Occasionally I’m hired to do “special projects” for the medical case management company I once worked for. Most recently, the bulk of this work has been in writing new policies and procedures, although I’ve also done some marketing writing (copy for the website, presentations to potential customers, etc.) It’s never more than 5-6 hours per week, and usually involves a meeting at the office once a month, maybe lunch, and then a couple of hours at home on the computer.
In other words, a darn near perfect work life for this almost 60-year old.
I was reminded how perfect it is for me when I went into the office this week. There hadn’t been any “special project” activity since May, and over the course of the summer business apparently has exploded (and I mean that in a good way). The staff numbers almost 30 now (from less than a dozen when I worked there full time a few years ago). The little department I once managed part-time on my own with one or two telecommuters is now up to four full time in-house staff, and four remote writers.
BIG business over there.
The owner of the company is in her mid-60’s. Her eldest daughter works with her, as does her husband, a retired software engineer. It’s quite a successful family business, one that’s survived many ups and downs in the past two decades, and I know she’s pleased and proud of the recognition she’s now getting in the industry. But after listening to a typical day in the life of my former boss, hearing her recount the pressures and concerns that go hand in hand with a burgeoning business, I was counting my blessings all the way home to my quiet little existence. “I thought by now I might be able to relax a little,” she said with a sigh when she walked me to the door.
One thing I most appreciate about growing older is an increased awareness and acceptance of my personal limits. I know that when pressures pile on, when the list of obligations grows like Jack’s beanstalk, then I am unhappy, and soon I'm physically unwell. I don’t sleep, I indulge in those classic numbing behaviors (excessive eating and drinking), I fall prey to chronic sinus infections, I’m irritable and impatient with everyone around me.
I can’t afford to live that way anymore. Life’s too short.
Now maybe it’s fine for some - for women like my former boss who have always worked in the limelight, who have thrived on the power and control that come with successful business. But I know myself, and I know there’s nothing about hitting the Big Time that appeals to me.
At 60, I’m planning on at least a couple of good decades, the kind where life has some quality to it, where I can still enjoy the things I enjoy now - reading and writing, being outdoors, having dogs, playing music, going out to shows and concerts, being with friends. Who knows, maybe I’ll even pick up a few new pastimes as the years go by. (I still harbor fantasies about learning to target shoot...I know, you’re probably surprised by that one.)
I’m not aiming for a BIG life, at least not in the accepted sense of that word. But I DO crave the emotional and physical energy to live whatever size life I choose, and to thoroughly enjoy it.
In fact, I INSIST on it.
I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and in it she describes our current culture as being one of “scarcity,” or the “never enough problem.” She believes this condition thrives in a time and place where everyone is hyper focused on lack. “We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have,” Brown writes, “as well as how much everyone else has, needs, and wants.” In doing this, we seem to be constantly comparing our own selves and lives on either the fantasy versions we see in the media, or perhaps on a nostalgic version of life that may not exist anywhere except in our memory.
What does it takes to combat this attitude, especially when it seems to prevail in our schools, workplaces, and government? Brown says the opposite of scarcity is “ENOUGH,” or what she calls “wholeheartedness.” The counter approach to living in the scarcity culture is embracing the belief that we are enough, have enough, do enough.
I’m lucky - at my age and stage of life, I feel like it’s easier to pull back from cultural demands to be more, do more, get more. Just as I downsized by house and my possessions a few years back, I’ve been downsizing the pressure I put on myself to do it all and have it all - and be perfect at it all, too!
I don’t mind venturing out to my old office once in a while. I admit to harboring a slightly smug smile at the chorus of “My God, it’s crazy around here!” or “We are so slammed with work” that greets me when I walk in. I’m even happier to pick up my little tote bag and one folder of notes and head out the door after a cup of coffee and an hour or two around the conference room table. I’m happy to go home where I can relax on the deck with a glass of wine and read for an hour while dinner cooks. I’m happy to snuggle up on the sofa next to my husband and watch some reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. I’m happy to get up early in the morning and leisurely drink my first cup of coffee alone in my quiet living room, feeling the day coming awake and knowing it stretches out before me to fill as I see fit, not beholden to the whims of customers or clients.
That’s ENOUGH for me. Having ENOUGH is really HAVING IT ALL.
In fact, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve hit the Big Time.
How about you? What does hitting the Big Time look like for you? What does it mean for you to “have enough” in your life?