Taking time off to have a mini life crisis is the ultimate luxury these days and there's something not quite right with that picture says Sophie White - who is embracing a moment to take stock
I was at a work event recently. I was nervous because I no longer felt like I really belonged there. This is because I no longer "work" as such. I have pared my work back to a kind of baseline that just covers the essentials in terms of finances. I am trying to keep my hand in while I have a low-grade life crisis. I know it can't be that much of a life crisis because I've had a fairly cataclysmic one of those before, the kind where you end up in the care of a psychiatric team and "keeping your hand in" would absolutely not be an option.
In fact this is the kind of life crisis that I would not have heeded in the slightest in previous years. Coping has become a mark of status. I don't know how she does it? If you want something done ask a busy woman. She only took 6 weeks/days/minutes maternity leave. I worry about this busy woman because being the model of efficiency, effectiveness and success must be exhausting and that sh*t catches up on you.
I was chatting to a woman at the aforementioned work event that I didn't belong at:
"What are you up to? Are you out the door?"
"No, not really," I replied.
I could tell from her face that I'd gone off script. You're not supposed to be not in demand, and if you are you're absolutely not supposed to admit it. An appropriate 2018 response would've been to immediately start screaming about how busy I am. About the tyrannical to do list and 2am emails and being always on. It reads like a litany of woes but these are usually listed as points of pride – we're so immersed in the cult of busy that being "so stressed" is now a desirable state.
I read a statistic that informed me that I spend 33% of my waking hours working which probably sounds either huge or inaccurate (because it's too small a number) depending on where on the scale of enslaved by the busy cult you happen to be currently. The irony, of course, is that much research into productivity and our focus tells us that we are not even capable on a neural level to sustain focus for eight hours straight aka the average working day. Dr. David Rock, author of Your Brain At Work reckons our focus is as little as six hours a week. Of course, working six hours a week isn't exactly an option for most of us but knowing this, does put the futility of a colossal workload into focus.
Of course, being stressed can be your optimal state, many people thrive on the buzz of deadlines colliding but it's a balancing act to keep those deadlines from toppling on top of you. And sometimes this tipping point isn't easily identifiable until it's right on top of us. Having burnout is much more on trend than just coping out, but recognising when to cop out is an art form, especially now when our phones are wrangling responses and productivity from us at every hour of the godforsaken day.
The problem for many of us is equating "busy and stressed" with "success and achieving". We push through and we push on and we push forward. Push, push, push. And we're rewarded for it. People are impressed by it. I used to have endless reserves of admiration for people who seemed to be coping and pushing through personal or professional hardship but, if you think about it, it's verging on an act of rebellion to cop out when the circumstances call for it.
Last year was a hard one and my knee-jerk response was to pile on more work, but with my personal equilibrium in such disarray, I was really just running to stand still. Exhausting and pointless. Seismic events in women's lives are often totally passed over as minor blips to be dealt with efficiently and quietly. Take having a baby, the 2018 response to this primal event is containment. Take a short efficient maternity leave during which you get back to your "old self" and back to work, forget that your brain has altered literally on a cellular level and your life is unrecognisable. Women are heroes in this respect, I suppose generations of ignoring the female experience has us trained to take these tectonic shifts in our stride. However there is something beautiful about the woman who refuses to go quietly and shouts about what a complete head-f*ck it all is.
I've come to admire anyone rejecting the "I'm so busy" mantra. Unless you're busy living what is the point in all this busyness? There's an art to knowing when things are getting on top of you. We're not very good at letting ourselves off the hook and tend to push through stress. There's a fear of what'll happen if we step off the busy train. Giving in or giving up are not very popular in the current climate but sometimes no action is the best course of action.
This summer, I've been having the summer I should have had last year when life was blowing up and I soothed the stress with ... wait for it... more stress! Of course, all the pushing caught up with me and well, kind of pushed me down. And I can report there's actual relief in being down for a moment. Giving up the fight for a bit. I've been dealing with the big stuff for a long time and now it's time to just let it get on top of me for a while. I'll get up again but for now, I'm taking stock.