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