More Time at the Office

It is a common expression: Nobody on their death bed ever wished that they spent more time at the office. I woke up pondering that one morning last week, after a Christmas break spent deeply immersed in home life, kids, mess, and chickens. I want to tell you a secret. Sometimes, I wish that I had the chance to spend more time at the office. And I suspect that, if I were to make no changes in my life, I would end it with regrets, not about my family time, but about not ‘accomplishing’ more.

Is this a great heresy? When I was spending far too much time at the office (or in the car on the way to or from the office), I nodded sagely every time I heard the above aphorism. Of course. Workaholics relent. You have nothing to lose but your stress. Having lost my stress, however, I miss it, or at least some of the things that came with it. It’s not the money I miss the most (especially since, what with commuting and child care, I never made much of a profit by going to work). It’s not even the contact with other intellectual adults. It’s the sense of having accomplished something by the end of the week. When I have no deadlines, no externally defined projects, no classroom to take my curriculum to, and no clients to consult with, how do I ever know that something is done?

Near the end of my last crack at graduate school, I came to a difficult realization. I had never actually finished anything. I had only run out of time. Everything I had ever written could have done with another polish, one more re-write, or a major structural overhaul. I finished the last paper in the last course, and it was stellar. Should have gone to a journal. Contained original research on a subject of importance, and a strong literature review. But journals don’t have deadlines, nobody was waiting on it, and I wanted one more editing pass. That was 6 years ago and it’s still not finished.

For me, this is the barrier to writing, to becoming a writer. Without the benefit of deadlines, without an office with projects and externally mandated end dates, I struggle with releasing my words into the wild. When I sit down to write something that has been years in the making, I find myself sneaking over to the job ads, looking for a job that will provide external structure and push me to get something done by the end of the week. I know, though, that in that office, wherever it was, my work was made to somebody else’s specifications. I would answer questions to the best of my ability, but the questions were determined by priorities not my own. “How much of a threat are our competitors?” “How much will this software cost to build?” “How can we train everybody to use this package?”

It seems to me that what I need isn’t more time at the office. I left that world to connect, not just with my family, but with my self.  It is tempting to retreat, to seek out the office for clarity, if not for purpose. But the questions that keep me awake at night sound more like this: “How do we learn to live with one another?” “How can human beings be more gentle in the world and still achieve their full potential?” “What does it mean to know something?” “How can we live a good life that doesn’t cause suffering?” That particular office doesn’t exist, as far as I know.

What I need to learn is this: BICHOK: Bum in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. And a Post a Day sounds a lot like a deadline. That desk in the corner of the sun room IS the office I need to spend more time in, aphorisms be damned.  (2/362)

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5 thoughts on “More Time at the Office

  1. One thing I’ve taken away from my readings in software development methodologies is that, in any creative endeavour, you are creating for an audience (even if an audience of one). If the audience doesn’t have access to what you’ve done, you have not yet succeeded.

    In other words, it’s not done until the product’s shipped. No one gets the benefit while you keep it back to polish the polish.

    Sometimes, you just have to release it into the wild, so it can stop taking up room in the mental attic, and so it can start effecting whatever change it will make in the world.

    I am looking forward to the frequent shipping.

  2. I don’t imagine that I’ll ever regret not having spent more time at the office. But I certainly would regret not finishing up and sending out that stack of poems in my file cabinet. There is work that is worth doing. I wish that more of us were able to do it. I wish I were doing more of it myself.

  3. Pingback: On My Mind, 01.10.11

  4. In the office or not, creating goals, and (trying to!) stick to them will get the work done.
    I go to my office nearly every day – and it depends on my mindset in the morning (and maybe how much coffee I drink) whether I get something accomplished that day, and feel satisfied by the end of the week.
    When I’m home with my kids in the afternoon, I KNOW I’m accomplishing something… I can see it in their faces & hear it in their voices, whether I try or not or have a list or not. So, I try to make sure it’s a positive something. 🙂
    At work, and in the evenings when I have some time to write – thinking ahead & deciding what I’d like to accomplish – specifically – is helpful. I do this with a list sometimes, or sometimes just a note of one particular thing. The smaller & more detailed the list, the better.

    • Hrm. I’d *like* to think that list making would start working for me, but I’m more of the “Help! a list! Oh, no! I’m going to get an F!” kind of person.

      I do have written out goals, but I’m using the “stack of index cards to be selected from” approach instead. That way I don’t really see how much is left to accomplish. Or get done. Or cross off the list before things start to fall apart. I did get myself a new agenda in a fit of organizational hubris, though. I’ve managed to use it for 10 whole days, now! 🙂

      It’s nice to meet you over here. I was reading your Nine things blog post, and I nodded all the way through it.

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