Now that I’ve been at home, not working for a bit, I’m starting to uncover a few things about my true nature. Not that these traits are any big surprise, but I think we often see our work selves a little differently than we see our rest-of-our-life selves. As it turns out, I have some habits that are intrinsic to my personality, not a function of my job, workplace, or profession.
Here, in no particular order, are a few observations:
- I have no attention span. I know, I know, I’m an American living in the land of instant gratification, but still I am amazed by my own lack of focus. I interrupt my own interruptions. I will walk out of the bedroom to take a glass back to the kitchen and stop to catch something on TV and then turn from that to check my email, then Facebook, then Twitter, which will make me think of something on the TV and then I will see my glass, but remember there was something else in the bedroom I wanted to get and you get the idea. It can take 12 hours for that glass to make it all the way to the kitchen sink.
- I am a big procrastinator. Given that I have huge blocks of time at my disposal to finally get this or that big project done, one would think I would have started, something, anything. (Maybe I’m just too tired from all the ADD-based activity noted above??) Alas, I haven’t organized my scrapbooks. I haven’t created a menu plan with all new recipes I’ve never tried before. In fact, it took me almost two weeks just to get my cycling gloves back downstairs in my bike bag. Thankfully, I’m not a complete loser – I was able to tackle some of the important job-seeking tasks like updating my resume right off the bat. In fact, there seems to be some correlation between the level of priority and the level of procrastination. I do address the mission critical stuff in a timely fashion. I think I was just a little surprised to realize all those things that weren’t that important when I was employed (e.g., the scrapbooks) still aren’t that important.
- I like helping others more than I like helping myself. This is not to say I’m not doing things to take care of myself – I am still going to Weight Watchers, I’m still running, and I am spending time each day on my networking/job hunt efforts. However, I find when I am doing the job search my mind tends to wander to other folks I think I would great for this or that opportunity. Today, after chatting with a recruiter about what I was looking for, we spent a good fifteen minutes with me telling her about this other friend of mine she should be talking to as well. Of course, I didn’t think that helping people was strictly tied to work, but I guess I had expected that I would become much more self-focused not being in a regular work environment every day. So it has been heartening to know that my desire to think about others has persisted even when home all day.
- I’m still an extrovert. Okay, this is no surprise to anyone, least of all to myself. There is only so much hanging around at home that I can handle. Fortunately, I have been taking advantage of my flexibility to catch up with old friends for coffee or lunch and have been doing a little volunteering here and there to get me out of the house. Yesterday was one of those rare days that I was home all day by myself. When Brian got home, we went to run a few errands and bumped into a friend. We stopped at the corner and chatted for a few crosswalk cycles and it was amazing what a lift to my mood it was to talk to someone besides the cat.
As un-earth shattering as these insights may be, I do appreciate that I have had the mental bandwidth lately to observe and take note of them. I think a little self-reflection does us all good, and seeing some of the same patterns in our different walks of life helps reinforce what is “us” and what is our environment. As much as I would love to blame some of my short-comings on factors outside my control, I am actually glad to know that I’m the same (flawed and complex) me, working or not.
I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done. ~Susan Orlean
First, a couple of points on what this isn’t… This is not a piece on how to become unemployed. Generally speaking, I find most folks are able to figure that one out on their own. This also is not about how to get a job. There are loads of great articles on job hunting and the main suggestion I’ll make on that point is LinkedIn, LinkedIn, LinkedIn. (Oh, that, and I am finding the book Purple Squirrel by Michael Junge to be a great resource.)
This is more about how to spend the time you aren’t scouring the inter-webs and networking a go-go (LinkedIn – seriously, people). I was going to call this “rules for unemployment,” but they are more like pirate-style guidelines and don’t require 100% strict adherence.
- Make the bed – this requires that you actually get out of bed, which is good for you and prevents bed sores. I put away the alarm clock and don’t worry too much about when I get up, but I don’t lay around wallowing under the covers. (No one likes a wallower.)
- Put on clothes – they don’t have to be fancy, but they can’t be the same thing you woke up in. Repeats are okay, but clean underwear is a must.
- Go out into the world – hey, you’ve got clothes on, might as well take advantage. These don’t have to be big adventures and some days it’s just down to the 7-Eleven to get a Slurpee, but I try to make sure I leave the house at least once a day. Think of it as Vitamin D therapy.
- Do nothing – every day, I sit out on my deck and try to be still for at least 10 minutes. You could call this meditating or praying, but as long as there are no electronic devices present, I just call it being calm.
- Do something (for yourself) – lately for me this has been catching up on my Rom-Com DVDs (50 First Dates, anyone?), but it can be anything that is not job-hunt related that you enjoy. You will never be any good to anyone else, like a future employer, if you aren’t good to yourself first.
- Do something (for someone else) – I believe we’re on this earth to help each other. I try to find a way to do something, no matter how small, for someone else every single day. Maybe it’s volunteering, or maybe it’s helping a friend with their job search. And some days it’s just bringing home a Reece’s Big Cup for my husband when I make my 7-Eleven run.
- Be active – I find physical activity keeps both the cobwebs and the blues away. Some days, the hubby and I go for a long bike ride, and my running buddy, Duana, and I meet for runs once a week. Today, I took my pregnant friend for a walk (double bonus for helping someone else at the same time!)
- See people – setting the networking aspect of this aside for a moment, take advantage of the fact that your schedule is flexible and start catching up with all those folks you always promised you would meet for coffee when you had time. You now have that time. Sitting at home alone seeing no one makes your brain grow mold and who wants a moldy brain?
- Be grateful – I try my best to think of one thing I’m grateful for every day and when I’m having a hard day, I make a list. Again, this can be big stuff or little stuff. It all counts. Sometimes the little stuff is the big stuff.
Maybe your list is different, or maybe you don’t have a list and throwing the list away is part of your strategy. Whatever it is that you do while you are laying fallow, spend the time on your own terms. It may or may not take a long time to find that next job. You can choose to see that time as tortuous and long, or as a gift to be appreciated, but it is a choice – and the choice is yours. When I think about my next employer, whoever they may be, I imagine they would rather have someone positive, calm, and happy as a candidate and not someone bitter and frustrated. Or forget the job search for a minute, why would you want to be bitter and frustrated in any case? Life is precious and short and there’s no use wasting that precious time, regardless of your employment status.
Positive anything is better than negative nothing. ~Elbert Hubbard
Yesterday was my last day working at LexBlog. Although of my own choosing, the parting was nonetheless bittersweet (fortunately more sweet than bitter). But, I left because of, you know, reasons, and I certainly take full accountability for my own shortcomings in that equation as well. I requested a graceful exit and I am very appreciative that LexBlog, specifically CEO Kevin O’Keefe and President Kevin McKeown (aka “The Kevins”), honored and supported that request. So, I don’t want to spend my time and blog-space focusing on what did or didn’t happen and why it didn’t work out.
It can be challenging to leave a company, with no other job in hand, and keep relations friendly. It’s a little like breaking up and promising to still be friends. It’s theoretically possible and it does happen, but more often than not, it’s a bit more of a unicorn hunt in the making. But, hey, who doesn’t love a good unicorn hunt, and sometimes it is the trying that is as important as anything.
I have been reading a lot lately on the correlation between gratitude and happiness and have therefore been trying to spend a little more of my energy on being thankful versus being negative.
So, with all that in mind, I offer here a few of the things for which I’m grateful to LexBlog…
- This blog: Although the blog existed before I came to LexBlog, I had written exactly 0 posts prior to starting here. It was through the encouragement of Kevin O’Keefe that I was inspired to try my hand at blogging. To my surprise and delight, I found it was an outlet for expressing myself in writing that I didn’t realize just how much I would enjoy.
- Walking Meetings: Kevin McKeown and I had many a 1×1 walking from LexBlog’s office to downtown Seattle. Sometimes we talked business, more often we just chatted and occasionally we stopped to window gaze at shop displays.
- Pranks: As Kevin McKeown and I were walking down the street in one of the aforementioned meetings, my bus pulled up as we arrived at the stop and I decided to hop on. After I got on the bus, Kevin jumped on and told everyone on the bus that it was my first time ever riding a bus and then promptly jumped off as the bus pulled away. And, I’ll mention just one other instance where the Kevins got into a Twitter debate over whether martians would think dogs ruled over humans…
- Our Clients: I have formed some very close and hopefully long-lasting relationships with many of our clients. I have been touched beyond words at the support and encouragement I have received when I shared news of my departure. I hesitate to name names here for fear, like the Oscars, I would forget someone who deserved to be acknowledged, but for those of you who I’ve spoken with lately, I think you know who you are.
- Cat Videos: For whatever reason, sharing funny cat videos seems to be a “thing” here at LexBlog and I can’t count how many times a well-timed cat video seemed to be exactly what I needed at that moment. (Cat in shark costume is a current favorite…)
- My Colleagues: LexBlog knows how to pick ’em. Seriously. I’m not sure I have worked in another company where there is zero in-fighting behind the scenes and such a general sense of comradery. (Maybe it’s all the cat videos??) Y’all are great and it wasn’t easy to go because of that.
In fact, given all the good there has been, it hasn’t been easy to go, period. But just like that really great, really nice guy who you know in your heart isn’t the one, sometimes you still have to break up. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for LexBlog from the sidelines and will only be happy to see the company’s future success. As I walked out the door, I proudly put on my rose colored glasses, erased the bad memories, clung tight to the good ones and was grateful for the time I spent there.
Time is finite. I understand this intellectually. Yet I still went into my Lenten discipline of getting up at 5am every morning (weekends too) believing that this practice would give me MORE TIME. I held onto this delusion for a few weeks even though I pretty much immediately learned that getting up that early requires going to bed much earlier as well. And I can attest from those nights when I stayed up too late, that the quantity of time you gain is seriously compromised by the sleep-dreprived hazy quality of the time you get as a result. There are 24 hours in a day. You can slice and dice them any way you want, but you can’t make more of them. That’s the deal.
But, hey, if I am getting out of bed at 5am every morning, when I wasn’t before, I must be doing something with that slice of time, right? Without
much any forethought, I sort of assumed I would do deeply meaningful and spiritual things at that hour. What have I actually been doing? Uh, well, I started reading my work emails earlier. I started going in to work earlier too. I have been making far more of my breakfasts at home, so I guess I’m slightly healthier than when I went to the deli for breakfast every other day. This morning I watched Maid in Manhattan, which I enjoyed immensely (and maybe even cried a little when JLo’s character told Ralph Fiennes’ character that he never would have noticed her if he knew she was a maid), but that is hardly a meaningful or spiritual endeavor.
Okay, so much for the spiritual angle. Maybe I have at least become suddenly amazingly more productive at work. Not so much. I still have barely looked at my iPad since I started this practice – and reading blogs and sharing articles on Twitter is actually part of my job. If you go in earlier, you also burn out sooner at the end of day. Turns out there are just so many hours of professional productivity available as well. I think it’s fair to say that anyone I work with has noticed zero difference in my work output since I changed my sleeping habits. And looking at your inbox earlier in the morning only means you start getting stressed out about everything that’s in it sooner. It doesn’t change the number of emails you get.
Is there any point to this exercise other than a chronic lack of sleep? (As an aside, I do think it’s cosmically funny that Daylight Savings happened in the middle of Lent this year, ensuring I didn’t get *too* used to getting up at 5am before I had to get up yet an hour earlier.) I am re-learning again for the millionth time that magic doesn’t happen just because you temporarily change one thing in your life. Especially when you do it practically on a whim. Sometimes I think the reason I observe Lent each year is to keep reminding myself of how naive I am about the nature of personal transformation.
I am learning to appreciate that it is the choices you make about how you spend your time that matter, not the amount of time you have, even if I haven’t always been making those better choices.
I have had one “stand out” moment in my early awakenings. A few weekends ago, Brian and I went to Alderbrook Resort on the Hood Canal. I really was not looking forward to getting up at 5am on a Sunday when I was supposed to be getting away to relax. I thought about invoking the Sunday-Lent exemption, but since I observe my sacrifices on Sundays too, I reluctantly picked up the phone, requested a wake-up call and hoped they would forget. They didn’t and so I rose before the sun was up and went into the sitting area in our room. I was able to find a small light that I could turn on without waking Brian and I sat near the window reading. It was quiet and peaceful and although there was no jaw dropping sunrise, I was present to see the dawn break. Nothing dramatic happened, but for that short and precious time, the jangling chaos that so often invades my life was held at bay, and that was a true gift.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed. ~Khalil Gibran
I screw up. A lot. If I had a dollar for every missed opportunity, misstep, or flat out failure in my life, I would have a lot of dollars and I would be writing this post from my beach house in the tropics… I have weight issues, I had a failed marriage, and I’ve had plenty of professional failures too. I even failed my driver’s license test as a teenager. Three times. And for me, one mistake often leads to ten others. Which is a sign that I don’t even make mistakes the right way; because the best mistake-makers learn from their mistakes, right?
There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All mistakes are blessings given to us to learn from. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
It would be really easy to pack up my bags and go home (writing this post is making the dark space under my covers particularly appealing right now). But one of the things I seem to actually have going for me is a deep reservoir of resilience.
Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill
Yes, I failed my driver’s license test three times, but I took the test four times and did ultimately pass. I had a marriage that ended in divorce, but I had the courage to marry again and I have now been happily married for over 13 years. I completed a boot camp that I had no business being in because I simply just kept showing up. Sometimes I think it’s not that I am so resilient, but rather that I am too stubborn and determined to know when to quit.
Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb
Many years ago, earlier in my career, I was in line for a big promotion at work. It was practically a done deal. So much so that my boss asked me not talk about it. So what did I do? I went to lunch the next day with a colleague and confessed it all in deepest confidence. What did she do? She went right to my bosses office after lunch to tell her about our discussion. Needless to say, I did not get that promotion. It was so tempting to quit. I dreamed about quitting. In fact, I polished up my resume and started looking. However, for some reason, I didn’t leave. I didn’t want to leave. I would love to say I learned some huge life lesson from it all, but mostly I learned to live with my disappointment.
For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I’m going to be honest here. Failure sucks. As great as it is for developing your character (I have enough character already, thanks), it is no fun. I have no regrets about my life and you couldn’t pay me any amount of dollars to go backwards in time. However, if it were possible to go through life and become self-actualized, non-egotistical, and fully functional-in-society without having to go through the school of hard knocks, I would be the first to sign up. Of course, it’s not possible. I am who I am today because of my failures. It’s what keeps us all from being complete asshats. No one is perfect, no one escapes making mistakes. That’s the deal.
You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~Walt Disney
So, how do I cope with the inevitable failures in my life? Sometimes I write blog posts about them. This would hardly be the first post that is as much for me as it is about me. I have a great support system. One time, after coming home from a particularly tough day at work, my husband cheered me up by calculating how much money we could get if we cashed in both our 401k’s to move to Hawaii, complete with internet search results on affordable condos in Waikiki. I laugh with friends, or cry by myself – or vice versa. In a pinch, a minute or two on the site Cats In Sinks generally cheers me up. I plan trips. (When going through a box in the back of my closet the other day, I found a large stack of state visitor bureau catalogs that I used to order when I was feeling blue before the days of the internet.) I keep on keeping on, just like everyone else.
My training schedule calls for two “rest” days a week, on Mondays and Fridays. On these days we are supposed to limit the time on our feet, which means no cross training, no nothing. Relax, enjoy life; you know, rest. I am pretty faithful to keeping my Monday nights clear, but I’m lucky if I have even a fifty-fifty success rate for resting on Fridays. I get so busy, I can never seem to get all my runs in on the other five days. Which is not to say I inadvertently rested on a Wednesday, instead of on a Friday, but rather that I ran with the team on Tuesday, worked out with my trainer on Wednesday, walked two-plus miles home from work on Thursday, and all the sudden I’m out of days and I need to get one more run in for the week. There is something fundamentally messed up at being too busy to make time to do nothing.
I intellectually know that resting is an extremely important part of training (per the Team in Training guidelines, “Recovery days are mandatory!”). When we stop to rest, we let our bodies heal and are just that much stronger for it. I can think of countless times when the run after a rest day is particularly good. That should be evidence enough that it’s a good idea. But I think there is a the nagging feeling that chases many runners that if you stop and rest you wont start again. After all Sir Isaac Newton even came up with a LAW regarding being at rest:
A body that is at rest will stay at rest ~Newton’s First law of motion
But, then again, the guy came up with the theory of gravity laying around watching apples fall on his head, so I’m guessing he was not much of a distance runner.
Our bodies are actually very ingenious at getting what they need and they will take a rest day (or two, or ten) for you if you don’t take them proactively. Don’t take time off your feet and you are more likely to get sick (there goes three days of training). Ignore the need for healing and you are more likely to get injured (there goes three weeks of training). I would know, I’ve experienced both.
The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it. ~Sydney J. Harris
So, this season I’m working hard at taking my rest and relaxation seriously. My Mondays are, in fact, sacred, so I can count on getting at least one rest day each week. I have also reminded myself that nothing bad happens if you only run four days one week. And stopping to take a break now and then is not just good for running. How many times have any of us been banging our head against the wall trying to solve a problem and when we finally let go of forcing ideas, the solution presents itself to us as is by magic.
Don’t just do something, sit there. ~Buddhist Quote
I was walking home from the local grocery store a few years ago which included walking up a short, but steep, hill. A woman was about half a block ahead of me with two extremely full grocery sacks. It was obvious that her arms were heavy as she hauled them up the hill. About two-thirds of the way up she stopped in her tracks. I thought, naturally, it was because the bags were heavy, but she did not even set them down. Instead, she leaned over, planted her nose in a rose that was in full bloom along the sidewalk and took a huge deep breath and then went on along her way. You could have hit me over the head with a frying pan I was so shocked to see a real person actually stop and smell the roses. But the truth is if you don’t stop once in awhile and take in a big, deep breath, you will miss all the flowers.
Because I work in Social Media and because I am kind of a dork for articles about leadership-type stuff, I follow the Harvard Business Review blog and found this little gem on how Work and Vacation Should Go Together.The author, Ron Ashkenas, suggests perhaps we should accept the fact that folks spend time working when they are theoretically off the clock or even when they are on vacation:
Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly.
I will confess I tend to check my work emails in the evening and it’s not unusual that I’ll wrap up a project after I get home, but I have to draw the line when it comes to my vacations. I am a vacation junky. I use my vacation time as fast as I can earn it. I love to travel and I’m as likely to take a Friday off to take a quick weekend trip when the airfares are good as I am to take a week off and run to Hawaii for the same reason. I cherish that time away and part of what makes it special is that it is MY time. I work hard and long the rest of the days, so why would I want to pollute my chance to take a break with a conference call?
Ashkenas goes on to say
…we can stop feeling guilty about scheduling calls during our vacations or checking our emails at night
How about not feeling guilty and also not scheduling calls during vacations? I believe this kind of thinking sets a dangerous precedent that we are so important that work can’t survive without us. That simply is not true. If you have someone to back you up, good documentation, and a well-oiled team that you trust; they actually hum along just fine without you – they might even get a few extra things done when you’re gone. Or maybe they have to scratch their heads and puzzle a little over how to solve a problem in your absence. But is that such a horrible thing – for your team to have to stretch and challenge themselves?
Some people fear the mountain of work that will await them when they get back if they don’t check in while they are gone. I will tell you a little secret from someone who does not check even one email when I am on vacation. Emails do pile up, but with an out of office reply that informs people you are out, not checking email, and where they can get help, there is a point of diminishing returns. Somewhere in the middle of being gone, people stop emailing you because they already know you aren’t there and/or how to get the answers they need. Mostly what I am doing when I get back and am facing the mountain is deleting or filing emails that have already been dealt with – maybe that does take an investment of time when I first return to the office, but it’s a good way to catch up on what I missed and the small amount of time it takes to do the email clean-up far outweighs the cost of trying to field all those emails while you are out of the office.
Also, for me as a leader and a manager within my company, I believe my actions send as loud or louder a message than anything I say. If I spend all my time on vacation checking in, checking email, attempting to “integrate” my work and my vacation, then I am sending a message loud and clear to my people that they aren’t allowed to take real vacations either. In Go Ahead, Take that Break, author Whitney Johnson says it well when she notes:
We may think we’re being responsive, even impressive, when we send work-related e-mails at midnight, on the weekend, or vacation, but those who work for us will see us as establishing a norm. If you will take some real down-time without the constant tug of technology or a to-do list absorbing your thoughts, you will give your employees permission to do the same.
There seems to be some sentiment in American work culture these days that says if we stop for even a moment to take a break that we will lose all our momentum and spend all our time scrambling to catch back up to ourselves. I think that is frankly poppycock and comes from some place of fear, not reason. It’s been shown time and time again that periods of rest actually make us more productive. Instead of integration of our work and our rest, I think we need to reclaim our ability to stop and smell the flowers once in awhile. And in the camp of an oldy, but a goody, No one ever said on their deathbed,”I wish I had spent more time in the office.”