So this is going to be a banner week for Dan, something I’m happy to give him, for all he gives back via his thoughtful comments, and who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if I can chip away at some scaly mass getting in the way of me and a foothold, maybe it will be a banner week for me, too. Because for as trenchant as my workaholism is, and for as much as many 12-steppers would insist that obviously, I’m getting something out of it or I wouldn’t be doing it, I insist, INSIST, I tell you!, that there is a way out of this to a happier me. To someone who, it is true, enjoys work with perhaps more fervor than many, and still to the exclusion of many things, but not to the point of obsession.
There is always, usually, a way out of here. It’s more likely that there may not be one way out of here, if you’re talking tactics, but the central way is most certainly some shift in thought. For example, my way of feeling, my approach to the kind of work I was interested in doing too much of, changed in pretty much an instant, during my hospital-bed epiphany (which I spoke about at last year’s Ignite). But while there have been other shifts in realization that took longer, my transition from being okay with applying my stupid workaholic engine to writing ads for The Man to not being okay with it, for example, the shift to new work itself, or a new way of being, or a new set of habits, has always taken a while. Rome wasn’t re-engineered in a day.
Both Dan and Piper bring up one critical component of this re-engineering: checking the yardstick by which I’m measuring accomplishment. Fair enough. I’d say I’m aware of the disconnect between my idea of reasonable and that of someone who is, well, reasonable. This year, I had my annual goals list vetted by a compassionate but critically-thinking friend; last year, I had my then-coach do the honors (who herself has a touch of the workaholism, and who declared my original plan unrealistic). This year’s list required less retooling for reality than last year’s, and so far, I’m also much more on track than I was last year, both of which items I’m calling progress.
I believe the real progress lies in two things: first, my willingness to openly cop to this as something that’s not working and that I want to change, then trying stuff that stands a reasonable chance of working. While I’ve been copping openly here on the blog for years now, there are years and years (and years, decades!) before then where I not only denied it, if you brought it up to me, I’d have told you that was insane. My father was a workaholic; I knew what workaholism looked like.1
Second, I am objectively happier. Sure, there are many contributing factors, including the epiphany, but there are some key differences that point to my being able to back off this work b.s. now and then and have fun: for starters, a group of women friends, which I never had before, and not only choosing to be with them, but initiating many of the get-togethers. My old modus operandi was just to glom onto whatever friends my S.O. of the moment had, letting him initiate the scheduling. Now I cultivate relationships, and enjoy the tending of them, maybe not to the extent an extrovert would, but I’m not an extrovert! The flip side of this is that I also grab “me” time whenever the hell I feel like it, something I never felt entitled to do before. So, progress!
Ongoing visualization of a five-pound bag and the amount of shit that will fit remains a challenge, though. Piper’s method for handling this is intriguing, but feels effortful to me. I’ve timed things, how long it takes to write a post, a newsletter, to clean the kitchen, to run to the post office, to no avail. The times are too variable. Slightly better has been to play with time allotments for things, as several commenters suggested. This has been marginally more helpful, but man, I have a capacity for denial even with this: I’ll completely overlook the physical drain something that’s emotionally exhausting will take, and end up with stupid-long lists.
What it boils down to is something that I really hate to look at, but is exactly what Dan seems to suggest is inevitable: what do I really want to do? Because that, I’ll manage to get done. I take care of what I have to, eating and sleeping, keeping body and soul together, and what I “have to”, this blog, mostly, and connecting with people I’m interested in about the topics I’m interested in. Like most smokers, I quit smoking when I wanted to, and not a moment sooner. I went on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet when the choice was between that or hard-core meds with deleterious long-term effects, not months before, when I was just uncomfortable.
These books I say I want to write? When I really want to, by this logic, I will write them. I’ll quit writing so much here, and start writing more there. Maybe my refusal to let go of this idea of me writing a collection of essays on one theme is just another form of clutter. I’ve been cautiously, cautiously watching Hoarders lately, as they put up new episodes, and it’s a little scary, seeing the outward manifestation of interior chaos and clinging. I recognize myself on that OCD spectrum, and fully cop to both my blessing/curse of seeing potential in goddamn everything and my reluctance to call chapters closed. Part of why I’ve been stripping away, stripping away, stripping away mercilessly (albeit slowly) at my physical and digital clutter issue is that I recognize this inability to make decisions about stuff-stuff is adversely affecting my ability to make decisions about life-stuff: there’s a side of me that’s still seven, and that wants to live in four different cities (at once!), with five different men, or none, as a ballerina/shrink/college professor/Mike Royko/hobo. Okay, that’s an exaggeration: I never wanted to be a ballerina.
It’s crazy-making, the ability to see potential in things. It leads to lives full of crap and devoid of a central thing, okay, maybe two, that really matter(s).2 I know more about this than I wish I did right now, I’ve been on both ends of this problem. Maybe I’m delusional, thinking that my continued pursuit of a solution to the problem is anything more than a workaholic cat chasing its own tail. Maybe I should cut my losses, find the lowest-common-denominator workaround to the problem, workaholics anonymous, which does exist, and sign myself up.3
One final thought (for now) on this mishegoss: while I’m happy to have read 52 books in less than 52 weeks, and while I almost certainly would have been a bit disappointed had I made it to the end of 52 weeks without having read 52 books, I really am happiest that I’ve managed to build reading back into my life. Really and truly. I am happy to be reading books again, because I enjoy it. I am happy to be reading them still, though I’ve more than fulfilled my “obligation” to myself, and I expect to continue enjoying reading far, far beyond these 52 books and however many weeks.
I’m proudest, however, that I’ve been able to stop reading books I didn’t want to finish, after 10 pages, 50 pages, even 100 pages. That I didn’t for a moment think “OMG I HAVE 100pp INVESTED I CANNOT STOP NOW AIIIYYYIIII!!!1!!” I am reading what I like, because I like it, that is healthy, I think, but it was my crazy-ass, OCD-oriented mindset that got me back to this nice place of being.
That, I think, is not crazy at all. Or maybe it’s just crazy in the “good” way.
1I didn’t, of course, any more than I knew what Crohn’s looked like. My workaholism presented much differently than my father’s did, just as my Crohn’s presented differently. He was all Joe C-Suite and shallow conversations and diarrhea! I was all starving-artiste and meaningful dialogues and constipation! COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. (Not.)
2Here’s how crazy-making it is: when I watch Hoarders, I want to train as a professional organizer who specializes in compulsive hoarding disorders!
3By the way, if anyone has experience with this organization, I’d be very interested to hear about it. And yeah, I get the ano
Image by moffoys via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. From this “Crazy Frog” Filckr set, which will almost certainly make you laugh, which is good for you whether you’re a workaholic or total layabout.