Is Your Job Working You?

IMG_1015Hello friend,

Picture yourself on your deathbed. Your mind spins like a broken record, replaying your life over and over in hopes of coming to some peace. Peace with what you have done and left undone. Peace with your accomplishments and your failures, your great loves and great loves lost. But mostly, you are trying to make peace with how you passed your time here on Earth, how you spent your dash. Regret enters the conversation. “I wish I had done that.” “I am so sorry that I did the other thing.” Woulda shoulda coulda. These are tough thoughts, heavy loads to bear as you cross over to the other side. So, here is my question: At the end of the road, are you going to say, “I wish I spent more time at work”?

Naahhh! Me neither. Not many people, I am guessing, would fess up to that regret. It is not that I discount that as a possibility, especially for those who are truly following their Bliss–their calling–and have turned it into a career. I love writing these posts to you. If I was earning a living wage for it, I could definitely see spending a little “too much” time delivering one to you on a daily basis. Mostly, though, I think that, like most of you, wishing I had worked more hours won’t be among my biggest deathbed regrets.

But how about the reverse? Have I spent too many hours at work? Have I missed out on the things that I would tell you are important: my kids, my wife, my family of origin, taking care of my health, pursuing my passions, learning? Has my schedule reflected my priorities?

As with many other areas of my life, I have taken a unique, winding path in my relationship with my work schedule. After spending most of my 20’s trying to work as little as possible so that I could spend my hours on self-improvement, my early 30’s found me living the life of a workaholic. I was on both the teaching and the management sides of tennis, and that meant a grueling schedule of more than 40 hours per week pounding my body on a tennis court and then another 20-30 hours in the office stressing over budgets, staffing, programming and the like. I was burning the candle at both ends, to be sure, only seeing the light of day on the weekends (some weekends). Every night found me completely exhausted.

In my work on The Journal Project, I have been able to revisit those years via my daily journal entries. Let me tell you, those are the most boring, repetitive entries of my entire adult life! They are like a broken record that goes something like this: “I am so tired. My body hurts so badly. This is no way to live. I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody. I am happy and grateful. Life is beautiful.” Yes, thank goodness that my spiritual and psychological foundation—my base of deep happiness and gratitude—had been laid prior to those years, because I never would have made it through without that foundation. It is true that I believed in my cause—I loved being in tennis and was heavily invested in making my club a wonderful place to work and play—and that certainly helped me to sustain my energies while there. But it was all there. I didn’t have much energy left to offer anything outside the building. All of those other things I would have said were high priorities—wife, family, passions, health—were left to pick at the crumbs of energy I had left when I limped in the house under cover of night. Between the stress and the physical beating and the endless hours, my work certainly exacted a heavy toll on me in exchange for a paycheck. In effect, it consumed me. (Here might be a good place to add that my wife is a saint.)  I knew what was happening, too, but I just couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

But then, something magical happened. My daughter was born. The sweetest, most beautiful angel ever in the world was alive and coming to stay in my house, where I could scarcely find time to be. That seemed just plain wrong to me. My priorities suddenly came sharply into focus. But more than that, the need to match my schedule to my priorities became urgent. So I did. I quit the management side of my job and cut my teaching schedule down to four days, with no nights or weekends. The paycheck and status took a huge hit, but finally my schedule was in alignment with my priorities.

Those quality days with my daughter—and eventually my son, too—were worth more to me than any paycheck ever was. If you could ever climb inside my heart on a “Three Amigos Day”—one of our weekdays with just the kids and I—or “Family Fun Day” (all of us together on a weekend), you would understand completely the meaning of the word “priceless”. We have been carrying on like this for 5 ½ years now, with me spending less time at work and more time with the ones I love and having the energy to be fully present when I am with them. So, there I was at the bus stop this morning to give my daughter a hug good-bye before school, and there I was at the end of the day to see her jump off the bus and run smiling toward me for another giant hug—an untradeable moment—and a trip on our bikes to the park. And tomorrow, on that weekday away from my job I have clung to all these years, I get to go along on the kindergarten fieldtrip to the museum and the zoo. These days of my being my kid’s best friend don’t last forever, right? I think I’ll soak them up while they are still here.

As you can see, my relationship with my working hours has been one of extremes. I have known dipping my feet in the water, wading comfortably at waist-deep, and full-fledged drowning in my work. I have known myself to be happy in the midst of all three, but actual satisfaction came only when I was finally able to make my schedule reflect my priorities. Who can say how my path will meander in the coming years as circumstances change, but I hope that when I am in full life-review mode while lying on my deathbed, I will have no regrets when it comes to the time I spent at work.

How about you? How are you doing with your work schedule? Open up your journal and tell yourself about it. Are you spending too much time at your job? Are you missing out on important aspects of your life because of your work schedule? Do you ever wish you worked more? Is your job your true calling or just something you do? When it is all over, are you going to regret the way you spent your time? And most importantly, how closely do you think your schedule reflects your priorities? If it does not, what small step can you take today to change that? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is your job working you?

Live a self-approved life,

William

2 thoughts on “Is Your Job Working You?

  1. Brent Billehus

    Excellent essay, William. I didn’t work much until I graduated college (U of M alum ’98). Then I was working obscene amounts of hours bartending–the money was good and there was always a party. I drank and smoked silly stuff for 4 years. Fifty hour weeks, going to the gym, jogging, and most importantly, getting f’ed up. Then, at age 29, I burnt completely out. Total depressive episode that lasted 2 years. My break down saved me. I would have gone on and on partying until I died a young man. I have some regrets, some really great women in my life I pushed away, some not so great women I kept around. But, I hit the reset button. It took 2 years for me to become a better human being. We all have our darkness, but, there is a way out–just have to love yourself or hate, I like myself and am still working on me. 🙂 Thanks, William, it is always a pleasure.

    Reply
    1. William Rutten Post author

      I appreciate you sharing so much of your story, Brent. It is really helpful to me. I always admire the hero in a crisis-to-grace story, so i loved your close: “I like myself and am still working on me.” I hope you can say that until the day you die. Be well, and thanks again.

      Reply

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