Most often a day at the office looks like this: Back-to-back meetings from 8AM to 5:30PM, the last typically running over by at least fifteen minutes. For lunch (if it isn’t waiting in a box with her name on it in yet another meeting), she runs down to the cafeteria and returns with a sandwich to her office, shutting the door to read a report that she has to present that afternoon. She is interrupted five times by various members of her team, each walking in uninvited to share with her a problem they have or a complaint about a person they are not getting along with. Her next meeting starts in five minutes. She looks down at her half-eaten sandwich and the report she didn’t finish proofing, grabs her files and heads off to the conference room.
Her commute home is between 30 and 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Her two children have been home from school since 4:00PM; something that she doesn’t like at all, even though they are certainly old enough. That was one of the hardest things to let go of when she took the job, actually, to not be home for them when they are done with their day. Yet what choice does she have? She’s a single mom.
She takes her files and laptop to her bedroom, stops to throw in a load of laundry and then heads to the kitchen to start dinner. After dinner, she prepares her kid’s lunches for the next day before helping them with their homework, which takes all of one and a half hours. Her children go off to bed, leaving her as she folds the clothes. Finally she crawls into bed and opens her laptop, finishing up the budget she has to present at her first meeting tomorrow. She sets her alarm for 4:30AM so that she can answer all 127 emails that came in throughout the day.
She hits snooze three times, finally waking in a blissful state that suspends her for all of a second before she feels the pit in her stomach and the dread of the day ahead.
How did this become her life? She wonders as she moves silently through the kitchen, not wanting to wake her kids before it was time. She thinks about the money she was offered with her last promotion and how enticing it was, even though she knew her work load would increase significantly and that there was no budget to outsource any of it. She remembers thinking that she would have to put in some hours on the weekends, that would be it. And she does do that, but the reality is that it is every weekend for several hours at a time.
She has no time to see her friends or work out; she can’t remember the last time she got a massage or had a date. When she is not working, she is frankly just too exhausted to do much of anything else. It takes every ounce of energy just to rally and take her kids to a matinee on Saturday.
I am living someone else’s life, she thinks to herself. I am working towards someone else’s goal, not mine. She is not happy, not fulfilled in anyway. She feels like a hamster on a wheel that is spinning at an ever increasing rate and yet she cannot get off. These are the thoughts that creep into her mind as she stares at the cars stuck in the rush hour traffic ahead of her.
She sighs heavily and gives herself a pep talk, convincing herself as she does each and every morning that she will be more realistic with her time and push back on some of the demands that are being made of her.
I will ask to bow out of some meetings, she tells herself. Set better boundaries with my staff. Slow down just a bit. That should be enough.
Bolstered by the promises she has made to herself, she pushes through the door to her office with a renewed sense of confidence.
Within her first half hour she finds herself swept up in the current of her day.
There is just not enough time, she tells herself on the way home. There is never enough! She slams her hands on the steering wheel.
And there will never be enough.
Until, of course, the time comes when she has had enough.
In the forward to Frank Ostaskeski’s beautiful book, The Five Invitations* is this quote by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:
Chances are until you have experienced that one great loss, this will read to you as more ominous than catalytic. Like grief itself, these types of statements can’t fully be absorbed and understood until you experience them yourself.
We can get attached to who we think we are. We can be downright stubborn about it. Our identity seamlessly and completely intertwined with what we do. What we do becomes what we are. But what if what we do is taken away from us in the blink of an eye? Who are we then?
In the words of Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu: