Thursday 24 September 2020

Trying to recapture my balance

I'm sitting in my freshly cleaned, cozy cabin. The fire is going, Taylor Swift is softly crooning in the background, the big dogs are lying next to me and I'm finally, finally, on day 3 of my mini-staycation, starting to relax. 

This morning was the first morning in I don't know how long where I didn't wake up at 6 am. My internal clock is tuned to that annoyingly early time since that's when I usually have to get up for work. 
I slept soundly until 8, then made coffee and read in bed for an hour. After that I fed the horses, played with the dogs, and then roasted a chicken for lunch. We butchered a bunch of our chickens this week, cleaned and froze them, and today we had our first taste. It's a lot of work, but worth it - it was delicious!

We also talked to both of our mothers today, and then I went for a long walk with Lily. 
Today is how I always picture my perfect day off: a beautiful mix of leisure and productivity, of talking to and spending time with loved ones, of enjoying our home and surroundings, of treating my body and mind well by cooking good food and giving them fresh air, exercise, and the close proximity to animals, who are the best friends and medicine I know.

The reality has been different.
I haven't had more than 4 consecutive days off since our vacation in May of last year. Crazy, right? And entirely my own fault. It's completely up to me to work as much or as little as I want, and somehow I always choose to work a lot. 
I know why: because of fear, pride - and because it's easier.

Let's dig a little deeper into each of these reasons, shall we?

First one: Fear.  
Ahh, fear. She's an old acquaintance of mine. You may know her pretty well, too. For someone who strives to be an optimist, I secretly always fear the worst. Unemployment, financial ruin, illness, death, the collapse of society as we know it - they are always at the back of my mind. So I try to prepare as best as I can by working lots, making as much money as possible, and burying all the nuts I can, squirrel-style, until the arrival of the inevitable catastrophe that's surely waiting around the corner. 

It's a stressful way to live. Especially since nothing bad has ever happened to me. Some ups and downs, sure, but nothing really bad. Fear is a poor leader, yet I still let her be in charge of my life decisions. It's time to kick her out of the driver's seat.

Second one: Pride
I always assumed that I would play second fiddle to my husband's income. That he would bring home the "real" money, while I would bring in substantially less. I didn't even start seriously thinking of what kind of income I would like to make until I was in my mid-to late-twenties. Stupid, right!? But I grew up comfortably middle-class, with parents and later a husband who always supported me, so you can afford to be stupid with money. I also took not-so-secret pride in the fact that I "didn't care about money", which is, of course, BS. 
That all changed when we were struggling for many years after the divorce, having our phone and gas turned off a couple of times for not paying the bill, and having to play the terrifying "which bill to pay, which one not?" game, plus the credit-card-overdraw roulette, for way too many years. 

We were able to pay off all our debt with the sale of our old home 4 years ago. For the first time in our relationship, we've been debt-free. It's a gift neither of us takes for granted. Struggling for money is awful
Also for the first time in our relationship, I am the one who brings home the bacon. Rich officially retired shortly after our move and his Lyme-disease diagnosis, and is now getting a pension.  
I always knew that would happen due to our age gap, and even though it happened somewhat sooner than either of us expected, I took to it easier than I thought I would. 
I'm taking great pride in my profession, my job and my work ethic. Maybe a little too much pride. 

It's interfering with the work-life balance we have both been yearning for. I've been compromising my work-to-live motto by turning it upside down, and working more than living. I've missed family visits, births of our baby animals, friends dropping in, and simple, magical mornings like the one we had today.

I know that's it's inevitable to miss some of those things when you're working, but I'm working all the time, and it's been taking a toll. Every time I've picked up the phone this week, the person on the other end was surprised to hear my voice. "What, you're not working? You always are!" Does it make me feel proud? Yes and no. I have a deep-seated fear of being seen as lazy (which was the BIGGEST sin in our family), so on that account I feel accomplished. But at the same time, I know that I'm wasting precious time with my husband
I was more sick this past year than I've ever been, which is most likely due to my body telling me to slow the f* down. My passions have taken a backseat, and we don't nearly spend as much time together as we could. It's time to change that. 

Last (and most compelling) reason: It's easier.

Your house is a mess? You can blame it on working all the time. 
You haven't worked out in an age? You can blame it on working all the time. 
You haven't written anything in way too long? You can blame it on working all the time. 
You feel creatively stunted? You can blame it on working all the time. 

You see where I'm going with this?
As much as it seems like the person who works is doing all the hard work, that's not exactly the case. 
By choosing to be away from home so much, you leave the person who's left there to deal with all the shit that comes up: 
Dealing with neighbours
Dealing with new babies (and the possible complications)
Dealing with castrations, neuterings, sterilizations (which are part of our life, and which I, cowardly, try to avoid)
Dealing with annoying shit like fixing water pipe leaks
Dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses 
Dealing with switching cell phone providers
That shit is annoying. Nobody likes to deal with it. Usually it's left to the stay-at-home-moms, but I lucked out to leave it to my stay-at-home-retiree!
To make sure that my status of someone who doesn't have to deal with this stuff is firmly cemented, I made sure I worked all the time. I had social and spousal approval, what else could I ask for? 

I simply had no time for anything else. I made x amount of dollars every year, so I clearly didn't have time to pursue my writing.

Nobody can fault you for it. "You are the main bread winner." "You are doing so well!"
"You're choosing the responsible path." "You finally grew up and realized that having your head in the clouds doesn't pay the bills."
"You can always write as a hobby." And what they don't say: If you don't write, nobody cares. Your writing doesn't matter. Your earning potential does.

By working the socially accepted job with the set wage, you get social validation.
Your parents are proud of you. 
You are known as a good, reliable employee.
You've fulfilled your responsibility as a mature, caring citizen of your country by paying back a hundredfold what they have given you by working around the clock to pay off your student loans, pay your taxes, and prove yourself as a serious, I'm-all-about-work-adult.
A few years ago, I was on my way to challenge all that. I wrote my personal mission statement, and I was determined to live by it. 
What happened, you may ask?

I chickened out. Trying to write my next book was so much harder than accepting the next shift. 
Trying to write an inspirational blog post seemed like an indulgence we shouldn't have time for in the times of Covid-19. 

I couldn't find a way to make my own, small ambitions work next to the overwhelming global crisis, so I just abandoned them.
I tried to bury myself in work. 
Obviously, it didn't work.   

By having had a few days off in a row to let my thoughts and emotions flow, I now realize anew: If there is a choice, I will choose pursuing my shaky, financially disastrous goals of writing more books. 
It doesn't make financial sense. 
But I need it in order to feel complete. 

And there is something else, extremely important I finally realized: Despite my eternal fear of not finding work, I have always worked, with no gaps.
I have worked, in multiple jobs, since I was 12. 
I worked when I had no training. 
I worked when I had no education. 
I worked when I was in a foreign country.
I worked when I had no papers.
I worked when I had no "permanent" job.

I have, for the last 28 years, been able to find work whenever I wanted to. And I always wanted to, so I've always been working. 
I should start to trust that. 

But it's so much easier to work and get the set amount of money you know you'll get. 
It's insanely scary to work on something that will, best case scenario, amount to way less money than your day job, and worst case scenario, will amount to nothing. 
That's where I find myself tonight. I have to make a choice. 
There's only one way to live the life I've always wanted. 

I have to make the choice that countless other creatives have made before me. Cut down on the time I spend on my day job in order to work on my writing.
I thought I could trick the system by doing my writing in my "free time".
I didn't account for my dwindling energy reserves, the time ordinary life takes up, and the amount of time I need to recover from my normal job. 

None of us can have it all. 
We all have to make choices. 

And one thing I know for sure is this: I want to be remembered for more than having been a "good employee". It's time to make some changes. 



  1. You need to take it easier Miriam, when you have no, or not enough, time to enjoy your life, something i wrong. No one can buy you more time. Scale back, scale down cost of living, et voila!

    1. You are so right, Marijke! These few days off have given me a much-needed reality check. I'm doing it!

  2. I relate to this article so much. I was nodding along with all three of the reasons you line out, but especially the "it's easier" portion. I had never thought about it like you outlined, but it makes perfect sense. I've had so many thoughts whirling around of everything that's easier because of the job, but then I think of all the things about myself that I'm sacrificing for "easy." Great journaling prompt for me.

    1. Thank you, Kristen!
      I really needed those few days off with NOTHING scheduled, to realize how much I've been missing out on my life. Fortunately, it's never too late, and I'm making some changes! We only live once, and none of us should only feel worthy if we can put a number on our achievements. It's time to change that.

      Good luck to both of us! We can do it.

  3. I’m right there with you, but on the other side. Now I’m writing full time and I realize how much I was using work as an excuse for my lack of writing time or creativity. But it’s no easy cake walk. Now that I have the time, I don’t know what to do with it!

    1. I hear ya Emelie! Too much free time is just as bad as not enough of it. I read Chris Baty's (the guy who created NaNoWriMo) book "No Plot? No Problem!", and in it he writes that he basically came up with the idea of NaNoWriMo because adding a deadline was the only way how he could finish a novel.

      Maybe that's what you need? A set deadline? Or a part-time job. I once had a 4 days on, 4 days off rotation, and it was AMAZING. The perfect balance between live to work and work to live!

  4. I've been sitting with your writing on pride and its effects for several days and.. this is me. This is SO me. Thank you for putting words to what I know (but don't want to admit...)

    1. Girl, I hear you. I'm still struggling BIG time. Still haven't managed to screw up the courage to pick up my novel again ...


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