At Work and the dilemmas of personal time

MedicineLake What was so important this past year that I couldn’t manage to write a single blog post?  Well, last year around the time I posted I was unemployed and desperately getting low on funds.  I was unemployed for only about 2 or 3 months and I realize in the grand scheme of things I’m very lucky that it was such a short run.  In that short time, I started to feel really emotionally unstable.  I’d sleep in late, take a couple naps in the afternoon and in between sit in front of the computer hitting the refresh button on craigslist and applying to anything that wasn’t customer service related.  I’ve done enough of that and I would rather be unemployed and destitute than go back to it.

I wasn’t getting very far and a couple of my friends were using Taskrabbit to pick up odd jobs.  Taskrabbit is a website that allows anyone to post a project they need help with and anyone who has gone through the vetting process can bid on the task they want.  This is how it worked back then at least.   The task could be anything, from one day painting an office and walking a dog to part time help packing boxes for a small startup.

I hesitated at first because after you created a profile of your general skills and interests, you had to submit an automated video interview during which you have a certain amount of time to answer a couple generic questions.  Basically, Taskrabbit wants to make sure you’re not crazy.

But eventually, I got desperate enough to go through the video interview and complete my profile.  The first week I bid on tasks, I refused to go lower than $15/hr.  Many of the tasks were located in San Francisco and I knew I needed the commute to be worth it.  I was denied and I was afraid I was going to have to undersell myself.  Then I got lucky. A small startup in San Francisco needed someone a few days a week in the afternoons to come in and help pack and ship their products.  Seemed easy enough and it was more than a regular task, it had potential to be a part time job.When I got there, it was immediately a full time job.  They needed a lot of help.  They were growing and within two weeks or so, I was hired on as a full time employee with the company, a cushy salary and benefits were immediate.

Just as I had started the Taskrabbit task, I also happened to have an interview at Leslie Ceramics Supply in Berkeley as a Saturday customer service associate.  It clearly wasn’t going to pay very much and was only one day a week but the benefits of being immersed in such a reputable company would be invaluable to my own ceramic practice which had been completely on hold since leaving Vermont.  The business is locally loved and run by a small crew and they are on the cutting edge.  I would’ve known everything there was to know about ceramics by being there.

I passed it up.  I needed a steady job with steady income.  Sometimes I would be needed at the startup on the weekends but besides that, working 6 days a week is not a long term solution for my mental stability.  I knew I would burn out if I tried.

Over a year later,  the startup has blown up and we’ve already moved the warehouse twice.  I’m not just packing boxes all day and going home.  Now I’m charged with managing the crew that packs all day and it’s a lot more brain power than I’d like to put into a job.  I can’t just go home and turn it off.  I’m good at managing but I hate it.  I haven’t found time to develop myself, my ceramic practice, and obviously my writing.  And it’s catching up with me.

I love being financially stable.  I make enough where I could potentially pay off the rest of my college loans and my car payment in the next 6 months.  I’ve been able to start slowly building a ceramic practice, starting with a generous gift from my manager and coworkers when I first started as a Taskrabbit that allowed me to buy a pottery wheel.  They have been good to me.

But I struggle now with the added responsibilities that have come to me over the past year.  We are supposed to want to climb the company ladder, to make more money, to build a 401k, to have more input and responsibility and if nothing else, to build a resume.  Working over 50 hours a week doesn’t give me much time to focus on the things I really want.  And when I’m finally out of work, my mind is still reeling from the day’s meetings or the next day’s meetings to come.  Sure I live a full life; I go to the gym 2 to 3 times a week, go fishing every weekend and have even managed a couple weekends of camping.  But overall, I don’t want to do this with my life.  I do want to work for something important.  And as good as this company has been to me financially, they lack a mission statement that I truly can get behind.

I’ve been in Oakland for almost three years and I’m getting the wanderlust again.  Curiosity is the heart of my being fortunately and unfortunately.  I want to experience a lot more than I am.

Maybe the answer seems simple.  Stay at this job another 6 months or even a year, whenever I’m able to pay off my loans and save enough money to feel comfortable for awhile.  Then float off into the world, maybe travel, or take some classes etc.  And then find another job eventually that suits me better.

The catch is I will never make this much money again.  I’ve learned a lot about startups and the most distinguishing trait seems to be when you are venture backed you can pay your employees a seriously livable wage, at least the earliest employees.  When I decide to find a new job,  I will be lucky if I get paid half as much and enjoy half the flexibility.  It is a wonderful feeling to not have to clock in or feel like you’re under someone’s thumb all day.

Gone Fishing web The other catch?  A year is a long time to be consumed completely by something you dislike.  Some weekends are better than others but much of the time I spend two full days just trying to get work out of my head and my projects, now labeled as “hobbies,”  that are important to me feel overwhelming and I get very little accomplished on them.  Something has to change.  I keep picking at my projects but I have to acknowledge that life is very unbalanced right now.  And I’m “supposed” to be happy about that.  I have a great job that pays me a lot.  What more could I ask for?  Asking for more makes me selfish and unappreciative.

That’s obviously not true.  We are more than our jobs.  Unless we have a job that we want to be consumed by, we need to be able to nurture the other parts of ourselves.  In my case, those other parts often become more important than a job.  I don’t want my “hobbies” to be the parts of me that mean something and the majority of my time goes to something that doesn’t.  I don’t care what we as a society consider normal; this structuring of our lives isn’t healthy.

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2 thoughts on “At Work and the dilemmas of personal time

  1. I agree with you on this blog. Having a full pocket of cash and a full time job is not everyone’s fulfillment in life, including mine. Wanting to pursue something away from the crazy, non – stop nuttiness of the norm is not being selfish. That sounds completely sane and secure of yourself and in tune with reaching happiness. Everyone else are the nutty ones!

  2. I totally get what your saying, did it my whole life. Now at 62 don’t know if I will have time to do everything I wanted to do . hmmmmm is a hard decision , need to eat too 🙂

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