Saturday, September 3, 2011

The 'homework' cloud

It occurred to me recently that certain aspects of my work life remind me very much of how I felt in grammar school. I live with what I call the ‘homework’ cloud over me. I cannot seem to shake the nagging feeling that I have homework to do after a full day at my job (and how many years have I been working?), and that when I get home I need to be focusing on some work-related project in addition to everything else that awaits me when I come home—shopping for dinner, making dinner, cleaning up. The reality is that I don’t have homework and that there is no one waiting for me at work the next day to evaluate what I did last night for work. It’s just that the habit of homework became a lifelong affair along the road of my life, and I don’t really think it is a good thing, because it also occurred to me that this is one of the reasons I never feel completely relaxed at home. It hasn’t helped that we have taken our work home with us throughout the 1990s and even into the new century. I stopped doing this about four or five years ago, but the guilt about not doing so still rides me. So that when I do find myself relaxing at home, reading a book or article for pure pleasure or puttering around my kitchen, the thought suddenly strikes me—do I have something to do for work that I have forgotten about? The answer is usually no these days, but it jars me nonetheless. I never feel like this when I am on vacation. I manage to put work in a box and store it away someplace until I’m ready to open the box again. I don’t know if other people my age feel this way. Do more women than men feel this way about their jobs? Are we overly-driven, and if so, why? Is it because we were the homework generation? We should be able to leave work at the door. We should be able to relax at home. And yet, how many people really do? I know many people who work the whole weekend long. The teachers I know have to work on the weekends—it’s the only time they have to prepare their lesson plans. Academicians don’t have to work on the weekends, but they often do because that is the time they use to read articles and update themselves on what is going on in their respective fields. My husband and I have done this for years; he still does occasionally, but I no longer do.

You would think that weekends would be like little mini-vacations for most people, vacations from work. Indeed they should be. My parents’ generation was better at relaxing on the weekends, better at leaving work at the door. Sometimes I manage to make my weekends feel like mini-vacations; other times I just feel like I have a list of things that need to get done. The list includes housework and other house-related things that are also ‘work’. Perhaps that is when I stop relaxing—when I am living my life according to my list and not according to what would be most relaxing. We should also be able to free ourselves from a chore-driven life so that we don’t continually berate ourselves for not doing this or that chore or project. I think the problem is that we work too much and have worked too much, and that carries over into the home environment. My generation grew up with a strong work ethic, and it stuck. And that’s fine, except that somewhere along the way it turned into this—that too many hours of our lives went to our jobs, and not enough hours to our homes and families. I don’t believe in the concept of quality time. I just want enough time to live in harmony with myself and the people around me. Five days a week, ten or more hours a day devoted to work is too much, and it detracts from a harmonious life. And yet it’s expected of us. So why then do I feel guilty for not giving my workplace my nights and weekends too? I think it’s part of our generation too—to feel that we would like to do it all, have time for everything, but we know deep down that we will never achieve that. It’s not possible. If we use fifty or more hours a week at work, then we don’t have a lot of extra time to do everything else we would like to or have to do. That’s life. Perhaps the best thing would be to start letting go of ‘having’ to do something every weekend—letting go of the lists that make us feel guilty when we don’t achieve the tasks listed there. I don’t know the answer; I only know that I would like to reach a state of harmony inside myself—where I can truly enjoy living in the present without worrying about what I have to do, either at work or at home. And I want the guilt to disappear. 

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