Sunday, December 2, 2012

Workaholic


You know who you are.  You’re the one who looks at the clock to see that it’s time to clock out and get home but instead decide you’ve got to book just one more sale.  You’re the one who finishes a project a few minutes ahead of time and instead of using those few minutes to decompress or actually get to your next appointment on time, you try to cram in one more call before your next commitment.  You’re the one who gets to the office an hour early to catch up and leaves an hour late with a pile of paperwork to take home. 
 
I’m not pointing fingers.  I’m one of you.  I’m part of your clan.  You are among friends with me.  I really like getting things done.  I truly enjoy completing tasks.  I get a rush out of finishing a project that at one time seemed destined for failure.  I get a charge out of fitting ten times more accomplishments into one daypart than most people do in a week.  I love being productive.
 
There comes a time, though, when super productivity becomes counterproductive in your life.  I had that moment of clarity recently at work.  The alarm on my phone rang at its usual afternoon time, signaling to me it was time to wrap it up at work and head out the door to pick up my preschooler.  I had 20 minutes to wrap up what I was doing, walk out the door, walk 2 minutes to my car, drive 12 minutes to the school, find street parking, and get inside to get in line with the other parents for pickup.  Since I was working in my boss’s office with her, I hit the snooze button and gave myself 3 extra minutes to finish the email we were working on.  Per usual, the 3 minutes turned into 5.  Knowing I was cutting it too close, I verbalized to my boss that I really had to go now, as my words were backed up by the Harp snooze tune blaring out of my phone alarm.

“One more email,” she says very matter-of-a-factly.

“Nope, can’t do it.  I have to go,” I replied as I gathered my files and hit it out the door.

You see, the price of one more email is my 4-year-old learning the word embarrassed, to describe the way she feels when she’s the only kid out of 30 left in the classroom at preschool when I’m 20 minutes late to pick her up.  One more email carries the toll of my bruised self-esteem, once I realize I’ve put an electronic transmission, and not even an important one at that, before my job as a mother.  One more email sets the precedent to my boss that I will honor her commitments before my own.  The cost of one more email is just too great to bear.

You see, I’ve been down this road before.  In fact, my partner and I made a conscious decision for me to quit working and stay at home with our kids four years ago.  I’d worked in the sales industry for over a decade, where money came quicker, and in more abundance, when you worked harder and longer.  While my family and I benefited financially from my tendency to be a bit of a workaholic, we all suffered emotionally when it came to raising our two kids with two full-time jobs. 

While we worked out the schedule and the child care and could afford to pay people to do the everyday things we no longer had time to do, like clean and shop and mow, we knew the life we were living didn’t even come close to resembling the life we wanted.  We wanted our kids to grow up with a parent at home with them, like we both had as children with our own parents.  We felt strongly about raising our own kids and not farming them out to other people, where they’d learn how to be the people they’ll eventually become from strangers, instead of form their own parents.

In order to accomplish our goal, we stepped outside our comfort zone.  We pinched our pennies, cinched our belts, sold virtually everything we owned, including our house and our car, paid off all of our bills, and saved enough money so that we could live comfortably with just one income instead of two.  While the life-altering change was shocking for both my partner and I, we grew into our new roles quite comfortably, and the tangible benefit of spending time with my kids was immediate.  My kids flourished, my partner enjoyed support I didn’t have to give her when I was working full-time, and I have “accomplished” more in the past few years at home with my kids than I have in my almost 30 years in the workforce.  It’s been a wonderful trade-off for us as a family.

I’ve always kept little odd jobs that I do mostly from home that both stimulate my mind and provide a bit of extra cash.  This year, though, presented an opportunity to work part-time temporarily for a previous employer, filling in for her assistant’s maternity leave.  While I knew it would be a huge challenge for me, as I know how easy it is for me to fall back into the workaholic groove with another Type A personality at the helm, I felt confident that I could do it without compromising my family or myself. 

I did do it.  I am two days short of fulfilling my 3-month commitment to the job.  My kids are still standing.  They’re better off in some ways, as they’ve been forced to become a little more self-reliant.  They grew up a lot in the last 3 months.  My partner made it through, although not completely unscathed.  I appreciated her stepping up to the plate to help out and take over some of the tasks I no longer had time to do while working.  The dichotomy of our relationship is off a bit, as I was unable to offer her much support during the past few months, but I know that balance will spring back almost immediately.  As for me, though, this has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, fighting with myself every day to remember my priorities.

The work is fast-paced, almost fun at times, so that’s not the issue.  The people are great, the location close, the hours palatable, and the money nothing to scoff at.  The internal struggle I’ve faced on a daily basis has been a huge life lesson, a work in progress, if you will.  To have to set an alarm for myself daily to remind me to leave, as I will get so emerged in work that I will forget to look at the clock and go pick up my child, is a shocking fact when I think about it too hard.  The idea that I worked at home sometimes before and after work, even on my own moving day, even though the four hours a day I work in the office are already a stretch for me, is upsetting to me.  I have no business taking away the precious time I do have at home, in my NEW HOME, mind you, that needed unpacking and settling and kids that needed reassuring in their new environment.  And probably the most unsettling thought is that at no time during the past few months did I consider not fulfilling the 3-month commitment.  Common sense would dictate when something’s not working out, you stop it.  The thought never crossed my mind. 

I’m guessing being a workaholic is similar to being an alcoholic or an addict of cigarettes or drugs or sex.  Once you kick it, you always have to be cognizant of not surrounding yourself with triggers that might put you back into situations that will tempt you to give in to your addiction.  While I know that’s true in theory, I still thought I was somehow exempt, as there’s no way I could fall prey to old bad habits.  Was I ever wrong!  To be forced to acknowledge my own shortcomings has been a good reality check.  It’s all just regular wear and tear, as I’m sure my next life lesson is already being planned on my behalf.