Being overwhelmed can be almost reassuring sometimes. No looking forward, no looking back. There's hardly time for digesting the moment you're in; it's just managing one wave after another of things to be done that come in, smacking your desk and your inbox with a rhythmic certainty.
I guess what I'm trying to say is the new job's going well. I'm a bit overwhelmed, but I always did like a challenge.
It's funny, I used to dream of going to a big, shiny building everyday wearing a suit and heels. I didn't give too much thought to what I'd be doing when I made it through the door, but I sure did have that image in my head.
These days, I find myself indeed walking into a big, shiny building in heels (the suit didn't materialize, though I'm not mourning its presence). I take the elevator up to the 8th floor, get some coffee, turn on my computer, and there the similarity ends. Whatever Ally McBeal daydream I had has become nothing more than an image I used to carry around in my head about what I thought I was supposed to become.
For years, I tied on an apron and served crab to grumpy tourists. I came home bitching and moaning about my terrible managers, rubbing my feet, and reeking of seafood that I could no longer smell on my clothes. One day, I would tell myself back then, one day I would have a real job. I would have business cards and my own office. I wouldn't have to wear a uniform, and I would buy myself a closet full of suits and shiny shoes. I would do something more important with my life than peddling fish and chips to suburbanites.
Little did I know that I would actually do it someday, only to discover it's not much like I envisioned.
When I was refilling some guy's tea glass, it made sense that my mind would wander. It felt natural that my thoughts and my heart were somewhere else. I figured that would change once I was fully engaged, once I had a career that challenged me. Little did I know that nothing that happens during a day of my challenging career would ever seem as pressing as the fear, running like a program in the background of my mind all day, that the fever that kept Lincoln up half of the night was indicative of another ear infection, or worse, another round of strep throat.
Little did I know, back when I told myself that one day I would be so much better than all the crappy managers I'd worked for, that managing people well is a strange tightrope walk of support and attention and correction that must be administered in a ratio so precise that no one ever gets it exactly right. Little did I know that managing people would mean knowing them well enough to motivate them but keeping enough distance to reprimand them if necessary. That doing it right would mean not getting to be in charge but having to be in charge, that it would mean putting my ego aside entirely and thinking about the good of the organization.
Seems that no matter how many days in a row I strap on a pair of fancy shoes and pull open a pair of shiny doors, I am still seeing it all through the eyes of that long time waitress who expected everything to be much simpler when she finally untied the apron and put on her business suit. In many ways, slinging crab was more difficult, more exhausting, more stressful. I figured if all I had to do all day was sit in a chair and clack along on a keyboard, I would come home downright refreshed. After the chaos of the restaurant business, it seemed a placid little office gig would feel like a day at the spa.
Instead, I come home worn down by the slow friction of bureaucracy. I have an aching back from sitting slightly out of alignment instead of those aching feet from pounding a restaurant floor. I still come home tired and frayed and frazzled, worrying that there's not enough left of me for my kids and my husband.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This week, I am learning a new job. Despite my overworked and less than cheerful tone, I'm actually quite excited about the job. But the thing is, every day I learn more and more that the purpose in my life has never and will never come from my job or my title or my paycheck. The things that make my life worthwhile, that make me feel important, are far more simple: laying in bed with Sam and the boys on a Saturday morning, sharing a hammock with Lincoln, coloring with Nico. I did nothing all day today, nothing but be with my kids, read with them, swing with them, watch movies with them, and yet I will go to bed tonight feeling I have accomplished more than a week's worth of mountain-moving effort in the shiny building I go to downtown every Monday through Friday.
No matter what job I start or end, no matter what degrees I earn or what letters come after my name, the real work of my life will always be the time and energy and love I invested in my family. If I were to face a performance evaluation on that, if my income were dependent on my performance as a wife and mother, I can't help but wonder where I would fall on the spectrum, what my grade would be on that.
It's hard work, this most important role of mine, this motherhood thing. I'm starting to realize that it's a job that will never end, and I don't mean the laundry or the cooking or the dishes. I mean the remembering of priorities, the saving enough energy to be there for them at the end of the day, the worrying about them even when I'm off in a meeting or trying to get a report finished in time. This week I didn't manage the balance well. I went AWOL from my family a bit, but the remarkable thing about this job of motherhood is that there are no end dates, no deadlines, no merit reviews. It is just a new chance every day to love people with everything you have. Sure is good to be a working girl.