#87: Re-Booting Human
Last February, one of my close friends commented that I hadn’t been the same person I used to be for the previous 6-9 months as work took over my life. I knew he had my best interest in mind, but I didn’t understand what he meant. I thanked him for the feedback and chose to ignore the warning. Fast forward another 9 months to now, and I see what he meant. I’ve had the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on myself in the last few weeks – Something I haven’t truly made time to do since conversation in February. I mentioned in my last post that my former boyfriend never met the best version of me, because I hadn’t been the best version of myself outside of work for months before we met. Relationships aside, let me explain the problem and my solution.
The Merriam Webster dictionary definition of opportunity is 1) “A favorable juncture of circumstances” and 2) “a good chance for advancement or progress.” No matter which definition you agree with, the point is the same: A specific opportunity is not an everyday occurrence, but it affords a chance to make substantial progress towards a goal that may not otherwise be possible.
When I’m particularly frustrated in my role, I remind myself that I went out of my way to create this opportunity, and that I had some idea of what I was willingly signing up for. I have no regrets. Not only did I go out of my way to challenge myself, but someone was willing to take a chance on me: a financial analyst with less than a year of work experience and no financial background. Once I joined the team and we experienced high turnover, I landed on yet another set of opportunities. (In his defense, he interviewed me and every single supervisor that I worked with first.)
As we experienced team attrition within the first month of joining the team, I inherited a lemon farm. For the next year, I made lemonade, lemon squares, and lemon cream pie. Each of these opportunities has been a childhood dream coming true years ahead of what I could ever imagine. I don’t think I’d believe myself if I went back in time to tell the younger version of me what I’ve accomplished so far in my career. Back to my analogy - If there were an abundance of lemons, or especially lemon farms, no one would want them to begin with, so they wouldn’t be special. I’d be a complete idiot to pass up the opportunities that I’ve been given so far in my career. I did what I had to do, and am grateful that I have the chance to do it. It’s a good thing that I didn’t understand the constructive criticism back in February, because the lemon farm was still exponentially expanding. I think I failed to realize it out of necessity.
I have no regrets, and I’m confident that I’ve made the right decisions, regardless of the situation today. However, I recognize that the series of decisions to cultivate the lemon farm had an opportunity cost, although the opportunity cost felt cheap at the time. At first, I gave up plans with friends on weekdays in favor of getting my work done and going to the gym. Over time, many of my friends in Seattle moved away. Rather than going out of my way to meet new people or strengthen newer connections, I filled my time with my increasing scope. The more I invested into work instead of friendships or hobbies, the more natural it became to continue working. In the absence of distraction, I pushed even harder and retreated further. Honestly, I’ve always dreaded weekends because it meant that it was less socially acceptable to work. Why would I invest time into a hobby when I could invest in the career growth that I’ve always wanted instead?
These efforts lead to success, which provided more opportunity and re-enforced this pattern. That is, until recently when people around me became increasingly worried about my future as a human. Some people went as far as to comment on my lack of friends, hobbies, and life outside of work as if my only redeeming quality as a person was my career potential.
As human beings, each of us has the same 24 hours in a day, but we differ in the how we choose to spend it. In order to have the career that I want, I understand that I won’t have as much time to dedicate to a social life. Although the comments offended me at first, I’m more surprised by this reality coming true than disappointed in the decisions I’ve made. Many of my close friends moved to new cities over the last year anyway, and until recently I didn’t go out of my way to meet new people or strengthen existing connections. However, I’ve always had a group of close friends in Seattle that I look forward to spending time with. My friends who don’t live nearby know that I will drop anything to spend time with them when we’re in the same city, and I look forward to our next trip. Regardless of location, I’m incredibly appreciative of my friends. We each have careers and competing priorities, so it says a lot that we make time to keep in touch. I’m using this as a way to tell my friends how much I appreciate them no matter what anyone says otherwise. In terms of hobbies, I’d call the 2-3 hours I spend at the gym a hobby. I’ve always known that one day, my time will be split between work and family, with potentially little time left for other activities. Since I don’t have a family yet, I’m making it a goal to spend more time with friends until then.
Although I’ve failed to execute for quite some time, I’ve always believed in focusing hard for a shorter amount of time in order to make time for the gym, friends, yourself etc. Balance. This is the advice that I often give. I lost sight of this as hours expanded and I kept telling myself it was temporary. I didn’t consider that I should find energy to maintain balance so that I could enjoy life outside of work and manage the stress. These days, I’m prioritizing strengthening connections and finding enjoyment outside of work.
As I re-arrange the pieces of my life, I’m figuring out the version of myself that I want to be. I feel like a human for the first time in nearly a year, outside of when I’ve traveled. I’m prioritizing new and old friendships, and dedicating spare energy to discover hobbies that I genuinely enjoy. I’m reminded of the adrenaline rush from walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces and learning about a new set of perspectives. (I called it being a social thermophile in high school, although I recognize how that sounds.) I’m enjoying the ‘dilemma’ of deciding between reading a book or working on an acrylic painting. I’m grateful to have a reason to send a text to a friend during the workday to confirm plans after work.
However, balance is far more difficult to me than working. I don’t know when I’ve done enough for the day, or even when I haven’t done enough. I enjoy having lunch with friends most days, but I find it harder to focus in the morning knowing I have plans from 12-1, especially if I have meetings directly before or after. I question the purpose of work the same way I’ve questioned the purpose of creative hobbies for years. I feel guilty for declining plans on a Friday night because I’d prefer to have a night to myself. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with myself, and I don’t know how to let go of the idea that I’m supposed to be doing one thing or another at a given time. I know that this is a learning curve and that I’ll develop new routines, but I’m getting impatient. Ultimately, my goal is to work 15% less hours, spend 10% more time with friends, have 5% more time for myself, and improve productivity by 7-10% by reducing brain-fog because I’m a happier person. I thought I had it figured out a week ago when I made plans every day this week, but now I’m 80% lost. Any tips on how to stop holding my breath and let go?