Thursday, July 16, 2009

Afraid to Forget

I've been at my job almost 3 months now and today I passed a significant milestone: calling in sick for the first time. Of course I'm not actually sick. That's what makes today so great. I didn't plan this. I woke up this Monday morning and got going as usual. It wasn't until I was in the shower that the thought occurred to me that I really didn't want to go today. I am such a rule follower that the internal debate over whether to call in sick to work is usually enough to ruin the joy of a sick day for me. I continued going through all the normal motions of getting ready for work, but once that little voice pops up in my head it's hard to silence it. I started picturing my day off doing all of the boring everyday things that I can't do while I'm at work, like reading and eating junk.

Now, unlike my old job, this idea was cause for a serious discussion with Chris. My last job had the very advantageous benefit of unlimited time off, within reason. As long as your manager approved it, you were free to go and no one monitored how many days or hours you took off. Consequently, I had never really considered how many days off I took in an average year. I always felt like I was responsible and even wondered if the open time away policy worked like reverse psychology and actually made me take less time off. When you can take the time whenever you want, it's easy to just not take any time unless you actually need it (a novel concept, I know…). So when the offer came in for my current job, it wasn't the longer hours or the 25% pay cut that bothered me. No, it was the limits on my time off that had me in tears over whether to accept. The offer was very standard: two weeks off for vacation and 6 personal days a year for sick time or appointments or in my opinion, a vacation day here and there toward the end of the year. But suddenly I felt suffocated, like my cubicle was closing in on me. When I actually did the math, I realized that this would probably be plenty of time to cover my normal time off plans in a year. But it was the rule that scared me. The written-in-stone boundaries.

So this morning as my heart sped at the idea of having a day at home to myself and my palms got sweaty at the idea of having to make the fake sick phone call to my boss, I asked Chris for his opinion. After all, now these kinds of decisions affect him since one sick day now means one less day I could take off for a long weekend with him later. Unfortunately, Chris actually was feeling sick this morning which made me feel even guiltier for considering calling in for a day of luxury when he had to drag himself to work truly feeling under the weather. Luckily, I have a very understanding and indulgent husband. After making my case that I needed a mental health day and I had been working very hard and there were lots of things I could take care of around the house, all of which Chris agreed with, I finally convinced myself to make the call.

Ten minutes later, after pacing around the room, working up a sweat, rehearsing my speech and sick voice out loud, and making the call, I was free. The whole day stretched out in front of me. The opportunities were endless. I normally feel euphoria at this point from the unusual sense of having a whole weekday outside of someone else's rule, but this time felt different. I realized that I fell easily back into the pattern that I had when I was home between jobs. I spent the morning reading and taking breaks to work on things around the house. I gave the dog some much appreciated attention. Everything just felt right and normal. And I was alone with my thoughts.

Somewhere around lunchtime, a strong sense of nostalgia hit. It's been a little less than three months that I've been back at work, and I'm disappointed to admit how quickly I'm drifting away from my mission of finding my path. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the weeks that I was home between jobs were the happiest of my life. It's not that I don't want to work. Yes, someday when Chris and I have kids I hope to be able to stay home. But right now it's just us, and I realize I can't be a stay at home wife. When I was out of work, I spent my days thinking of ways to reinvent my career. To be able to work from home and be my own boss and do something that I really love. I was inspired to make a change. And then before I knew it I took the practical route and was back at a desk job so fast it made my head spin. I promised myself that it was temporary and that this was just a bridge to have some income while I continued to pursue my yet undetermined dream.

This is where the disappointment comes in. As strongly motivated as I felt when I went back to work, I've lost my momentum. It's amazing how a generic desk job can suck the life and inspiration right out of you even when you make a conscious effort not to let it. As I sit here this afternoon with my cup of coffee, my happy dog, and my laptop I realize that the day off was meant to be. I'm glad that I got a reminder so early on of where I really want to be and what I really want to do. It's time to refocus. Hopefully this wakeup call will save me from selling my career life to the highest bidder for another five years.

Fortunately, while I was out of work I did have an epiphany about my dream. It took twelve weeks of deep introspection. I've always known that I love to read but while I was home, I read countless books. I found that I could read for eight hours a day and not get tired of it. One day it hit me that if I love reading so much, maybe I would also love writing. I had enjoyed it in elementary school and been enrolled in the gifted creative writing class. I enjoyed my English classes in middle school and high school. As a business major in college, I took a four year hiatus from writing and have never really picked it up since. But it seems logical to try to spend your adult life doing something that you enjoyed so much as a child, when your ideas and preferences weren't shaped as much by what would pay the most money or bring the most recognition. I've always felt that I wanted to do something that had more of an impact and inspired people to improve their lives. What better way to make a go at that than through writing?

So the best part of my sick day wasn't the peace and quiet or the junk food or the freedom to sit on the couch all day. It was the kick in the rear to get back on track. To not let my current job stand in the way of my future goals. I can go back to work tomorrow with a renewed sense of purpose and a calm mind. Oh and (thanks to the sick day) a cleaner house, which never hurts.

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