I love to work. I feel pride when I create an excellent product, or write a smart and convincing paragraph, or (more recently) learn a trick in Excel that allows me to sort efficiently through data to find fact-based answers instead of opinions or conjecture.
I feel most like myself when I’m working well. While I don’t live to work exactly, I do gain a lot of personal fulfillment from my career. When I’m putting in a lot of hours or trudging through a difficult project (like I am now, with a dark and twisty project I am managing that sometimes feels like it is managing me), it is easy for me to flip to the dark side. I can begin to despair: I am terrible and worthless and stupid and eventually they will notice and my career will be over. Which, as a side note, might be because smart girls are socialized to believe they received innate smartness at birth instead of learning that good results are achieved through hard work.
Have you been here too? Have you obsessed over the tiniest details of your workload on a Saturday afternoon while going through the motions of a weekend shopping trip? Do you stare out the window of the car mentally re-hashing a meeting or remembering things you should have or could have done while the other passengers are jamming out to AC/DC? (You do still jam out to AC/DC, right? There really is no better driving music.) Have you spent too many evenings in a row, crashing on the sofa after dinner and binge-watching television that really isn’t that interesting (I’m looking at you, The Killing) so you don’t have to think or talk or decide anything?
When over-focused on work results, I begin to slip out of my personal life. I lose track of time, or forget things I would otherwise always remember. I recognize it quickly, but sometimes it takes me a few weeks to take action. (Once I act, I always feel really stupid for waiting so long.) When the working is too big and the living is too small, what I really need is to create something beautiful.
The underlying problem of it all is that I’ve forgotten to do the things that make me feel alive and proud in my non-work hours. When work demands a lot, it is too easy to give up writing time, blogging time, photography or reading or biking or yoga classes. But I’m learning that it is precisely those things that I often consider selfish or unnecessary extras that keep me alive. To bake bread, plan a delicious dinner party, browse a used book store or plan a trip or choose a new fall color scheme for this space.
When work gets hard, I must force myself to remember what is so easy to forget: I get to choose what I do, what I value, and where I focus. This week, I choose to live a beautiful life.