The Unbearable Freedom of Free Time

June 12, 2017

Woman jumping the unbearable freedom of free time

I’ve thought for some time about what this day would be like.

It is Day One of Wow, I’m Suddenly Unemployed (by Choice).

For the first time in 24 years, with the exception of scheduled vacations and some deserved time off after pushing out each of my babies, I have no job to go to.

I awaken under the down comforter, sun streaming through the windows, the whole day in which to do whatever I want. No (required) email. No unnecessary meetings, no feedback, no “Do you have a minute?” conversations that take an hour.

How would I spend it?

I knew what I intended to do.

I would write. I would create. I would dabble.  

I would peruse, explore, and remain curious.  

I would marvel at the prancing unicorns on the lawn.

OK, there are no unicorns on the lawn. Just my dog staring longingly at the neighbor’s pet bunny.

Back to the scene… I would awaken under this down comforter, sun streaming through the window, consider the free time in front of me and think, Hamilton-esque, “How lucky I am to be alive right now!”

I would not, under any circumstances, awaken under this down comforter, sun streaming through the window, and think… 

“What the fuck have I done?”

No, seriously. What the fuck?

I would not question every decision that got me to this point. I would not look around my room and mentally calculate what I could get on eBay for every item not bolted down. I would not curl into a ball of financial panic and second-guessing remorse.

I would not, I would not, I would not.

Who does this? Who leaves a two-decade career in a seemingly glamorous industry, the kind that others “would kill for”? Who looks at a paycheck and says “No, thank you, I’ll pass”? Who folds a perfectly good hand to see what else is in the deck?

I guess me. That’s who.

But, why? “Why would you throw all of this away?” I was asked.

And the answer is complicated. So all I can say is I’m tired.

A former boss argued, “If you’re tired, you take a nap. You don’t quit your job!”

But this is the kind of fatigue that isn’t relieved by a nap. Work was no longer working.

I’m tired of the emails, of the relentless information that needs to be absorbed, 40+ emails each hour of the day, some from people who hit “Reply All” just to say “Thanks!” (and then “No problem!” and then “Anytime!”...)

I’m tired of meetings in which everyone inwardly questions what they are being told but outwardly bobbles their heads in agreement because that’s the simpler and more acceptable thing to do.

I’m tired of rushing, always being late, feeling obligated to respond to emails at red lights, and then getting annoyed when the lights aren’t long enough to finish and send. It’s like Operating in a State of Crazy.

I’m tired of leaning in and speaking up and then being told not to lean in so far or speak up so loudly.

I’m tired of needing a mentor or a sponsor, of being told to fit in, stand up for myself, be more assertive, be less aggressive, settle down, work harder, work smarter, smile more, stop joking around, not take it all so seriously.

I’m tired of the contradictions and of being judged harshly for the same attributes that get men promoted.

I’m tired that even saying that makes me fearful of judgment and rebuke.

Did I just say that out loud? Can I say that out loud?

I’m fatigued, in a more resigned way, of hearing the same stories from many female colleagues and holding each other up, pushing each other on, and then often seeing the few women less invested in helping others earn the opportunities.

I’m tired that there is always something more to do or say or be but not quite in the way that we are doing or saying or being it.

I’m tired of watching Men Rise and Women Bounce.

I’m tired of chasing something I can’t see and likely will never get.

The task of dismantling all of that is exhausting.

So I stayed for too long, like a zombie on a treadmill, trying to keep up with the motor and the incline but not actually getting anywhere.

I’m tired of pushing off things I really want to do (“As soon as I wrap this project, THEN I’ll have time to get to this!”) only to find there is always another project and before I know it, years have passed and I still haven’t hung pictures in that upstairs hallway, lost those 10 pounds, or picked up my novel where I left off nine years ago.

I’m tired of telling my kids I’m here for them but then not actually being here. Just one minute, one more email, we’re late, hurry up, I have to go, why did you not tell me until 9 p.m. you needed graph paper for an assignment due tomorrow? You need dinner? Didn’t I make dinner yesterday?

I’m tired of the relentless onslaught of my day, of having so much to enjoy in my life except the time to actually enjoy it.

And then feeling guilty because, really, what am I complaining about?

I’m tired of trying to do and have it all and acting like that’s sustainable or even fulfilling.

So, so tired.

What. The. Fuck.

And so I thought, what am I doing?

There has to be a better way.

I had this crazy idea that rather than trying to squeeze my life around my work, I could create work to fit around my life.

But I needed time to figure out what that looked like. Time to rest. Time to write, to create, to dabble. Time to explore and peruse. And see what unfolds.

And accepting the moments of panic as part of that process.

You see, I haven’t totally figured this out yet. I’m asking some really tough questions that require thought and strategy and bravery. I’m at a meeting of one and not nodding at myself like a bobblehead. I’m the only one on the Reply All chain. “Thanks!” I could tell myself. “No problem!” I could reply. “Anytime!” I could continue, unnecessarily. 

And that’s crazy and scary and unsettling yet also kind of fun and new and exciting because I know there may be unicorns prancing out there somewhere. I just need to find them.

And I need to take the dog for a walk so she stops staring obsessively at the neighbor’s bunny.

The sun is streaming through the windows, the entire day awaits.

This is as I wanted it, my choice. I made this bed. Now I have to lie in it.

And I have to say, right now, given how tired I am, that doesn’t sound too bad.

Valerie gordon your story matters web the unbearable freedom of free time Valerie Gordon walked away in 2017 from her long-time career putting stories on television to help high-achievers capitalize on the power of storytelling through her career and communications firm The Storytelling Strategist. She went from looking for unicorns to offering conference breakouts and corporate workshops to such organizations as Pfizer, Aetna, MassMutual, Bleacher Report, and NESN. She knows now what she only once dared to dream about — there is indeed an even better next chapter in each of us. 

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