I’ve always been a workaholic. As a studious Capricorn, I’m never happier than buried in work, getting stuff done. I was the kid who did their homework the evening I got it, wrote stories and painted murals for something to do, and read voraciously to keep my brain from exploding. Lazy summers drove me nuts (and on some seriously long bike rides), and no kid was ever more excited when school started up again than me. I only really felt comfortable if I had structure and purpose.
My life was a patchwork of hobbies, school, friends and family, with all of the edges straight and clearly defined. I obsessively planned, wrote lists and organized to wring the maximum out of each day. My sister spent endless hours spent lazing, chatting, playing with her hair and makeup – all completely confounding to me. I never really understood how someone could be so ‘drifty’ through life. Life was about doing stuff. And lots of it.
For someone who reveled in organizing and doing, consulting was an obvious career for me and my first job was a passionate love affair. I was obsessed with my clients, my company, my work and I was quite happy to drive myself into the office every weekend for an unbilled 8 or 10 hours. Eating, drinking, socializing, working out… everything else happened after I left the office at 9pm and that was just fine. My mother bemoaned by lack of ‘life’ and my obsession with work but I couldn’t think what else I’d be doing if I wasn’t working. Settling down? Having babies? Have we met?
Then as 30 loomed, I looked around and noticed the singularity within my life might not be as healthy as I thought. I didn’t know a single person who lived in Denver, I lived in a carry-on bag and I had dry cleaning in several states. I was proud of my ability to pack 4 outfits and workout gear into a 14 inch square, always get the aisle seat and wring the most work out of a 3 hour flight to Chicago. Hey, we all have skills. When I flew 100,000 miles in a single year I was excited rather than depressed, even if most of those flights had involved trips to a snowy Detroit, freezing Minneapolis and drizzly Manchester.
While I was happy, my patchwork life had shrunk to a single patch – work. My friends, my social life, my being all revolved around my job. The only people I dated were coworkers. I worked every single day of the week, and I’d forced friends to delay my 30th birthday celebrations while I finished a work-plan on New Years Eve. As we wished each other Happy New Year, I caught up on the engagements, babies, houses and travels that my friends had been busy with throughout the year. Cue my first panic attack as I realized that in 10 years I might still be sitting in exactly the same place, doing exactly the same thing if nothing changed. And while I was happy in my work, a PowerPoint deck can’t pick you up from the doctors or cheer you up when the cat dies. I’d never been busier… but my life had never felt smaller. The next time I looked up from my email, everyone had moved on.
Then in 2000 I got laid off. I didn’t even have that single patch any more.
If there’s a lesson in the cruelty of my layoff – 8 yrs of 100 hr weeks over in a single day – I’m not sure what it was. It felt like being left by a lover… I was confused, hurt, angry and lost. What was I without my work? Who was I? And what was the last 8 years for? Why didn’t it love me like I loved it?
Living in a foreign country with a rapidly expiring visa, 2 weeks pay, few local friends and no clue what to do, I did what I do best. I planned, I organized, I created structure and I ‘management consulted’ my life into some semblance of sanity.
When I jumped back into other companies and other love affairs with work, I never quite gave away my heart and soul again. My quilt of a life will never shrink quite so small again and I work at keeping it varied and rich. Adding new patches- finding new passions, new friends, more balance – its hard when you’ve spent your life so focused on one thing. But I guess that first heartbreak scars you forever and so I keep looking for patches to add.
Maybe this summer I’ll take some swimming classes and finally learn to enjoy laps, or return to tennis and improve my net game. Maybe I’ll find some good guy friends or finally encourage one of my boomerangs to land. Take that trip to Costa Rica. Ride my motorcycle down to Santa Fe.
Or maybe actually learn to sit still and enjoy doing nothing.
Okay, lets not go too crazy.