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)