A good chunk of this year was very unpleasant. At work one day during a particularly dark patch in the spring, when it was hard to imagine getting through the workday, let alone the year, I scheduled a holiday-related task on my online todo list for December. I was hoping that I would forget about the task and that by December things would look different.
When an employee and freedom love each other very much, sometimes they show that love by creating…
…a retirement countdown clock. Look over to the right and feast your eyes on the most beautiful sidebar widget ever created. This represents my hard-fought struggle to save enough to retire in a few years. The clock runs out at the 20-year mark at my job. That seems like plenty to me.
I recently realized I’d reached the halfway point to my particular combination of minimum years of service and minimum retirement age. While 17 years make an impressive dent in the required 34 years of service, I still have 17 years until “legit” retirement. Can I picture myself putting in another 17 years?
No, I can’t.
Will I actually quit, I mean retire, when the clock hits zero? I don’t know. Freedom is a goal, but earning money is nice too. And it’s probably healthy to have a reason to wear something other than my Butter Fleece cargo pants. But my attitude has improved greatly since setting the timer and knowing that it is, in theory, possible to quit/retire in a few years. Watching the time tick down warms my cold, black heart.
I’d say I’ve been phoning it in recently, but it’s more like calling in sick. All my blog energy went into finalizing the redesign, and now I’m left with a backlog of five dozen post ideas and no idea where to start. How about more crap I found when cleaning my office?
Please don’t tell me you can’t recognize these, it will make me feel old:
I can sort of forgive myself for keeping the couple dozen floppy disks with stuff from grad school on them. But 10 blank disks? Seriously? Why was I keeping these?
I still haven’t thrown out the disks with stuff on them. The hoarder in me wanted to clarify what was on them first. But then I remembered I have no way to read them. So I put them on the trash pile, only to grab for them to check what was on them before throwing them in the trash can…only to remember I can’t read them. Repeat futile cycle of hoarding obsolete technology until exhausted.
I asked Dave how to dispose of them and he laughed at me. He says I should just toss them…no one can read them (duh, including me!). God bless anyone who still has the means to read a floppy disk and who would be willing to rummage through trash to dig these out. Your reward…the results of the survey I fielded about Niagara Mohawk’s energy saving light bulb program? My thesis? My resume circa 1996? Enjoy!
I stumbled upon an out-of-the-way deserted little filing room at work a few weeks ago. I’d never been back in that suite of offices before and I was curious (and on the prowl for my favorite size post-it notes that our division never seems to order anymore–shh!). I wandered back there on my way out one evening and got thoroughly creeped out. There were 5 1/4 inch floppy disks back there! And a word processor. And an ashtray. I was afraid I’d accidentally entered the early 90s. Luckily I made my way safely back to 2012. That experience actually helped light the fire under my ass to clean my own hellhole of an office.
Do you have any unusable media lying around? Do you think it’s weird that I brought blank floppy disks home so I could take photos? Have you ever felt like you’d gone back in time?
You can accumulate a lot of crap when you work at the same job for over 15 years. I’ve brought a lot of personal stuff into the office. I figured if I was going to spend so much time there, I could at least make it more comfortable. But perhaps all the stuff made me become too comfortable, entrenched even. So I had to laugh when I read Margaret’s post about starting her new job.
She is the anti-me regarding personal stuff at work: “I don’t like to bring anything to work that I can’t fit in my handbag and carry out with me on a moment’s notice.” She concluded she’d like to “leave a little more of myself at work.” But I realized I needed to do the opposite…begin to extract myself. This is one of the reasons I cleaned my office recently. I was so ruthless in my commitment to cleaning, I kept waiting for my coworkers to ask me if I was leaving. I even had a snappy comeback ready: “Is it that obvious?”
I may not be leaving imminently, but I’m creating an environment in which leaving would be a hell of a lot easier.
Here is an assortment of the crap I found in one of my desk drawers, some of it lovingly scanned for your amusement (actually I hoped having scans would make me willing to throw this stuff out). While some accumulation of crap is forgivable in my situation, my physical office has changed locations three times. So all this stuff made it through at least one cull. Some of it I bothered to pack and move three times.
This drawer contained:
Menus for closed restaurants, obsolete carbon paper forms, a handwritten list of blogs I read circa 2007, and a Day Runner I haven’t used since 2001. Of the 37 contacts written into the address section, I have spoken to only six in the last year. I have no idea who one of them is, even after Googling.
The drawer also contained miscellaneous decorations, none of which have been displayed since at least 2006. These include:
1.) The dream catcher Dave’s parents brought back for me from Alaska. It’s been in the drawer since my last office move and the disintegrating leather left dust all over the drawer. Yet I still had trouble throwing it out because Dave’s Mom had given it to me and she’s gone now.
2.) At least three dozen postcards from my travels, many from my 1994 study abroad semester. Anytime I saw a painting I’d learned about in Art History, I bought the postcard. Why wouldn’t you want to look at this during your work day?
Or how about a picture of the Danish Queen, circa 1992. I need to hang on to that, right?
3.) Precious child artwork. I can’t say exactly when these masterpieces were created, but since my older nephews are now 20 and 17, I’m guessing it was at least five years ago. Ha.
4.) Print out of a 2000 article from the Onion that mentions my favorite element. The yellow highlighting of the relevant line (“Rumors of a longtime feud with molybdenum…”) is now too faded to see…perhaps because this piece of paper is 12 frigging years old.
5.) A yellowed clipping about my favorite tennis player’s 2001 Wimbledon win, which made me cry big fat tears of joy (in 2001, not when I cleaned my office).
6.) Several cards from my Mom, back when she still loved me and sent me cards for no reason (in other words, ten years ago).
7.) I have no idea where or when I got this, but I love Paddington Bear and should totally keep this in case my boss gives me a coloring assignment.
8.) Original works of art by yours truly. Meet Knookie the Computer Chip, a comic I made up in 1985. Apparently I got swept away by nostalgia for the 20th anniversary of Knookie’s creation (and/or was really bored on work travel). I have no artistic talent whatsoever…enjoy!
9.) And finally, the best thing I found while cleaning out my office, this page from the 2001 Onion calendar (Moses, Moses, Moses). I’m probably not going to throw this out.
How much personal crap do you have at work? Are you entrenched or could you make a quick get-away if necessary?
For someone who spends as much time in my own head just thinking as I do, I don’t reach very many conclusions. For someone who has as many lists and plans and goals as I do, I don’t get very much done.
Why is this?
I have trouble focusing. I’m overwhelmed by the clutter that surrounds me. I don’t even mean just physical clutter. For example, at any given moment I have 3-5 different internet browser windows, each with 5-20 tabs, open at once. My online to do list has hundreds of tasks sitting in it. There are probably 20 tasks listed for today (I’m not bothering to look), if for no other reason than the program automatically moves tasks not completed from one day to the next. How helpful.
Twelve weeks ago, the clutter situation in my office at work reached a peak. I could barely function around all of the books, and piles of papers, and proliferation of post-it notes. I wrote a post wondering out loud how a perfectionist like me could have an office that looked like that.
Then I read the Pish Posh call to action. She proposed a 12-week “Get Fit Challenge.” The challenge wasn’t just about losing weight. And thank goodness for that, because although I did post a race report to the challenge, I haven’t lost an ounce during the last 12 weeks.
I wasn’t the most devoted Get Fitter, and I didn’t really even articulate explicit goals. But guess what? My work office is clean, my work email inbox is still under control (down from 1,600 emails to zero) and I’m looking forward to chucking the clutter from the rest of my life.
So what have I learned?
I hold on to too much: clothes in my closet I never wear, books I will never read again, emails I don’t need to keep, songs I always skip on my iPod, tasks I can’t prioritize, things I’ve stumbled across on the internet that I don’t want to forget, blogs I don’t have time to read, and 800 scraps of paper with thoughts I don’t want to, but maybe should allow myself to, forget.
All this crap distracts me from what’s really important. It’s allowed me to stay stagnant. It’s long past time to let this crap go or I will never be able to figure out what I really want to do.
I have to learn to focus on one thing at a time. With pride, I can say that I did NOT check any of my email accounts or Facebook before writing this post this morning. I got up, set a timer for 15 minutes and just wrote. I’m going to edit for 10 minutes, add my pictures and publish this thing. It may not be a perfect post, but I focused on writing it and only on writing it and did not allow myself to get distracted by anything else. Go me.
Do you have trouble staying focused? Or clearing out clutter (physical, digital, mental)? Want to support each other and check in sometimes? Let me know, I need all the help I can get.
Shhh! Do not disturb. I’m tapering. The “taper” is the period before a race (in my case, a ten-miler this Sunday), during which a runner reduces mileage and rests in preparation for the big day.
Tapering is the only part of my training that comes naturally to me, probably because it’s my normal state of being. Resting is one of my favorite activities, but I usually feel guilty about it. But this week, I’m not being lazy. Oh no. I am tapering.
When Dave saw me lying on the chaise after my last pre-race long run, watching TV while half asleep, he said, “Oh, you’re tapering now, eh?”
All week, baby.
Runners World would likely not approve of my tapering procedures, which consist of expending as little energy, physical or mental, as possible.
You guys, I am tapering so hard, I’m skirting the edge of coma.
Have you ever noticed how heavy your eyelids are? I have. Holding them up is about all the energy expenditure I can handle right now. Since I’m expected to keep my eyes open at work, I’ve made sure to hit snooze many extra times each morning. Sure, I’ve been late every day, but it’s only because I’m doing my necessary tapering.
The taper got off to a rough start due to the dance group who has decided that the parking lot for the park near my house is a good practice site. They practice for HOURS, loudly (with whistles!), every Sunday. The noise has been slowly eroding my will to live, but this week the walk to the phone to call the police also broke my taper, damn it.
Unfortunately, work also interrupts my taper. Since I have to be lucid during meetings, I make sure I recover from the mental exertion by staring blankly at my computer screen or out the window to rest my mind and body until my next meeting or I need to use the bathroom, whichever comes first.
I’ve let some writing ideas slosh around aimlessly in my head, but can’t expend the energy to translate my thoughts into a coherent post. I’ve only been publishing a post per week recently, but this week it’s intentional, because, I think you know where I’m going with this by now…I’m tapering.
Interrupting the flow of grinding, circular thoughts and staring out the window, an overdue notice for my credit card arrived this week. Huh. I guess they didn’t get the memo about my taper.
My pre-race taper couldn’t have come at a better time. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I have added a lot to my life without giving anything up. I’m reaching new lows in low energy.
In the evenings after work, I have had to do some extra tapering to catch up on the tapering I missed while commuting and working. This involves falling asleep while upright and walking home after work (a bizarre new experience, really), eating dinner in front of the TV, and then mindlessly watching “30 Going on 13″ while eating ice cream, all while Dave does everything else.
Tuesday night, I sacrificed my taper to get up and hug him as he got ready to walk Chuck before bed and he said with about as much frustration as he’s capable of mustering, “It’s hard to work all evening while you get to sit on the couch and watch a movie.”
No, no, no. Dave, I’m tapering.
At least that’s my excuse for this week. Sorry, sweetie. And Tom Ridge didn’t believe me when I told him I was lazy!
Every day for the past few weeks, I have walked by this advertisement.
Part of a set of ads with “humor” customized for DC, they miss the mark for me in that they resonate just enough to remind me how annoying DC can be (it’s an election year, so I’m extra cranky) but not so much that they are funny.
Another example of the hilarity: “It took an act of Congress to get you out of bed this morning.” HA! Get it? Mornings are hard…and this is DC, so like Congress makes laws here and shit. So yeah. That’s hysterical. It’s not as if I get out of bed every morning so I can continue to receive a paycheck.
A quick internet search yielded the news that others find these ads charming. Oops. Apparently they also ran ads in New York, and the NYC ads are a little more clever, like maybe they were written by people who actually live in New York. They inexplicably used the dumbest ad in both markets: “A text-walker ran into you while you were text-walking.” Is this thing on?
But back to the holiday ad, which really fries my ass.
You see, this Monday is a holiday. Indeed, my calendar most certainly does mention that fact and I’m sure yours does too. And I’m not likely to forget a paid day off, whether it’s on the calendar or not.
So you can imagine how charmed I was when some people I’m working with who don’t get the day off kindly scheduled a meeting I need to attend on the holiday.
The splash or 12 of vodka I plan to add to my OJ will be the only good part of that particular DC morning. Thanks for the daily reminder of my missed holiday, Tropicana!
Happy President’s Day. If you have the day off, enjoy! If you don’t, grab a mini bottle of Tropicana on your way into work. Tell ‘em Congress sent you!
I really appreciated all the comments on My Parachute is the Color of Apathy a few weeks ago. I didn’t formally tally the comments into the “pro-change/take this job and shove it” side versus the “pro-stability/milk the 9-5 for all its benefits while you fulfill yourself in your free time” side, but it seemed pretty evenly split to me.
Since I wrote that post, I’ve been exploring ways of making my current work less of a drain. These are “around the edges” kinds of changes; things like working from home more and actually scheduling a long-overdue vacation.
I hate how long my commute is. For years at work, we’ve been told our office would be moving “soon.” Of course, the date kept slipping. Until it stopped slipping and the early 2012 date became real, became soon.
I estimated the change would shave 10-15 minutes from my one hour commute. That’s 20 to 30 minutes of my day I could have back! Let’s just say I was wholly in favor of this move and looked forward to cleaning my office in the tiny bit of downtime we usually have before the holidays.
A few weeks ago, we received an email with the following subject: “Move Delay.”
I hadn’t even realized how much my fragile little flower of a psyche was depending on this move until I got the official word it’s delayed again. Until 2013…almost two years from now.
Do you remember Marie (Carrie Fisher’s character) in When Harry Met Sally…? How early in the movie, she’s always complaining that she doesn’t think the married man she’s seeing is “ever going to leave” his wife? How Marie’s friends always say, “of course he isn’t,” and Marie always responds, “You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right,” but still doesn’t break it off with him?
I ask because a voice saying “your office is never going to move and it won’t make any real difference anyway” went through my head as I read the “Move Delay” email. And the next thing that popped into my head was (because I talk to myself!), “You’re right, you’re right. I know you’re right.” But, like Marie in the movie, I wasn’t ready to act on that knowledge.
I’m not saying staying in my job is as dumb as dating a married man. I’m simply saying I can identify with Marie’s inertia.
Marie didn’t really believe the married man would leave his wife. She was probably just afraid of being alone. Maintaining the relationship she already had in hand was easier than the upheaval of breaking it off, of having to think about what she really wanted, of having to do something potentially scary to get it.
I’ve never been a big risk taker, but I used to be more adventurous than I am now. The choices I’ve made as an adult have been informed by a desire to guard against uncertainty and upheaval. But I’ve also been incredibly lucky not to have experienced any uncertainty or upheaval during years when the economy hasn’t always been so solid. I got a secure job in my field directly out of school with good pay and great benefits. In 15 years, I’ve never been forced to make a change.
So I’ve been lucky. But ironically, I have started to wonder if maybe some uncertainty and upheaval might not have been all bad. Maybe it would have forced me to think harder about what I wanted, might possibly have led to a more fulfilling career. Perhaps the lack of external pressure has made me soft, made my adaptation muscles atrophy.
The best thing about having my post Freshly Pressed by WordPress was hearing your stories. Margaret, at Figuring Out Fulfillment, has a great story. I’m very excited to have a guest post from her this Wednesday so she can share it! Margaret chose some upheaval for herself. In addition, the dot-com bust around the time she started her career didn’t let her get too comfortable.
Be sure to come back on Wednesday to hear Margaret’s inspiring story.
Do you know what today is? It’s my anniversary. Today I celebrate 15 years of employed bliss. As I discussed yesterday, one of the reasons I have stayed where I am so long is a lack of a “big dream” to pursue.
I recently saw a suggestion to think about what you would still be willing to do even if you weren’t being paid for it. I guess the theory is it helps you identify your true calling and maybe shake loose a possible idea for turning it into income. I remember laughing heartily at the suggestion, because the only thing that immediately came to mind was sleep. I would definitely be willing to sleep for free. Anyone want to step forward and make my dream of a new career in somnolence come true*?
In honor of my momentous employment milestone, I decided to brainstorm some dream job titles to try to uncover my passion. It must be in there somewhere.
Ten Jobs I Would Be Willing to Do Without Pay (in alphabetical order):
1. Back Rub Critic
2. Dave’s Wife/Stay at Home Dog Mom (additional husbands and windows would require a paycheck). Also, can someone please explain to me why Gwyneth Paltrow kept popping up when I searched for images of “traditional housewives?”
3. Family Photographer. All I mean by this is taking pictures of whatever I feel like. Ironically this photo shows Dave would make a good photographer.
4. Grouch (Oscar’s bound to retire sometime, right?)
5. Ice Cream Taster. This is making me want krunch kote.
6. Lode Runner
7. Lounge Singer (thank you!)
8. Neighborhood Watch President. I would write copious amounts of front porch sitting into this job description. EDITOR’S NOTE: This used to be accompanied by a photo of a very disgruntled older lady wearing a clear babushka, but the link is sadly broken now. So I’ll replace this one with Segway Meter Maid (photo of us on Segway tour is a placeholder until I can sneak a picture of the dude I see writing tickets on a Segway several times a week).
9. Orgasm Reviewer
10. Red Panda Caretaker. The July/August 2011 issue of the National Zoo’s Zoogoer magazine has an article about hand-rearing baby animals, including red pandas, at the zoo. Mother of God did I ever go into the wrong profession. The photos of the baby red pandas made my eyes melt out of their sockets. I haven’t seen the new babies yet, but here is a picture of a regular old, ridiculously adorable, red panda I took a few months ago.
How about you? Are you still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? What would you be willing to do without being paid?
*I realize somnolence means drowsiness. Why isn’t there a Latin word for the act of sleeping?
What’s My Motivation?
Tomorrow I will celebrate 15 years with my employer.
The good news: this milestone brings increased vacation time.
The bad news: after 15 years I need more vacation time like you wouldn’t believe. My enthusiasm for most of my tasks has waned considerably. And don’t even get me started on my soul-sucking commute.
I’m a good employee (so ixnay on the iringfay), but over time my motivation has come less and less from interest in the substance of the work itself. I’m a perfectionist. It’s simply not my way to do anything but a good job.
So what would I have said I wanted to be when I grew up?
Independently wealthy? Big picture questions have always baffled me. It was easier for me to identify what I didn’t want to be. My Mom was a nurse, and people would always ask me if I wanted to be a nurse too. The more people asked me that, the more annoyed I got. Soon my “I don’t think so” turned into “I would not be a nurse if it were the last profession on Earth.” Dealing with people, sick people at that, and blood. Please, sign me up.
If pressed, I probably would’ve said I wanted to be a singer. I also went through an astronomy phase prior to knowing it required an understanding of physics. Too bad I was never able to find a single celestial object through the telescope I got one Christmas. Dude, it was hard.
My Parents’ Generation Was Not So Concerned with the Color of the Parachute
My parents were born during the tail end of the Great Depression. The message I received from them was informed by their own parents’ quest for financial security, with additional stress on the importance of education from my Mom.
Work hard, do well in school, go to college. All of this was for the purpose of getting a good job, where good job = secure, decent pay, good benefits.
My older brother took an aptitude test in high school. The results pointed to farming, which amused us greatly. He did not become a farmer. Ironically, working in his garden is one of his favorite things to do now.
I received no career guidance. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do when I chose my major. I still had no dream job in mind when I entered graduate school.
Generation Y Wants to Own the Parachute
I’ve recently come across a number of “lifestyle design” blogs advocating against the traditional 9 to 5, and for taking risks to follow one’s dreams. They take many of the arguments I have used for staying put and rebut them passionately. Most of them I’ve seen are about a decade younger than me. These 20-somethings are the young, the fearless, the entrepreneurial. Their blogs scream: Quit your job and start an online business! Free yourself! Live the life you want! Get paid to do what you love!
Stuck in the Middle (Stuck Being the Operative Word)
I feel stuck in the middle of these two generations and neither way of thinking resonates with me completely.
When I complain about my job to my Mother on the phone, I can almost hear her eyes rolling. She worked her ass off for over 40 years and earned the retirement she’s enjoying so much right now. She knows how much I make, and really does not feel bad about my lack of “passion.” She thinks I’m ridiculously lucky and should shut it.
I’m not sure she’s wrong. I do earn a good living. My job is in my field. Although I sort of fell into “my field,” it’s a good fit for my personality and I’m really quite good at it. As far as 9 to 5 jobs go, I have a pretty flexible schedule, great benefits, a fair and supportive boss, and great coworkers.
I feel pretty guilty complaining actually. Yet…am I going to be satisfied doing this day-in and day-out for 5, or 10, or 19 (but who’s counting?) more years?
Do I have to answer that? I’m the first to admit my not-really-ironic goal of retirement as a 37-year old is sort of lame. As my father-in-law says, “Don’t look forward to retirement, because that’s looking forward to being old.” Well, I’m hoping to retire early, but still. He has a point.
It Comes Down to This
Some of the lifestyle design bloggers I read are still in the process of breaking free from the 9 to 5. Others have already done so and earn a living at least partially helping others do it too. The bulk of what I’ve read is about encouraging people to take risks and laying out the steps to making the dream a reality. The having a dream part seems to be assumed.
But presumably the first step is identifying your dream, so let’s take a moment for me to get in touch with that, shall we?
Once again, it’s easier for me to identify things that are not my dream. And the entrepreneurial calling eludes me.
Being an entrepreneur sounds horrifying. Assuming I could identify something marketable, which is a big if, I would still have to market it. I am decidedly not a people person, not exactly a good trait for running a business.
Also after 15 years, I’m also wondering if I’m not just getting a little tired of working. Starting my own business sounds like more work. I would love to have more freedom and flexibility to spend my time how I want, and thus I think I’m looking to do less work.
Perhaps most importantly, I’d be the boss from hell. I would be extremely demanding, and as we’ve already seen, I have no vision. What a great combination.
As I see it, I have a couple of options worth pursuing in the coming weeks and months. I plan to write about both in more detail in future posts.
1. Design Something New.
Maybe there’s a dream, besides early retirement, lurking deep inside somewhere waiting to be uncovered with enough thought. I read a suggestion somewhere to think about what you would be willing to do even if you didn’t get paid for it. This made me laugh out loud because none of the first ten things that came to mind seemed to be marketable in the least. I’ll probably share my list of these ideas in the next few days, so you can laugh at me.
2. Remodel the Old Place.
This runs the gamut from sprucing up my attitude, which is pretty poor at present, to making other changes around the edges of the current job, like exploring more telework.
How are you feeling about your job at the moment?
*I would say the most accurate description for the color of my parachute at the moment is sepia, which according to Crayola is “not at all frivolous, dependable, and comfortable.” 15 years, people.