Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Peaks and Valleys

from the blog www.stuckincustoms.com

Lately I’ve become distressed about the impact that relatively minor physical discomfort and mood swings seem to have on my ability to get shit done. I’ve been telling myself that when I used to get up and go to work in an office every day I didn’t have to fight through periods of extreme apathy like I sometimes now experience, and a headache would rarely cause me to miss a day of work. Of course, I’m older now, and I believe I’m in the beginning stages of what is delicately referred to as “the change”, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. However, I’m worried that I am in danger of giving in to my lazier nature, which I absolutely cannot afford to do. What happened to that girl I think I remember, the one who would drag herself out of bed no matter what?

Yes, I did push through headaches and shoulder stiffness and sinus congestion and all that other stuff. I did force myself to get dressed and drive to the office and sit at my desk when I would have rather been pretty much anywhere else. Yes, I did that – we all do that because we have to. When I compare my recollection of what it was like to have to go into an office each day whether I felt in top form or not to how I react now when I’m not feeling my best, it seems like I’m ever so quick to take an aspirin and go back to bed, just because I can. Is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t I just make myself get up and go downstairs and fire up the laptop and get on with it?

Or am I remembering it all wrong?

One interesting facet of working from home is that you have an opportunity to really get to know your body’s rhythms. There are days I wake up and I feel ready to leap tall buildings. I approach my tasks with relish and I seem to get everything on my list done, and more. Then there are days when I can’t focus for five minutes on anything; my thoughts rush from one thing to another, and I start tasks only to quit and pick up something else that I also don’t finish. Then there are days when I just don’t feel well in my body. I’m tired, and things are sort of achy. I hate those days. I try to push through them, but I find that the quality of my work is lessened, and I make mistakes that I would never make on a good day. I’ve learned not to push too hard, and that looking like an idiot in front of a client isn’t worth losing an hour or so of my day to a nap.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m pretty sure I had these same sorts of days when I went into an office. I definitely remember days where I felt as busy as a bee but I didn’t seem to get anything accomplished; I just buzzed from one thing to another in rapid succession. I remember days of my brain being so foggy that I would look for things to do that didn’t require much thought, thereby minimizing the the chances of making an embarrassing mistake. I remember days of feeling ill, but since having a nap wasn’t an option, I’d just suffer through and be totally unproductive all day. At least now I can go lay down for an hour; often I come back feeling refreshed and am able to attack my to-do list with new energy.

So, maybe it’s not that I used to have some superpower that allowed me to push through the down days, maybe I’m just better at acknowledging them and reacting appropriately. Sure, there are lots of times when I have conference calls or deadlines that force me to keep engaged when I’d much rather watch TV or take a nap. But I’ve come to accept that my work day doesn’t just happen between 8 and 5; I can, and do, work very odd hours. In addition, when I’m done with my work for the day I’m done; I don’t have a boss who wanders around trying to catch me goofing off. I still sometimes have that mindset, that I’m required to sit at my desk for a certain number of hours, being available in an instant in the event somebody wants something from me. The wonderful truth is that I don’t have to do that. If my head hurts, I can take a pill and go lay down until it passes. If I can’t focus on a particular task, I can put it to the side and do something my reduced attention span will allow. If I’m on fire, I can work ten hours straight without a break. It’s up to me to choose how to respond to the context of each day as it happens – to go with the flow of the highs and the lows.

What a gift.
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photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

 

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Life, the Universe, and Everything

don't panic

Every year since I was fairly young, 10 or 11, my father has asked me the same question on my birthday:

“What have you learned this year?”

I look forward to this annual ritual, and I usually start thinking about it some days ahead of time. Well, today is my birthday, and my Dad reads my blog, so I’m going to go ahead and answer the question now (Dad, I look forward to discussing it with you later!).

This year I’ve learned some harsh truths:

  • Hard work isn’t always rewarded in the way you hope it will be;
  • Adults in professional situations will smile in your face and lie about you behind your back (yeah yeah I know, but it still surprises me);
  • I am vulnerable to feelings of powerlessness.

I’ve also learned some wonderful truths:

  • I’ve learned not to panic when things go wrong – the situation is rarely as bad as it seems at first;
  • I’ve learned how to embrace my disappointment and move on;
  • I’ve learned that gratitude is the best defense against despair;
  • I’ve learned that what I think is a mistake may actually be just a guidepost on the way to a better destination;
  • I’ve learned that I’d rather be happy than right;
  • I’ve learned that a simple act of kindness, shown to a complete stranger, is the greatest power in the universe.

I don’t have the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but I do know this: if you are lucky enough to have people in your life who you love and who love you, the best use of your time on this planet is to protect and nurture that love. By all means do your work, engage in thoughtful debate, support the arts, give to the needy, explore the sacred divine, take care of your body, but – even as you pursue these good things – never forget to love the people in your life.

And never underestimate the impact you have on other people whether you know them or not. It’s a responsibility we all have, to lead with compassion, to listen in order to understand, and not to add to the conflict and turmoil in the world. This is what I’ve learned. My hope is that I am able to live it every day.

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photo credit: Old Ben Kenobi via photopin cc
 

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The Courage to Change the Things I Can

degree

I’m looking at my master’s degree certificate. It hangs on the wall above my desk. Right after I graduated I spent a lot of money to have it matted and framed, and it has traveled with me everywhere I’ve worked in the 10 years and six months since it was presented to me. It is a source of pride for me, a physical reminder of something I’ve accomplished in my life. I see it every day, but it’s been a while since I really looked at it and thought about those three years.

Some of you know that I was working full time when I went to grad school. I had a very responsible job at a real estate investment company, but I had hit a wall in my career path. I decided to get my master’s so that I would have better opportunities to grow and make more money.

It was a tough three years, as you can imagine (and as I’m sure some of you have experienced). After I graduated people would ask me how I did it. My answer always was that after I started I never thought for a moment that I wouldn’t finish. It was just what I was doing, and I was going to do it until it was done, and that was that. And that, indeed, was that. It was that straightforward.

To be fair I had a lot of help – my husband was a total rock star, picking up several household duties I abandoned and constantly supporting me – but in the end it was up to me to decide if I was going to go to class or do the assignment or study for the test. I didn’t think about how hard it was or how tired I was or how much I was looking forward to not having to go to class anymore – I just did it.

It’s easier to achieve those clear-cut goals. There’s nothing ambiguous about getting a degree – you either do it or you don’t. I think what does require courage is when you’re pursuing a goal that isn’t as clear cut. The Serenity Prayer says that we need “courage to change the things we can.” People going through alcohol and drug addiction recovery use this prayer as a means to recognize those parts of their lives that are out of their control, but more importantly, those parts that are within their control. We drive ourselves crazy obsessing about things that are out of our control, and we often ignore those things that we can, in fact, change. I’m not sure how much wisdom is needed to determine the difference between them – it seems pretty clear to me. Just ask yourself “Can I actually do anything to change this whatever-it-is that I want to change? How would I do that?” If you can clearly see how to make the change happen then go for it. If not, let it go. It will eat you alive if you don’t.

Sometimes we need more wisdom to see those things that we can change rather than those we can’t. It’s easy to decide that what we want to change about our lives is out of our control and nothing we do will make a difference. Of course that is true sometimes, but there are also times when I may think something is impossible that might actually be achievable given enough determination and commitment. Some people think working full time and going to school is impossible; I’m living proof that that’s not the case. This is when you need courage, to attempt what in your mind you think is impossible, whatever it may be.

I’m struggling now with wanting to make some long-term changes in my lifestyle and feeling like it’s impossible. However, I’m starting to see what my lack of physical activity could mean for me in later years, and I do not want to end up not being able to get around when I’m older. I want to be able to travel freely for as long as I have breath in my body. So that means that some things have to change. I know it is within my control, and I know what I need to do. Now I just have to do it.

I don’t know why making these changes is so hard. I conquered graduate school, I quit smoking – surely I can do this, too. The thing is, I’ve tried – and failed – many times. I know have to keep trying until it sticks, until I stop thinking about how hard it is or how tired I am or how glad I’ll be when I’m done, because I’ll never be done. I won’t get a certificate to frame on my wall to commemorate my accomplishment. Knowing that there is no end in sight intimidates (and irritates) me. And scares me, for some reason I don’t understand. So I’m looking for the courage to change what I know I can change, the patience to enjoy the journey, and the wisdom to let go of the need for a clear ending. Wish me luck.

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Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

 

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