I really love to work.
And I’m good at it.
I like when I get so excited about an idea that I forget to eat, drink or even look at the clock, fueled only by passion and the desire to create. Time flies, a lot gets accomplished and as a result – I feel good. Well, once I remember to re-hydrate.
At my workplace, I have an office with a door that I can close whenever I need to focus. When my phone rings, I can pick it up and I talk to the person on the other line uninterrupted. I can hammer out a flurry of email replies in no time.
I have this technique where I tackle the most daunting items on my list right away in the morning while I have the most energy and motivation.
When I need to think through a tough problem, I might go on a walk to gain some clarity. Or I’ll step into a coworkers office just to be able to bounce ideas off of someone and get a different perspective.
It’s amazing how creative and productive one can be under the right conditions, which are basically your average everyday workplace. Nothing fancy, the main feature being that it’s adults only.
Fast forward to my current working-from-home-with-a-two-year-old coronavirus quarantine life.
Those hours on end of focused workflow have been broken up into 5, 10 and 15-minute intervals whenever I can grab them. And I do mean whenever. The whole “nine to five” concept went out the door with every other semblance of normalcy.
The moment I take a phone call, a small human immediately starts acting out for my attention. It’s really obnoxious. Earlier today, I locked myself in the bathroom so that I could relay a quick message to a colleague. I emerged 60 seconds later to a toddler in tears.
Every ounce of productivity comes with a heaping side of guilt.
There’s no such thing as timing my energy levels to match the tasks I need to complete. Instead, the middle of the afternoon during nap time is my “power two hours” when I try to remember all the people I said I’d get back to and everything I told myself I’d complete just as soon as he goes down.
Of course, by this time, I’m exhausted from the morning’s tug-of-war and wanting to lay down for a nap myself (did I mention I’m super pregnant), or at the very least go out for a walk.
Those are not options.
All day I feel the pressure to be constantly “available” and “on”. For who? Whoever needs me in the moment, I guess. I have two bosses now.
By 9:00pm, my nerves are fried but the house is finally quiet and now is my chance. For self-care? That’s adorable. No. To get ahead on work for the next day. Or is it catching up from the previous day? I’m not sure.
And no amount of discipline, positive thinking, or “scheduling” will make this impossible situation any more possible. That’s not even fair to imply.
I’ve always proudly worn the badge of “working mom” but it was supposed to mean that I do both the working thing and the momming thing in the same day – not simultaneously all day long.
In the past few weeks, I’ve completed the process of mourning the momentum that had been going at work so far this year – things I’d achieved, that my team had achieved, projects set in motion, and plans made that all mean nothing now.
I am learning to release old expectations of what it means to have a productive day at work. These days I’m settling for doing one thing well, whatever is the most important thing. That simply has to be enough. Without having daycare to take the most demanding ball out of my hands for nine hours a day, I just don’t have the capacity to juggle what I used to in my “normal” life.
I am slowly accepting that things have changed and that means my markers for success need to change too. I’ve always relied on my worker-bee tendencies to largely define who I am, but suddenly that’s not working so well anymore (no pun intended).
I’m beginning to understand that my greatest source of frustration isn’t going to be when my son asks for yet another “snack” or refuses me 30 seconds of precious alone time to go to the bathroom, but rather it will be trying to hold myself to the same expectations that I did back in January.
Try telling a toddler that you need him to play independently for an hour while you get some work done.
Try telling your body that even though your entire lifestyle has changed, it is not allowed to change.
Try telling your mind that despite all of the unease and insanity; it must be calm, centered and present at all times.
It won’t work – and it’s not because you’re doing it wrong. It’s because nothing about any of this is normal or remotely easy.
But it won’t be like this forever.
I’m an optimist and I truly think something amazing can come out of this season. That is, if we learn to stop holding ourselves to standards that are so two months ago. No good can come from allowing yourself to feel like a failure at the end of each day.
When I look back on this messy time, I want to say that I used it to rise above the misheld belief that my worth is tied to how productive I can be. Honestly, I didn’t even realize how much I relied on work as a coping mechanism until this pandemic showed me how lost I feel when I’m not able to engage in it as often as I’d like.
That will be success and the best project I could possibly work on. I feel like I’ve gotten a good start.
(But just in case you’re still a little achievement driven, here’s a badge for you to wear with pride!)