Thursday, August 21, 2014

Confessions of a Generalist, the 40 hour work week

True confessions time: I have spent most of my life avoiding the 40 hour work week, and the fields of work that go along with it.

Yep, that's me. I began working at the age of 14. I liked work then, I still do now. I'm not what you would call an idle person, and in fact don't find it easy to sit still, unless I'm engaged in reading, or sewing, or working at my desk. Busy somehow, sitting for the sake of not doing is not my strong suit. Meditation? Well, I'm working on that, but I love a good walking meditation :-). 

I have never wanted to work 40 or more hours a week at the same place. I have a times in my life put in more than 40 hours a week between several jobs, and during the odd week, at the same job out of necessity, and been fine with that for periods of time.

In general, I have sought to work fewer hours for more money. I prefer to work harder/smarter/faster and be rewarded for this by more free time and a better hourly wage. In my younger days, while living in a big city, this worked well for me and provided me with a lot of freedom in terms of schedule.

Now, due to necessity, I find myself in the position that I have,with the exception of a few brief stints, managed to avoid for over 20 years.  I have children to feed and cloth and be home for in the evenings at least, a husband struggling with health issues, a mortgage and other expenses to pay, and I have planted myself in a small economy with fewer options. So I am currently immersed in the dreaded 40 hour work week. 

I've been doing this for a few months now (okay, maybe 6 weeks, and there was a holiday in there, but it feels longer) and I have some observations. 

It's not all bad. There are some benefits to being in the same place doing the same things for that much time.

1) For example, I rarely feel pressed for time  at work, or a sense of urgency in getting things done. There's usually enough time in the day/week to get what needs to be accomplished without feeling rushed, at least in my current position. I'm well treated and respected, and the work load is reasonable. I'm more relaxed at work. And less focused.

2) I'm getting better and more organized at what I do, now that I'm putting in more hours. I've always believed that to be true. That which I focus on most I improve most. As I spend more and more hours there, I'm often struck with ideas of how to streamline what I do, and become both more focused and productive. I've put some of these into place and they work. My sense of competency is increasing.

There are probably more good things about this, but that's what I'm coming up with now. 

On the downside....

1) I feel more rushed at home. Between working and commuting I'm now away from home at least 9 hours a day. There never seems to be time to get the house clean, the laundry put away, make a nicer meal, or just put my feet up and sit (didn't I just say I don't like that?), or play with the kids. Evenings during the week feel like a rush to feed everyone and get them to bed and I now both understand a) the attraction of convenience foods (but still, gross!), and b) the desire to be home even less, because it's so overwhelming, all that needs to be done and so little time to do it.

2) I have small children, and I feel less connected to home, and to them and their lives when I work this much. I used to think I wanted to be a full time at home mom. Once I began working part time, when Helena was about 3, I realized that this was perfect for me. I got to exercise my brain, interact with adults, and remember the me that was me before I had children. And I got to be there for pretty much everything I wanted to be there for, feel deeply connected to her every day, and really engage her without feeling like we were always rushing on to the next thing. 

Case in point, the other day Lucy was injured while I was cooking dinner. It was minor, and I picked her up and soothed her for a few moments and then she was on her way, back to whatever she had been doing. But I was struck with the fact that that sort of thing happens often throughout the day, and I am not there for it. I'm grateful to the wonderful people who care for her when I am away, we are blessed in that regard. And I'm not sure that she suffers for the lack of me being the one to do it. But I miss this keenly. And Helena, who is a social butterfly and happy to play with other kids most of the time often says she misses me these days. Sigh.

So while I don't think I would like to go back to being a full time, at home mom, I never had the illusion that I wanted to be a full time working mom. I respect those who do it and love it, but, wow, not me. 

When the girls are grown and really don't need me a lot, I might fit better in that setting, but actually, I doubt it, because....

I am, at heart, and introvert and a homebody. I like to go, and do, and interact with the world, and I also love to be in my home, my garden, my space, my place. It's not quite the sanctuary I want it to be yet,  but it's getting there. But not very fast now, because I spend so little time here these days.

And I am a generalist. I'm doing a lot one thing, and little or none of many other things that I love and miss and have little time or energy for.

I don't have a magic solution to all of this. Much has been written of late on the 40 hour work week and if you Google it, you'll find many articles on the subject. Necessity is what it is, and all things have their cycle and purpose. Hindsight will likely reveal gifts of this situation that are harder to see when I'm immersed in it. 

Are you generalist working a 40 or more hour week? What do you do to help you thrive?

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