Posts Tagged time

Do You Have Time?

Mr. HalfFull subscribes to the Economist and often shares articles of interest with me. One entitled “Nice Work If You Can Get Out” piqued my interest. The author begins by comparing the leisure time of the rich and the poor in the past:

Sarah Bernhardt, 1890

Relaxing on a chaise is divine leisure! (Library of Congress)

For most of human history rich people had the most leisure. In Downton Abbey, a drama about the British upper classes of the early 20th century, one aloof aristocrat has never heard of the term “weekend”: for her, every day is filled with leisure. On the flip side, the poor have typically slogged.

But today, the roles have reversed.  Many wealthy people work long hours. According to the article:

Overall working hours have fallen over the past century. But the rich have begun to work longer hours than the poor.

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Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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The Pursuit of Happiness

The Declaration of Independence has instilled in the American culture a belief that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness. But actually pursuing happiness can be a struggle for some. Defining happiness and the process to get there isn’t so clear-cut.

Happiness is a topic of immense interest to humans in our own personal searches. There are blogs and books like The Happiness Project that try to define strategies for happiness. There are TED Talks about happiness. There are quotes about happiness. And there are endless studies about happiness.

Professional Happiness Study

Time

The perception of time

I heard about one such study at the University of Maryland on the radio. The study measured how people perceive their time — how rushed they feel and how often they have time on their hands. It’s pretty common to think that if we had more time, we’d be happier. But the study showed just the opposite. The people who reported being the happiness almost never feel rushed and don’t have time on their hands that they don’t know what to do with.

Most people don’t like feeling rushed; that seems pretty self-evident. It’s nice to be in control of our own schedules. But the more surprising part is that people don’t enjoy having excess time on their hands. The interesting thing about this is that excess time is self-defined. So if you schedule time to watch TV, exercise, and hang out with friends, that’s not considered time that you don’t know what to do with. The key seems to be making time for the things you want to do, even if other people would consider that idle time. So being busy (but not rushed) seems to make people happier.

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Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Taking Back Control

My jobless summer of attempted spontaneity made it painfully obvious that something was missing.  I wasn’t happy.  (Just in case you’re wondering, I was probably still happier than if I had been working.)  I had all this time and no plan.  I needed some structure.

Even my dad, who retired a few weeks ago, asked me what I do with my days.  Perhaps he wanted me to justify my lack of employment.  But part of me wonders if he was asking for advice.  Not working is a big change.  We once spent our days commuting and sitting in an office.  It took up the majority of our time.  Now we are free.

Self Definition

But what are we free to do?  How do we define ourselves in this new chapter?

Preschool

Ms. HalfEmpty had no problem defining herself in preschool with all sorts of ridiculous garb. But now it’s a different story.

Especially in an area like DC, when people meet for the first time they ask what you do.  It’s part of the customary introductory small talk, but it also helps to categorize people.  We have expectations of people who do certain types of work — stereotypical ideas of what that person’s life might be like.

But where do I fit?  I’m not retirement age.  What do I do with my days?  What should I be doing?  I think there is an expectation that women in their 30s without children or major disabilities should work.  They should contribute.

And I want to.  I just want to do the right thing for me — something that excites and inspires me, something that allows me to meaningfully contribute, something that makes use of my talents.  I don’t want to be another person clocking time in an office, letting the hours and years of my life pass by.

A friend recently sent me a tongue-in-cheek Washington Post article entitled, “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life.”  This quote sums it up for me:

What we discovered is that the key factor you can use to make employees miserable on the job is to simply keep them from making progress in meaningful work.

People want to make a valuable contribution, and feel great when they make progress toward doing so. Knowing this progress principle is the first step to knowing how to destroy an employee’s work life. 

-Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer 

Time

I’ve realized that I now have time.  I have more time than most people ever will.  It’s a valuable gift.  But it doesn’t mean I have time to do anything and everything.  That would mean my time is worthless.  I still decline offers that don’t value my time. My time is precious and mine to spend.

With endless options, deciding how to spend it (and not waste it) was daunting.  But after my unstructured summer I learned that I crave a schedule. It can be a rough outline, but I need a framework.

Exercise

The first thing I did to recreate a schedule was to reincorporate exercise.  It was a no brainer for me since I already belong to a gym with a fixed schedule of classes.

BodyFlow

Ms. HalfEmpty launching BodyFlow™ Release 57 over the summer

I used to go to the gym each morning before work around 6 AM to take a group fitness class.  But it seemed ridiculous to wake up that early when I was no longer working.  I loved sleeping in and not worrying about staying up late.

Of course, my gym had later classes, but Mr. HalfFull wasn’t a member.  I thought I should be home to spend time with him during his summer break, and perhaps exercise together.  We did take long walks through the neighborhood occasionally, but summers in DC can be oppressively hot, discouraging outdoor activities.

Once Mr. HalfFull went back to work in August, I started going back to the gym.  This became the anchor of my new schedule.  I would workout for 1 or 2 hours a day.  Plus, I got hired at my new gym to teach  BodyFlow™ again.  So during 2-5 of those weekly workout hours I was getting paid to exercise!

That time felt purposeful because I was doing something good for myself.  Without this break from work, I never would have had the combined time and energy to devote an extra 12 hours per week to exercise.  I was getting stronger and more fit!  Plus the structure of group fitness classes appeals to my need for a schedule.

Coffee

Coffee in German Biergarten

Ms. HalfEmpty with lattes in a German biergarten. No she didn’t drink all of those herself!

I also got my caffeine intake back under control.  I used to drink up to 4 coffees per day on workdays.  I would drink one en route to the gym before 6 AM.  My 2nd coffee would be consumed after breakfast.  Sometimes I would have a 3rd coffee when I got to the office, and my 4th would be after lunch for my afternoon jolt.

These were not huge mugs full of coffee, so it wasn’t that bad.  They were generally 6 ounce servings (whereas a cup is 8 ounces and a Starbucks Venti is 20 ounces).  But now I’m down to 2 coffees per day — one with breakfast and one in the afternoon.

Coffee has transformed from something I needed to survive the work world to something I can enjoy.  It’s wonderful to savor each sip!

Sleep

Santa Monica nap

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoyed naps early and often on the 30/40 World Tour

I used to get headaches to varying degrees almost every afternoon at work.  Now when I think I might be on the verge of a headache, I just take a nap.  Napping in the middle of the week is so luxurious and feels a heck of a lot better than a headache!

I’m getting full nights of sleep (since I can wake naturally), and napping when tired.  Sleep is certainly going well now that I am able to listen to my body’s sleep cues.

Transformation

I have the time to enjoy the world around me.  I am able to savor sunny afternoons outside with a picnic or my laptop on a bench.

I now try to act out of desire and joy.  In the past, I generally lived a life of obligation.  I was the kid who never wanted to miss a day of school even if I was sick.  I always did the thing I was supposed to do.  But there comes a point when you are on such autopilot that you no longer want anything.  You merely stay the course.

Another great benefit of not working in the afternoons is that I’ve been able to attend almost all my husband’s home games.  I’ve felt connected to his team as I’ve watched them grow over the season.  I got to be a part of their success as they finished the season with a championship!

People have commented that I smile more and seem happier since leaving my job.  I don’t think that was true over the summer, but it is now.  It’s a lot easier to be happy when you feel rested and unhurried by the pressures of the working world on a taxing commute with deadlines looming.

Mr. HalfFull has even commented that perhaps I have become Mrs. HalfFull (instead of Ms. HalfEmpty).  Maybe I’m finally coming into my married name!

In our relationship, he has always been known for his humor, while I was more of the straight man.  But now Mr. HalfFull is worried that I might be taking over his comedy domain.  Hum…I’m not sure I could do standup comedy at the DC Improv like he did, but perhaps humor comes more naturally to those who are well rested.

More sleep, more exercise, less coffee, fewer headaches…sounds like not working is doing a body good!  I’m probably the healthiest I’ve ever been.  I’m still waiting for my vision, but at least I’m back to living the spaces in between.

  • Do you need a schedule?
  • How do you define yourself in quick introductions?  Does it affect your self-image?
  • Are you the master of your time?  How do you spend it?  How would you like to spend it?
  • Have you found exercise, caffeine, and sleep to impact your well-being?
  • Have you noticed transformations in yourself?  What prompted them?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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Waiting for My Vision

I left my job in May.  I didn’t have a horrific boss and wasn’t forced to work long hours.  Day-to-day things really weren’t that bad.  So why did I quit?

It may sound idealistic, but I want to wake up and be excited to go to work.  After two acquisitions, I was no longer in a corporate culture of my choosing; I wasn’t motivated to excel.  I don’t want to work just to have a place to pass time and earn money.

Life at Work

supercomputer

Ms. HalfEmpty coding in a server room…at work, of course!

My degree is in computer science, but over the years it has become increasingly clear that it’s not my passion.  I always got A’s in school and certainly have an aptitude for it, but the interest just isn’t there.  I was never the girl who had a server farm in her basement, spending each evening coding my own side projects.  In fact, I don’t think I would ever code for enjoyment.

In 2010, I stopped coding.  I left my project as a software engineer and looked for other projects within the company.  This was incredibly eye-opening.

I didn’t think it would be difficult to find a non-coding job.  I had built a reputation as a solid employee.  Surely, someone would want me on their team.

And they did…to code.

I would apply for job after job.  But all the calls I got were for software engineering positions.  My résumé had marked me as a software engineer, and no one wanted to hire me for anything else.

After a while, the phone interviews got a bit comical.  A manager would call me and ask all sorts of detailed technical questions about frameworks and design patterns.  After a few questions, I asked which job he was filling.  Invariably, it would be the software engineering role, when I had applied for a different position on the same project.

Eventually, I did end up in a project management role, and later, a consulting role.  I was grateful for the opportunities and did well, but still wasn’t inspired.  I held out hope that there could be something more.  But staying in the same environment wasn’t helping me get there.

When I announced my departure, everyone wanted to know what I was leaving to do.  I didn’t have a good answer…or a plan.

Deciding to Leave

Palisades Park

Ms. HalfEmpty had it rough as she napped around the world!

Quitting my job was scary.  It was a lucrative career; I was the breadwinner of my household.  Financially, I worried if things would work out. Without my regular income, I would be living off savings. I wondered how long that would be feasible.

But part of my assurance came from the 30/40 World Tour.  Last year, I was on a Leave of Absence for 3 months with no income while traveling around the world. Plus, I was spending money to travel, while still maintaining mortgages and car payments back home. So that was reassuring and gave me a little more confidence to take the plunge.

Life After Work

I had a surprisingly rough time over the summer.  At first, I was quite industrious. I started taking things apart in the house.

I spent more time on my home desktop computer, which is near the hall bathroom.  This caused me to notice an intermittent drip from the toilet.  It was so infrequent that it was hard to pinpoint. It didn’t occur immediately after flushing, and I could never see the actual drip. Eventually, I got fed up and decided to replace everything in the tank. I’ve replaced flappers, but never actually removed a toilet tank.

As a teacher, Mr. HalfFull was off for the summer, but he was taking grad school classes from 7-10 PM. Of course, I started this repair project while he was in class. At around 9 PM, I realized that I needed a hacksaw to shorten the new pipe. So I was done for the night.  Upon his return, Mr. HalfFull was rather surprised to find his toilet in pieces on the floor!

Ceiling Fan

Oh Ceiling Fan, your incessant ticks kept me up at night!

Then I tackled the ceiling fan in my bedroom. It started making an intermittent ticking noise that made it difficult to sleep because it was so irregular and nonrhythmic. The airflow in my bedroom isn’t that great, making the fan especially critical in the summer.

So I took it apart. Don’t worry, I put it back together too. And the noise stopped!

Then I noticed a dripping sound in the master bathroom toilet and decided to replace that one too. By then I was a pro, armed with a hacksaw and plumbers wrench ahead of time!

During this time, Mr. HalfFull became fearful of what he would find in pieces when he returned home.  He was especially worried that his TV and stereo system would be disassembled with cords and cables all over the place.  But his fear was unfounded!

Eventually, I ran out of projects around the house and wondered what I was supposed to do with myself. Since Mr. HalfFull was taking classes on a compressed summer schedule, he had papers to write every week. He seemed busy and productive. But what should I be doing?

I thought that being spontaneous and unscheduled would be wonderful. I was no longer stuck at a desk during business hours. But it wasn’t wonderful. I had no purpose. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing.

You may be reading this wondering how I could be so unhappy with a decision I made myself. I wasn’t laid off. I wasn’t fired. It was completely my decision to leave.

I was happy that I left, but it was hard to not know what I was going toward. I’m a planner. I’m practical. What the heck was I doing?

Vision of the Future

Time Travel

What is the nature of time?  When will Ms. HalfEmpty’s vision come?

Over the summer, I read a book called Einstein’s Dreams about the nature of time. The short chapters each tell a fable based on a different theoretical flow of time — circular, captured, frozen, etc. One passage in particular spoke to me:

This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. For in this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully and, as consequence, people receive fitful glimpses of the future.

For those who have had their vision, this is a world of guaranteed success. Few projects are started that do not advance a career. Few trips are taken that do not lead to the city of destiny. Few friends are made who will not be friends in the future. Few passions are wasted.

For those who have not had their vision, this is a world of inactive suspense. How can one enroll in university without knowing one’s future occupation? How can one set up an apothecary on Marktgasse when a similar shop might do better on Spitalgasse? How can one make love to a man when he may not remain faithful? Such people sleep most of the day and wait for their vision to come.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Without my vision, I spent much of the summer slumbering. Naps are divine, but I was using them as an escape. When you have no plan, it’s much easier to sleep than seize the day. It requires no planning, and you can’t fail.

But I really wanted that vision of my future. In fact, I still do. I want to know the right path for me. I want to know that my efforts are not wasted. I want to know the future.

  • Have you ever left a job without a fully defined plan?  Why?
  • Have you made a career change?  How did you reinvent yourself?
  • Have you been surprised by the emotional aftermath of a decision you willingly made for yourself?
  • What home repair projects have you tackled yourself?  Did you take your household by surprise?
  • Have you had your vision?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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