Monday, September 2, 2013

On Saying Yes to More

I started a post this morning delving into into my thoughts about starting my new job.  It didn't go anywhere, so I walked away from it.  

I want a tidy answer about why inserting myself into a 40 hour per week job (in addition to 5 hours on my "fun" job) has been unsettling.  I enjoy the job; when there, I feel engaged with and stimulated by the work, and when I leave, I usually feel happy and gratified.  It's a good job.  I know it's a good job.  I know I'm lucky it was relatively quick and easy for me to find this job and I'm grateful for it.

And yet.

I've held back from unequivocally enthusing about the job without qualifying it with uncertainty.  I've usually attributed this lack of sureness to the two week late-July whirlwind of just barely thinking about looking for a job to my first official day at this one.  There was no process of desperate job-searching, no endless applications or interviews (I tallied two in each category), no months of agonizing fear that I would be unemployed forever, no meeting with the end of several months in a row with only $8 to my name.  I connected this lingering doubt about work to having had an accelerated job-hunting process, believing it isn't about the job or me or anything other than circumstance.  I told myself that as I settled into this work, the ambivalence would pass.

It will.  I know it will, because I know myself well enough to be aware that I always have some ambivalence about big commitments; it's just my way.  I don't worry about it because I have good follow-through and integrity and all that stuff that means I can do the work as the ambivalence dissipates.

However, the intensity of the emotion bubbling up when I'm not at work  tells me there may be a little bit beyond the usual adjustment at play here.  I know the work is good because when I'm there, I feel engaged, motivated, connected--all those things that tell me this is a good fit.  But when I'm not at work--when I'm home in the evening or on weekends--I haven't been particularly happy.  In fact, it's erred more on the side of depression than anything else.  I don't think it's about adjusting to a new job--I think it's about adjusting to a new life without knowing exactly what that life will shape up to be.  I think at least part of it is fear that this is all there is.

I know I've written quite a bit about the adjustment after the wedding, so forgive me for tapping into that again here, but the fact is I was happier over the past year than I remember ever being.  A dramatic statement, yes, but to the best of my awareness it is absolutely true.  I don't believe that happiness was due solely to planning the bash.  Being able to fully be in one of my passions definitely played into it, but I think the overall well-being was broader--I think it is attributable to how many areas of my life were so rich all at once.  Sure, this was overwhelming and frustrating at times, but I can see in retrospect that it was beautifully gratifying, too.

I think, for many of us, it is easy to get caught on the hedonistic treadmill, or that push to constantly chase brief, intense positive emotion.  A burst of endorphins from exercise, having a drink with a friend, going to concerts, taking weekend trips--these all fall under this category.  However, other important pieces of our life must be filled as well to build overall well-being.  Feeling engaged, achievement, building and nurturing relationships, creating, finding meaning--these are all just as important as that addictive, flitting happiness.

Looking back over the last year, it wasn't just the fiesta planning that made me happy, though that process helped me hit all of the above mentioned markers of well-being.  It was also being in school, writing, being challenged intellectually, engaging with several communities in different ways, meeting new people, building relationships, and always, always having a project on which to focus energy.  As much as I put in last year (60+ hour weeks with classes, internship, paying job, thesis writing, wedding planning), I realize now that having so many rewarding things in my life all at once created an overall sense of well-being and gratification--the pay-off was larger than I realized at the time.

I realize that although I have spent much time dreaming of the neat 40 hour work weeks with unscheduled weekends in between, I was happier when life was crazier.

We spend so much time explaining how we don't have time to add more, but I wonder whether that wall helps us (protecting our down-time) or hurts us (prevents us from extending ourselves to build a more fulfilling life)?  If you could guarantee more engagement, achievement, meaning and better relationships by tacking on a few extra hours each day and on the weekends to projects unrelated to your 9-5 job, would you do it?  Do you do it?

I met with a friend yesterday who is building a business beyond her 40 hour-per-week job.  She enjoys her job but is deeply passionate about this burgeoning business, so much so that she devotes 20-30 hours per week to it on top of the 40 she spends at her primary job.  And while I might have previously chalked this up to having poor boundaries or being a workaholic, in being with her and discussing this new business, it became clear that she is deeply, deeply happy.  She has energy.  She is inspired and engaged, excited about what she's doing.  I imagine the energy she gets from it seep into other areas of her life, creating more overall well-being no matter what she's doing in the moment.  Spending time with her helped me realize that working a lot doesn't have to be draining if we are deliberate in what we say yes to.

So that's it.  As much time as I've spent dreaming about the day when I would work 40 hours per week and have weekends free of external demands, I'm realizing more exploration, more commitments, more risking might be where it's at.  Something big and juicy is on the horizon.  I can't wait.

xo

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