“Excuse me, …I believe you have my stapler…..”
If you recall the ‘red stapler’ guy in the movie Office Space–the employee who was repeatedly demoted to a poorer and poorer workspace, from cubicle, to shared space, and eventually to a basement storage closet–then you’ll recognize my life.
I was once a leader of my own small business, in charge of everything–at least in my own little world–from business decisions, to creative decisions, to employee and contractor decisions, to nanny decisions, to housekeeper and gardner and everything else-er-for-me decisions. If there was a totem pole of control, choice, and leverage, while the IRS and the Electric Company were above me, I was pretty high up there on the chain of command…in my own little life.
Fast forward to today. I need not concoct any metaphors for the drastic difference in my life today; the small second-hand desk at which I’m now parked serves as the ultimate illustrative metaphor. Over the past several years I had handled the change of giving up my own large dedicated office with a spare room for storage and collaboration space in exchange for an office that had once been a walk-in closet… as a result of a relocation to Florida in support of my dear husband’s career. (Wink! Smile! Grin! …Growl. Grimace. …Acquiesce. Accept. …Enjoy!) <–YES – we do need emoticons for all those phases of acceptance.
But my greatest demotion has been in the recent weeks. The position I hold today is at a desk tucked up against my bedroom window. That’s it. No office. Barely any storage, and a tiny printer. (Feng Shui enthusiasts will remind me it is BAD to work from one’s bedroom. I know. Like totally. I know! ) My once-extant productivity fortress is now nothing but a convertible, collapsible, pack-up-able, and utterly rootless little spot within a bedroom that gets overtaken hour by hour by things that fly in the face of would-be productivity. Children zoom in saying words about things that require me to say words back to them, thus breaking my concentration; cleaning ladies encroach, tossing bedsheets on my head. (Yes, I sit there at my desk throughout house cleanings, clinging, in denial, to the assertion that ‘this is my time; I can be productive despite the vacuum cleaner screeching right beside me.’) Imagine the workplace wherein the naked, the dripping wet, the injured, the homework-weary, and the boxer-clad march in and interrupt the CEO hourly.
Best practice says “Be your own Chief Executive.” Yet at the moment I’ve taken a job in the mailroom of my life. These next few years could very well be the requiem mass for my personal goals.
So, why is this happening? Well, some say you can have it all. And you can…and you can also die at 50, or be in a constant state of controlled anxiety, anger and frustration. You can be two people both constantly bartering over who will draw water from each of their wells, both wells empty and overdrawn. You can be penny wise about your income and pound foolish about your life.
As an alternative, you can white flag some of your ambitions and flow like a river that doesn’t get hurt when it rolls over rocky beds or surprise curves it its path. You can not immediately buy the boat, but instead pay down your house, and you can not buy the crazy fun third car or recreational motorcycle and instead pay off every bit of debt you can.
And then you suddenly have so much give and take that nothing feels like it’s going to break. And if plans B, C and D came to be, they’d look a lot like plan A.
Somehow my husband and I have found the right ebb and flow of achieving vs. living. We’ve been through some of the worst dual-professional family challenges. I was once due to arrive home from a trip to Paris at 7:00pm, whilst my husband had taken a 9:00am flight to California that morning, and our nanny at the time had a commitment with an absolute hard stop at 9:00pm, and my mother was in Peru, and so on. Had my flight been delayed, my nanny might have been forced to hand my children over to the police as a case of child abandonment. That’s a breakable arrangement. Living on such tight strings, for some, may not be living.
I knew on that day we had too much energy stretching in too many directions. Even when all the childcare and household tasks were delegated and hired out and organized, I knew my kids needed someone there for those rare moments when their mouths open and out would pour their most important thoughts, questions, ideas, curiosities and frustrations. Nannies and extended family can help, but as a parent, you want to be the right mirror to them, and the softest landing for their day.
So I’m handling my personal goals in a flexible way, doing little spurts of rewarding activities without making any commitments that would force me to choose between having important business conversations vs. important family conversations.
There’s a time for everything and perhaps I’ll go back to playing hard at something in the future. (I recognize that I’ve recently re-organized socks one too many times). But for right now, our family org chart is structured to keep us flowing smoothly down a wonderful, fun, exciting and flexible river. Nothing broke when my young son was recently sick for three days, I just cuddled up next to him in bed and kept him happy. Nothing broke when my older son had urgent needs for school attire purchases (his feet are men’s size 15–the child is molting–so shoes that fit yesterday can suddenly be binding tools of torture the next; shoe purchases are urgent!)…when my son needed shoes and other items, I single-tasked, driving directly to buy them and then directly to drop them at his boarding house so they’d be there right when he returned from classes.
So, I’ve given up some leverage in my life, but I’ve got my metaphorical red staplers with me: my laptop, a few nice fountain pens, and a red leather-bound binder. And my absolute favorite three miracles–Steve, Graham and Luke–are safe and nearby. And, as the default organizer, caretaker, communicator and picture-downloader for this motley crew, I’m using some of my spare time to share our impressions of a new life abroad, the latest oxbow along our family’s long river journey.
Read about the kids in: Our first days abroad: WE. ARE. …the griswolds. 😉
Or browse the picture gallery.