developing before my eyes. And while I couldn’t anticipate the exact nature of the failures, which balls would be dropped, which plates would come crashing to the ground, I have been at this long enough that I knew I was making trouble for myself.
The key culprit was the addition of a two-day conference a few weeks ago. I’d already built up a hefty week of commitments when I decided that it would be fun to go to this one. Several people whose work I follow and whom I’d like to meet at some point were scheduled to be there, along with a few other people I already know and jump at the chance to see whenever they pass through town. Sure, it was two full days away from work, but really, what could go wrong?
The quick answer is “just about everything”: traffic, last-minute client emergencies, too-high temperatures, too few clean socks. (Seriously, how many outfits have been a major fail and days an uncomfortable wash for lack of a little clean laundry?) I detailed the business-type version of the agony and subsequent ecstasy over at my marketing blog, but here, where I can let my hair down a bit more, I’ll confess: Day One was far, far worse than I could begin to describe (because while I’ll talk about anything here, I stay away from something like World’s Worst Case of PMS over there).
On the other hand, Day Two was far, far better than the scope of a marketing blog allows for describing. Because here’s what lies on the other side of hell, in virtually every circle I’ve rounded to date, that too few people talk about: heaven. Fucking glorious, in excelsis Deo-style heaven. It’s release after tension, explosion after accumulation, fabulous belch after McDonald’s Extra Value Meal #9. I felt freer and happier than I had in some time, because after having it shoved in my face so that I could not look away, I finally realized that I have a problem and the problem is me.
Hi. I’m Colleen, and I’m a workaholic.
I work (almost) all the time. Ask The BF, or my poor ex-husband, The Chief Atheist, or any other partner I’ve been with. Ask the Jans, Chicago or L.A. varieties. Ask my family, ask my nosy across-the-courtyard neighbor, ask anyone I’ve ever worked for, “Slacker or workhorse?” and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get served up the latter.
Note, please, that for a long time, this was a badge of honor: that I, Colleen Wainwright, could work longer and harder than anyone around me. That I would be Last Man Standing. That all y’all could eff off and go grab a slacker Coke because I WIN THE PRIZE.
Now I know not only that is this all about wiring (Virgo!) and some really messed-up conditioning (love dangled as carrot for a job well done), but that it’s kind of a stinky prize. The prize, she is stinky! And not in the good way, like Arnie. I learned this after I got knocked upside the head with the Crohn’s seven years ago, but UH-OH, I forgot. I learned this again when I got knocked upside the head again earlier this year, but UH-OH, I am a dumbass and forgot again. Work-life balance, in my case, means that I now work at home so I can wear comfy clothes and spare myself the kind of hateful commute I found myself in last week. It also means that I have moved my work closer to my life’s work, which is certainly awesome but can also be used as a smokescreen. Because baby, I don’t care what your life’s work is: if you don’t take time to cook yourself good food, eat it with delightful people and otherwise recharge your batteries, your life’s work will be cut as short as your life. Period.
The first step, according to Bill & Co., is admitting I have a problem I’m powerless over. Which I do, and I don’t. I’m not an atheist, exactly, but I’m also not a God person, exactly. My neat sidestepping around this one is that I do see myself as some kind of vessel for something, the collective unconscious, the Big Soup, what have you. And the job I have identified for myself-as-vessel (or, in my specific case, Joyful Conduit of Truth, Beauty and Love) is first and foremost to keep the vessel in good working order. That kind of covers all the bases, the learning and getting better/stronger/faster parts, and the rest UP, dillmeister parts. I’ve been making steady progress on Part A, but have acted retardidated, as my friend, Justin, likes to say, about Part B. You are witnesses. Thank you for listening. Coffee and (SCD-legal) doughnuts in the back, although you’ll have to step outside to smoke.
My plan for dealing with the rest of this B.S.? Many-pronged, with redundancies. Lots of experimentation, because really, I have no idea what will work at all, much less best. Here are some things I’ve already put in play:
- Daily Walk (a few months) So far, I’m only doing this in the morning when I stay at My Country Home. It’s good for the dog and good for me and good for the environment, since 5 days out of 7, we’re usually walking to the neighborhood TJ’s to pick up groceries on foot. Love this, it works like gangbusters and keeps me established as Arnie’s favorite human. (What? I told you I was competitive!) Recently, I added hills and carrying lumpy objects, per Mark Sisson’s RX. (Good site, by the way!)
- Implementing systems (several weeks) Since reading Sam Carpenter‘s Work the System and having the lights go on, I’ve taken very seriously the notion that systems are what help make for sanity, and that I need to get my shit into systems now. Paradoxically, this is a little more work up front: I’ll stop in the midst of something I’m doing to note an idea for systems, or to iron out a small bit of one if I can. Eventually, like anything else, it’ll become second nature (thanks, Merlin, for the Dreyfus model, my new-favorite term). Oh, and full disclosure: I dug on Sam so much that we wound up chatting a lot, and then he wound up hiring me. But trust me, I ain’t selling you nothin’, here: he’s giving away the book for free on his site.
- Breaking for meals (several weeks) The heat wave we’ve been, er, enjoying, has screwed this up a bit, but I’ve taken to taking my morning and sometimes noon meals outside on the patio, with an actual book. It’s part of the reason for the increased number of book reviews on this site, as well as some sanity.
- Consolidating my shit (years, but hard-core over past few weeks) I’m taking time each day to weed through stuff. I’m also putting my money where my mouth is, signed up for a terrific jumpstart teleclass from Charlie Gilkey and Jen Hoffman called the Work Party, and I’m going to a de-cluttering workshop next week where I actually have to bring a bag of clutter to go through. Public humiliation is a big motivator for me. I also finally upgraded my 4-year-old laptop, and am committing to making my brand-new MacBook Pro my main machine. This will mean clearing out my old machines and selling or donating them (or at least two of them), which I will do methodically and non-crazily (see #2).
- Retreat! Retreat! (coming up) I’m committing to spending the time on this year’s trip to the PacNW on me. That means input, help, reflection and, god help us, recreation.
And here are the things I’m working toward (because hey, workaholic overachievers have to have a goal, even when the goal is relaxing!):
- Streamlining focus I like too many things. I have the curse of being semi-okay at a lot of them. It’s my blessing and my curse, moving me forward but never quite the kind of ground I’d like to cover. Everything I’ve ever read about success says that a key ingredient is focusing. For whatever reason (impending death?), I’m finally taking this seriously.
- Taking Sunday off It’s shameful, my utter lack of disregard for the usefulness of time off. I haven’t managed a full day off for a long time (road trips don’t count!), but I’m getting closer. Is it embarrassing to be “getting closer” to doing something normal? Yes. Yes, it is. Remember? Public humiliation is a strong motivator for me.
- Hiring an assistant I’m a ways off from this. I don’t make the kind of income yet to justify this. Hopefully, clear-cutting commitments and focusing like a laser beam will help here, but I’m open to windfalls, a personal Medici or other solution. Have your girl call my, oops. Never mind.
- Moving The BF and I have been working toward me moving in. Having one household, not two, should seriously reduce my stress levels. Plus, I think a change of venue is good. I’ve been in my current place for 10, count ’em, 10 years, and the building has changed vastly over that time, mainly for the worse, I’m sorry to say.
- A daily “spiritual” practice In quotes because, as noted already, I’m not a god lady. I don’t really even want to call it a contemplative practice, because then my mind immediately leaps to yoga and meditation, and I’m not or a yoga lady or a zazen lady. Not that I couldn’t be, it just doesn’t draw me closer to where I know I need to go now, which is less work and more groundedness. I really like the Remembrance, which I learned from Mark Silver; I also like what I’ve read and experimented with thus far re: chanting, which I discovered via Adam Kayce.
- More music! I started off the year with such good intentions. Music makes me happier. It both relaxes me and stimulates a different part of my brain. Plus then I get to make more crazy shit. Which is always good, right?
I do realize that there’s a certain irony in an 1,800-word blog post devoted to the subject of conquering overwork. Trust me, I’ve dealt with this, too, from within the friendly confines of a system, with an eye toward keeping that precious, precious Sunday free. Although I will say that even with my Sunday Experiment, I reserve the right to write everyday, whether that brands me a workaholic or not. There’s a wonderful story about Charlie Chaplin and some contemporaries frolicking at the beach, South of France, or somewhere delicious like that, and at one point during the day, he took his leave to go back to his room to work, because he felt that that’s what writers did. And I do, too.
But we’re experimenting, here, so I’m playing with different things. I hope you will indulge me, and perhaps encourage me, and maybe even play along, if you feel like it.
As always with these kinds of entries, any thoughtful suggestions, resources, inspiration or just plain old sharing is welcome. Have you dealt with this? How?
For the love of all that’s holy and the few hairs left on my head, how?
Image by masternet82 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.