Sometimes searching is the work

search I gave myself a rather extraordinary gift this year: no new clients for the first three months, to be reviewed and possibly renewed come April 1st.

This is extraordinary (meaning absolutely not the usual thing) for a few reasons:

  1. I am obsessed with the idea of achievement
  2. I have resident fear of living out my days eating cat food out of my shopping cart/home
  3. I was raised by a workaholic who died rich (see Reason #1) and an alcoholic who died poor (see Reason #2)

Excepting the five months I was out of commission because of the Crohn's onset, some brief cipherin' sez I have not taken more than two weeks of complete non-work since I was 17. That's 30 years ago, for those of you just joining us. And unless I'm missing something, I can count those two-week hiatuses on two hands with fingers left over.

30 years.

No wonder I got sick. No wonder I fell apart at 41. No wonder my relationships were fraught with difficulty; can you imagine the kind of person who'd tolerate that in a mate?

Of course, there's an advantage to being obsessed with achievement, the kind backed up with action, anyway: you, um, tend to achieve stuff. Unfortunately, without time off for digesting, for rest, for replenishing, for the all the things that give one a little higher-up perspective, it's easy to lose one's way (and by "one", I mean me). You know, this is not my beautiful house; this is not my beautiful wife. Or simply, "Rosebud."

One gift among many given me by my ex-husband, The Chief Atheist of the West Coast, was the philosophy "Life is a series of techniques." It amused me and then annoyed me and finally, amuses me because it is true. However, while pithy as hell (he's a witty dude, the Chief Atheist) I have grown to believe that for clarity and usefulness, the line should be slightly amended to read thusly:

The living of life is a series of techniques

Or even more pedantically:

The successful living of life demands the acquisition of a series of techniques

Yeah, yeah, I sucked all the poetry out of it. But not everyone will have the benefit of hearing the line delivered personally by the Chief Atheist, and too many of those pithy lines get mucked up in the Big Game of Telephone. How many lives have been irretrievably fucked up by the perversion of the line, "The love of money is the root of all evil"? A lot. (Of course, those who have been attacked in their sleep by hordes of shiv-wielding Euros will probably disagree with me.)

Two of my big problems are "Eyes Bigger Than Stomach" Syndrome and its kissing cousin, "Shiny Object Syndrome" (which I believe was coined by a way-brilliant art director partner, Sherry Scharschmidt, back when you could actually make a living writing TV commercials.) Knowing my weaknesses, I've come up with some workarounds to help: a marketing coach who's kind of a hard-ass; a social media guru who's very gentle but insistent; a projects list to shame me into saying "no" or at least "maybe" when yet another irresistible opportunity pops up in my RSS feed of life. Oh, yeah, and a shrink. Sorry...make that two shrinks.

What do all these governors have in common? They give me ground-level guidance, sure, but they also provide a higher-up perspective. They are not mired in the me of me, and so can give me some reasonably objective input regarding where I'm on track and where I'm going off the rails.

This is great. Nay, this is fantastic: asking for help is a miraculous thing. Now the time has come to start giving myself some of that perspective. To stop working so that I can examine at where my Work is taking me.

I'm building in some granular hacks: one hour of enforced reading per day. A minimum of one meal or coffee with a friend per week. Five walks per week, to be sliced up however (a dog is your best partner in this exercise, pun intended.) This all falls under the rubric of this post's sister essay, "Sometimes Joy Is the Work," which, if you check the date on that link, is something I've been working on a long, long time.

But there's also the big, scary, new experiment I mentioned up front: no new clients for 90 days. And "no" to some projects from current clients. I think this will help give me the time and space I need to understand my own big picture, or at least, the next five years of it.

This is my work, too: making sure I'm doing the right work. And that means a lot of not doing work-work: money-work, easily-explained-to-the-outside-world work.

For the record, if you run into me at a coffee shop or a meetup or SXSW this year, I may still say, "Oh, I'm a graphic designer." It is scary to divulge too much at once, and tiring, for introverts.

But you will know what's really going on under the hood.

Keep a good thought for me...

xxx c