Posts Tagged ‘Work-Life balance’

The problem with your work ethic

April 16th, 2009    -    7 Comments

I’m going to share this with you because, well, she said it.

Dad, what do you do when you are at work and you are done with your work?

I keep working.

No, I said when you are done with your work.

I’m never done with my work.

Pooh! That’s no fun.

Notes on congeniality

September 4th, 2008    -    14 Comments


When I was a senior in college – serious, smart and ambitious– a professor asked if I wanted to grade papers for hourly pay. I accepted, not just because I needed the money, $2.50 an hour, but because I needed a mentor. Now this was not a good or well-liked professor. He was tenured, but he had stopped actually teaching his students decades before. In each class lecture, he droned disinterestedly from a yellowed sheet of notes he took from a dusty three-ring binder, the pages as aged as his skin, as discolored as his teeth.

He never looked up and he knew none of our names. But he sought me out, and I traded on his attention.

I did his work and I took his wage and I felt lucky about it. When I graduated, he arranged a series of job interviews for me with the executives who were at the top of my profession in the city where I would live. I had agreed to his proposal because he had that kind of power, and in leveraging it, I landed my first real job.

Later on I came to realize that he had probably not chosen me for this gratuity because I was serious, smart and ambitious – what I perceived to be my obvious qualifications – but more likely because of other attributes. I was no pageant winner, but I could contend with the best, and I was congenial.

Young women are often granted the gifts of old men’s power. We are given the opportunity to do their work and do it cheaply. We do it well; we are recognized and applauded. We might be invited into the club room, on occasion, where mostly other men chat amiably about the mission, and the team, and the objective, and the strategy for whatever consumer, capitalist or culture battle they are plotting at the time. We might view this admittance as our achievement and reward for being serious, smart and ambitious. But it is not, no, not hardly. We are invited in because we are young women, and we have the charms of a certain kind of young woman. We do the dirty work well, and hot-damn, we are congenial.

That is, until.

And it’s what happens after that makes all the difference.

Small town fourth

July 4th, 2008    -    7 Comments

Because what’s the 4th without a small town? Happy independence, friends.




The doormat of your life

May 22nd, 2008    -    24 Comments


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

Cutting the cord

May 5th, 2008    -    6 Comments


My husband came back crestfallen.

I had saved the flyer for weeks in hopes that the planets would somehow align between opportunity and initiative. It was Free E-Waste Recycling day in our town, and they would take everything. They would take everything electronic taking up space in closets, occupying that place in our heads called “Maybe Someday.” As in maybe someday we’ll find a use for this again. It is the nature of this stuff that it cannot be useful, at least not in the same way, again. It is by design that it is obsolete and incompatible. It is the global economic model.

They took the massively elegant G4 processing tower which was the size of a small child.

They took my old laptop which was really OK except it wouldn’t power the new programs.

They took our first-generation digital camera which always amazed people when we said what we’d paid for it.

They took a colossal monitor, the kind that required its own furniture and corner of the room.

They took keyboards made sticky with dust and crumbs and a wee splash of Pinot Grigio on a late night or two.

They took a tangle of mysterious cords and mateless remotes.

They took everything.

And for a guy who has staked it all on technological prowess, they took a slice of his religion.

“You should have seen the pile of TVs and video consoles and cameras and plasma screens,” he muttered post-traumatically when he came back. “We probably paid $15,000 for the stuff we gave.”

It goes back to the business of worth, and how it isn’t ever what we think it is. There is that saying we all repeat and even believe – you get what you pay for – but it’s not entirely true, is it? In the end, and always sooner than you expect, you give what you pay for. And that shift in view can really change how you live, what you work for, and what you cherish.

The closets are clearer today. I’m going out to pull weeds.

Weed by weed

March 15th, 2008    -    14 Comments


I wrote this post yesterday and I was holding onto it for later, but holding on is not at all the spirit of this post, or the teaching of the weed.

I used to know a deeply intuitive and provocative woman, a woman of many arts and aptitudes, who said she was going to write a book called Start What You Finish (as opposed to that book we’ve all had recited to us a billion times, Finish What You Start). I well understood her point. Before we even start something we are already mentally rounding the curve toward the steep and sticky part, the complex, exhausting, immeasurable length of it, the part we can’t imagine doing, and we stop before we’ve begun. How to keep from doing that would make a great topic for a book.

We lost touch with one another, but as far as I know, this was one project she never got started.

This morning I sat down to work on the kind of work I get paid to write. Honest, I don’t get paid much or at all to write this other stuff. So I’m looking at my options on this wide-open morning: to crack into the research brief entitled “Competing on Analytics,” or the “Encyclopedia of Statistics in Quality and Reliability.” (I’m not making this up.) Or maybe I’ll just scroll one more time through my primary source, the white paper I already wrote once, “Making Performance Measurement Work.” I need to pull together an outline and key messages to ghostwrite an industry article on “Operational Dashboards.”

I give up. It’s not happening today.

Today, I’ll weed.


We used to enjoy having a carpet of green weedy ground cover across our rolling backyard garden. I say enjoy but I really mean accept because what, in the end, is more enjoyable than simple acceptance? Our vista looked neat and green, but the ground was mostly weeds. Then when our nervy neighbor began hoisting his two-story addition overlooking our home and garden last year, we raided the retirement fund to landscape the whole schmeer with towering bamboo and darling little mounds of grass called “dwarf mondo.” Isn’t that the cutest name? Dwarf mondo, i.e. little big. Because it’s a little thing that can cover a big space.

We replaced all the topsoil with rich, fragrant dirt and planted precious little plugs of mondo across the roaming whole of it so that now I still have a green grassy ground cover but I do not enjoy it nearly as much. No, I have replaced that sense of carefree disregard with the drive and agitation I imagine a surgeon feels as he surveys his upcoming schedule of life-and-death procedures. Now, I am a backyard neurosurgeon, prying sprigs of weeds from between the delicate roots of my baby mondo, my vast and miniature world, my little big.

When I look up across the endless stretch of the job before me, I surely want to quit.


But if I manage to regain my focus on what’s at hand I realize it’s just one weed. There’s always just one weed to do next. I do it weed by weed, and the weeds always show me how.

I’ve come to believe that every impasse, obstacle and impossibility is just that: one weed, saying, “Pull here.”

I don’t ever finish. But I always start. Weeding is something you start but you’re a fool if you think a gardener is ever finished, if you think a garden ever stays put.

Today I’ll weed. And when I return to the job I’ve set aside, it will start in an altogether different place, a different space, with different openings and perhaps, greater ease. Everything moves through this one place in time, the infinite and unimaginable totality of existence moves through this one moment of motion: the tug, as I dislodge a weed from the earth. When I do that, I dislodge it all.

Starting anything is starting everything. The finish, if you want to call it that, takes care of itself.


In homage to a certain treatise on birds.

Illustrated guide to life planning

February 18th, 2008    -    8 Comments

Sometimes, what to do next becomes quite clear.


Editorial note: Keep a goldfish alive for three years and you might one day find yourself in this position.

Turning words

February 12th, 2008    -    5 Comments


In 2003 – March 16, 2003 to be exact, because I still have the paper– I drew a Wheel of Life as I described in yesterday’s post. My daughter was then two and a half years old. Under my “Career” aspect I wrote “Power of Pen.” I can recall being uncertain and inhibited about my ambition, but I was asking for something invigorating to come from my writing. I drew a quick sketch of an open book with little squiggly lines and a pen on top. The next day, a former PR client called me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book with a man whose last name happened to be Power.

I had never written a book. I had written many things – articles, papers, brochures, websites, speeches, business plans – but I had never written anything published in my own name so that I could credibly call myself an author. Awed by the coincidence, I said yes to the invitation. Over the next weeks and months, I met and spoke to a series of people involved in the project so they could assess my ability. It was a very long shot, but each presentation was the opportunity for me to believe my own b-s about myself. In the end, not surprisingly, we didn’t do a book together. But by the end, I knew that there was a book to be done by myself. The little power trip was to empower myself.

This is the kind of thing that comes out of the wheel. Not always so immediately, so glaringly, but in its own time and fashion. Everything, you see, turns on the wheel. Just this weekend as I was fomenting this topic, it came to me how psychically and spiritually powerful the circle is. Familiar with the enneagram? Fascinating. The Celtic wheel? The labyrinth? The bagua? A mandala? We all know the wheel of the zodiac. How about the dharma wheel? And then there’s that little cheerio close to my heart, the enso. The list goes on and on, and it isn’t a list, but a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s your life in motion.

I would write more but I’m already inspired to move beyond. And you are too.

The pi of life

February 11th, 2008    -    9 Comments


1. Take a pencil and draw a large circle on a blank sheet of paper. I usually turn one of my salad plates upside down and trace the outer rim to get a circle true and wide.

2. Eyeball the center of the circle and make a dot there. Don’t trouble yourself to get the exact center.

3. Use a ruler or straightedge to divide the circle into halves, then quarters, then eighths. Don’t worry about the equidistance of the lines.

4. Now you have a pie with eight roughly equivalent wedges. Don’t quibble about how equal they are.

5. Quick, without thinking, label the top edge of each wedge with a word for one aspect of your life. For instance, I might write, “Work,” “Family,” “Finances,” “Health,” “Practice,” “Travel,” “Marriage,” “Fitness,” etc. Don’t study or ponder what your eight aspects are. Just jot them in as they come to you. They change over time and with circumstances.

6. Without stopping, look at each of the labeled parts and write a word or two that describes exactly what you would like to see occur in each of those areas in your life. Write these words at the bottom on each wedge, near the center of the pie, as you rotate it around. Leave most of the wedge empty and white. Try to avoid time spent in formulating the words you write. Just let them materialize without self-editing.

7. Remind yourself to use an immediate and short-term perspective. Be daring, but be specific. That means, for instance, instead of writing in the “Work” section “Successful Internet Gazillionaire,” write something like “Breakthrough Idea.” Later on, after you have an idea, develop a business plan, attract investors and design and program your enterprise, you can collect your gazillions.

8. Just as fast, look at each section and quickly sketch a visual to represent the outcome that you’ve described. It doesn’t matter how much accuracy or detail you use in your drawing. Do not judge or even think about this. The point is to take a dreamy concept and convert it into raw physical form using your intuitive eye.

9. This is not simply a list of things to do, which is itself a miraculous potion. This creation is your Wheel of Life. Label it with your name in one corner of the paper, like I do, “Karen’s Wheel of Life” and date it. We call it a wheel because wheels turn.

10. Place this somewhere it will be in sight everyday. I put mine on the top of my printer, which sits on the top of my desk at eye level. The point is to have visual access to this diagram automatically, without dwelling on it, and let the aspirations magically penetrate your thought and behavior patterns.

I began this practice, drawing a pie and turning it into my wheel of life, about 12 or 15 years ago. I don’t know where the instructions came from. It was about the time I was hungry and thirsty for everything, so I taught myself palmistry, astrology, and tarot cards. Get the picture? It was all about getting the picture.

I offer it now because of the conversations I keep running into about long-distance life planning and all such things about how to really do what we otherwise only talk or think about doing. Sometimes I re-draw the wheel every two or three months. There have been times, for instance, like in the early part of my daughter’s life, when I fell completely off track, and didn’t draw a wheel for years. Looking back, I can see that those years were indeed when I fell off track, wondering all the while where my life went!

I can’t emphasize enough that this exercise is to articulate immediate intention and action, rather than extract a list of “100 things” that can veer off into the inexhaustible and unimaginable future. Let the things you put into the pie be the things you wouldn’t think would happen tomorrow, but in some subtle and unpredictable way, could happen tomorrow. The way this practice works is that it brings your own readiness and aptitude for growth into manifest form, out of the smoke and dust of mere wishful musings.

All this week, I’m going to tell you more about why I believe this works, and what transcendental company you keep when you call forth a picture of your own pi of life*.

*Humbly inspired by the genius of Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi”, which will convince you that we are indeed the authors of a mysterious truth that is indistinguishable from fiction.

Writing time

January 16th, 2008    -    9 Comments


“How did you find time to write a book when your daughter was little?” This is the question I’m asked most frequently. The answer is: I didn’t. First, I never found any time. Second, I didn’t think I was writing a book. And so third, the writing took me a very long while. If I’d had any expectations, I would have failed them all.

That sounds dismissive, but it contains truths that we have a terrible time seeing. The time is always now. There is no hidden time someplace else; no extra time we can uncover or clear. No way to push or pry it free. Time is never apart from us. Time is just us. Time management is self-management. Now, how do you manage yourself? I hope you’re kind, patient and forgiving, because how you manage yourself is how you manage to write.

Shawn, who is busy enough as a working writer but also busy enough as a mother of two-year-old twins, asks how I blend my life with blogging, writing-for-hire and writing for myself. I don’t have to do any blending. It blends itself. What appears before me is the thing that I take care of. It’s just not always what I wish it to be.

Although I write all kinds of things, I do not distinguish between them, just as Shawn does not distinguish between the love she feels for one daughter and the love she feels for another. I do not have a particular voice for one thing and a particular voice for another thing, I just have my voice. With practice, writers develop a virtuoso range. With practice, I glide through my range with relative ease. What I never do is contrive or falsify my voice. I practice writing anything and everything. The more I write the more I write, so I welcome any opportunity to write.

What I also try to avoid is judging one type of writing as more elevated than another, as in writing a Book. Or a Novel. Or an Article. Or just a Journal or a Blog. When I do that, in the very labeling, I set my writing apart from me and my life as it is. Besides, sometimes I lift the words from one place and I find they fit perfectly in another. It’s all one place.

Now, which one do I pick up and work on? The one that needs doing, according to the circumstance. To determine the need, I use circumstances as they are, not my preferences, which are by nature ego-driven and therefore highly suspect. If I have a deadline, I meet it. If someone calls or emails and asks, “When do you think you’ll have that done?” I finish it up. If it’s time to cook, clean, drive, play, shop, rake, I do that first. Not always happily, but always. To do otherwise, to set up my writing up as a priority output and my life as the obstacle, is to do what a friend observed recently as being “at war with me wherever I go.”

I don’t want to be at war with myself or my family or my home or my work; that’s why I don’t go for arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines or sign up for 30-day writing marathons. Yes, by all means, practice your writing, but don’t brutalize yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself unless you know that you need a kick in the ass. Pain comes from that kind of pressure and punishment – pain too easily spread. Few of us need more bruises. Let your writing be fluid and joyful, let it be spontaneous and useful, and then your life will be too. Or at least a little more bearable.

Practically speaking, there are times when I need to hire help or get away to write. But they are few, and only when the circumstances require. I went away for the weekend when I started writing what ended up as a book. I spent two days and wrote 1,200 words. I went away for the weekend when my manuscript was due. I spent two days and wrote 12,000 words. Four years came between them. The funny thing is, both times I thought that I was finished!

I understand a writer’s romance with writing. I understand a mother’s romance with a life beyond. When Georgia was little, I wanted desperately to break free into another life for myself – a life of merit, worth and recognition. I didn’t then and I haven’t yet. I still have troublesome ambition but what I no longer have is a troublesome baby. So where does the trouble come from?

There’s time now and time yet for writing. One day soon you’ll have more of it. In the meantime, write when you can, whatever you can. Don’t judge, don’t weigh, don’t measure. Write now, and let the outcome arrive on its own. It always does. Imagine your surprise when you find out it’s all yours.

The falling down people

January 7th, 2008    -    14 Comments


Here we go again. The news has me sassy again. This article in the Times recounts the tremulous state of high-status professions from which people are fleeing. It turns out a troubling percentage of lawyers don’t really want to be lawyers. Even more doctors don’t want to be doctors. They are successful, but not successful enough. They are rich but not rich enough. They wanted status but aren’t satisfied with the paltry status in hand. They were reaching for the brass ring, and it turns out it’s only brass.

Maybe they need a relax scedule like the one I’m on. Oh, I’m sure they do, but that’s not the half of it.

The article makes out like dissatisfaction is a rarefied thing. If only it were. Can we ever get off this page? This I’m Not Happy with My Life page? No, we can’t. Because the whole of human drama is just this story. A story with one page. That is, until you turn it.

And so the headline writer calls these the “falling down” professions, meaning I suppose that this is urgent news because these folks are swan diving off the highest board in town. Imagine that! Someone reaches for a false and delusional form of gratification and finds out it’s not real! Honey, you’ve got to read this!

Just the headline had me thinking of a truly fascinating story I read last year in The New Yorker about geriatric medicine, or the lack thereof. (Be afraid, be really afraid. There’s not enough money in geriatric medicine to keep it going, and I for one, am getting older. You can tell how cranky that makes me.) Anyway, in this worthwhile and highly readable essay, the author observes an intake examination by a geriatric specialist. The doctor is examining a new patient, a woman in her 80s with high blood pressure, arthritis, glaucoma, back pain, and suspected lung cancer. All this and the doctor is really only interested in her feet.

“You must always examine the feet,” the doctor says. It turns out that when we live this long, the single most serious threat we face is falling. Because we won’t get up again. When we can no longer care for our feet – clean, trim and treat them – they become calloused and sore and we lose our balance more easily.

It all comes down to what it comes down to. At the foot of the matter. The foundation. The underlying truth.

What are we building our lives on? Greedy expectations? Lustful aspirations? Selfish hopes and egotism?

Or are we building it on love?

In the Times article, a doctor complains about the paperwork he has to complete to get new tires on a patient’s wheelchair. “I’m a doctor, not Mr. Goodwrench,” he says.

Excuse me, but yes you are. Whether you are a doctor or a lawyer, a mother, a writer, a nurse, a teacher, a rocket scientist or a bricklayer, each of us is nothing but a mechanic. All we have to work with is our hands, and any good we do is only done with love.

Go ahead. Fall down and fall down again. One day I hope you look up and see what’s real. Love is the only thing that stands.

What goes around

January 6th, 2008    -    11 Comments


I need help today, I say dully, after too many nights of too little sleep and a cough that won’t go away. The rains have descended and the allergies too and I’m feeling low and dim and all alone.

I’ll help you, she says, and she lugs two grocery sacks in from the trunk. She’s chosen the heavy ones with gallons and cans and her arms hurt, but she’s beaming.

I need to rest today, I pine, piling my woes on the kitchen counter.

I’ll make you a schedule, she says, and she bends over a pad then posts it on the refrigerator.

Relax Scedule

Sun 12:00 to 1:00
Mon 11:00 to 12:00
Tues 1:00 to 2:00
Wed 10:00 to 11:00
Thurs 9:00 to 10:00
Fri 10:00 to 11:00


Now I’ll set the timer, she says, and you go lie on your bed.

And if you need to schedule a makeup time, she adds in a stroke of management genius, write in on a piece of paper and give it to me before.

She’s thought of everything, you see, everything I need, and she gives it to me in the same way her needs have been tended and timed all these years into a sane and healthy rhythm. A time for this, a time for that. I take to my room and close the door. She turns the dial on the timer, and I feel it rushing back to me in a flood, all of it coming around again in terms never more certain, never more genuine, and right on schedule.

I am loved.

Goes well with martyrdom

December 13th, 2007    -    17 Comments


Feel her forehead, take temperature, stay home, make soup, make tea, try lemon, try honey, try every old wives’ tale, call doctor, call school, cancel babysitter, stay home while hubby goes to awards dinner, take temperature, start medicine, cancel another day, drag her to the post office, and so forth, no change in sight, rub her back, be patient, be tender, ask how long can this go on, cancel four days of everything, make that five days, make muffins while she curls up on the kitchen floor, call the doctor again, clinch jaw, husband says I’ll take her this time, I’ll cancel my meeting, I say no I’ll go again I just don’t know how to get her better in time for your trip to see your folks this weekend, wrap presents for hubby’s family, lose temper, lose faith, lose the whole week, shout at daughter while she signs gift cards, tremble, call teacher, she says be sure she stays home until she’s well, accomplish not one lick of work or anything I want, go to doctor again, get the tests, get the shrug, get the look that says, it’s just a virus.

Feel the familiar tickle in the back of your throat.

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