I was scratching my head during that first week away from the office. Normally, I'm a pretty buttoned-up kind of person. I make lists each day and scratch out what I have completed as I go down the list of things I hope to accomplish. Typically, that list keeps me busy well before sunrise to well after sunset.
But I was a mess that first week! Not because I missed getting up at the crack of darkness, stretching for 30 minutes, riding my windtrainer (bike) for 35 minutes, packing my breakfast and lunch (to be eaten at my desk), grabbing a shower and getting on the road no later than 8:11 a.m. Nope, I was a mess because the very structured life I had created was now disrupted.
My routine had been jolted and now I would find my morning teacup on the front door step -- outside!! I also misplaced car keys, cell phones, turkey bacon, flip-flops and notepads. I would enter one room and forget what I came into the room to do. When I told one of my friends that I had suddenly turned into a scatterbrain, he laughed and said, "Well, your brain is probably enjoying some time off. You have always been heavily scheduled."
When you lose your job and now must put yourself on a new schedule, it is an awakening. What you learn is how jam-packed your life has been. And while I certainly could pack a lot into a day -- and still can -- what I'm learning is that sometimes my busy-ness caused me to miss a lot of living. True, you don't always have a choice when you are working in an office setting, but over the last few weeks, I've noticed things I've never seen in the nearly five years I have lived here in this Central Florida town.
For instance, I never realized the flight path between Orlando and Jacksonville regularly stripes the skies with contrails over my house all day long. I never knew a pair of bald eagles regularly perch in the top of a dead tree in the woods behind my home. I never knew how many dogs and dog walkers were in my neighborhood. And I never knew how many people of all ages hammer away in their daily workouts at the gym around the corner. I also didn't know how often my home phone rang each day with people trying to get me to buy or upgrade something. I'm a pretty observant person, but I didn't even actually know where the sun rose and set each day.
Structure is a funny thing. In one sense, it's like it puts a spine in your day. You get up and think of what you need to accomplish and what you want to do. When I went to the office each day, I was on autopilot and did nearly the same thing at the same time each day just to stay on schedule. When or if there was any time left for leisure at the end of the day, it was like a rare bonus. But what I have realized since losing my job is how little of my day was actually spent on myself. And the cumulative result of that is suddenly, nine years later, you realize that it's been like running in place on a treadmill. What do I have to show for that time? And in the course of life, what did it all actually mean?
As a culture, we are busy and most work places are currently understaffed, meaning that workers come to know their slammed-jammed work days as normal. After a while, it became normal to eat breakfast at my desk and several hours later, to also eat my lunch in front of a computer. Some days, I would be so focused on getting through my "to-do" list that I would look up and realize I was one of three cars left in the parking lot as the sun sank into the trees. My goal each day was to leave the office before the staff attorneys finally headed home!
Now, I know that focus, stress and dedication to complete a lengthy list of tasks was in vain. It didn't save my job. It didn't really make a difference. I lived my life faster and missed so much for the sake of making deadlines. But at the same time, I would probably do it all over again. It's ingrained. Maybe it's even generational to work hard and feel a sense of pride in your work. It's also satisfying to give your best efforts at all times even though, admittedly, I would like to take back a few sleepless nights in which I awoke and found myself muttering in the dark about the use of a "better verb" than what I had written earlier that day in the crunch of deadlines.
I still have my lists and I'm still busy as I settle into a new routine. Now, I can stay up later and sleep a little later. I can hop on my bike whenever I want. I can interview people on the phone for freelance projects in my bedroom slippers. I can write freelance stories at my dining room table with my hair sticking up like a woodpecker. I can work away on various projects with my cat sleeping in the chair beside me.
There is structure in place, but this time, I'm trying to do a better job of juggling real life with work. I'm trying to pay attention to where the sun comes up and where the day ends. I'm also trying to say, "How are you today?" to the lonely older lady down the street and to truly listen to her answer.
I know that someday in the near future, I'll get back on that "treadmill" to work, but this next go around, I hope that the structure of work won't ultimately supersede the essence of living. Ultimately, it's not worth it. And I don't want my friends and family to see me as so "heavily scheduled" that they need appointments to get my attention. If I have learned anything in these last few weeks, it's that structure might keep me on task, but too much of it only snatches away chunks of my life that I can never reclaim.
- Lisa D. Mickey, Feb. 2, 2012