Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life

 

Over 20 years ago, I sat on the tarmac in Iowa waiting to take off and return home from a business trip. I was in my first big-girl job post-college, and after receiving a promotion, was promptly sent to various cities to work with administrators in the Midwest and Northeast.

Looking out the window at the night-time sky, a red jelly-like substance began dripping over the windows. I asked the flight attendant what it was, as this girl had only been on one plane ride at 18 years old and knew little about air travel.

She explained that the weather was frigid and the plane was being de-iced. I wondered if I should be worried. I was too young to be as fearful as I would certainly be today. The delay was more annoying than anything and I decided then and there to return to graduate school and become a teacher.I’ve spent 20 years in higher education and there were two main advantages for me: 1) It was truly a meaningful career when I began and, 2) It was the best Mom-gig a girl could hope for while raising children.Fast forward a couple of decades and two giant truths now dominate my professional existence: 1) While the cost of tuition has skyrocketed exponentially, our pay has not. 2) The majority of collegiate institutions are about anything and everything except teaching and learning. Of course there are exceptions. However, if you read the data, and have current affiliation with several universities as I do, you will observe a shift in the actual “education” portion that is alarming. I have also held administrative positions along with teaching, so my insight goes beyond the classroom.

With twins just graduating from college and my youngest with two years left to go at her university, well…this mid-life Mama had to get another job. In addition to kids in college…

-We are a part of a destination wedding this August where my girls are standing up and I’m part of the ceremony (more on that in August).

-My husband went through a job change a year ago and his salary dropped considerably at the new company…blah blah blah…there are too many stories like ours to count lately. You can imagine the strain.

-Then, he landed himself in the hospital for a couple of days-nothing serious but the medical co-pays for three days in the hospital blew through his very handsome severance package.

The timing of these several things at once was comical and costly.

So, I cut the on-campus teaching, kept the online professorship, and added a three-days a week position in HR with a small company at their corporate office. Promptly after I started, the HR Director resigned. I’m essentially the entire HR department on a three-day schedule doing five days plus worth of work. I’ve already been working on my days “off”.

To say the adjustment from both a professional standpoint and a personal one has been challenging would be an understatement.Two kids (here) graduated and moved home from college. My youngest is serving in ministry in Texas for three more weeks. The change in the household has been tremendous. God bless the kids, they are doing the dishes, and occasionally vacuum…After 10 minutes of searching, I find the pasta strainer with the syrup (?), but who am I to complain?! 🙂

I’m working more than I have in a decade while still doing most everything I did prior to the new job.

I’m trying to adjust. I didn’t really think it would be that big of a deal. After all, before kids (and life in higher ed) I had a career in business. I traveled for heaven’s sake. I was a working professional!

I’ve changed and I’m waaaaay older.

Driving home in wicked traffic the other day, I was reminded of how this is just normal life for most. Sit and wait while four lights change and we creep up to finally get through an intersection. Wild morning traffic is something most people have been navigating for decades while I purposely set up early morning office hours to avoid. I taught late classes so my husband was home with the kids when I left. I graded papers and lesson-planned from my home office.

Lunch was when I wanted it and it certainly didn’t have a time limit.Oh, the schedule of “regular hours”. It’s laughable to those of you reading who’ve been in the rat race for decades. Up at 6am, on the road by 7am, work work work, eat lunch fast, back to your desk, back in the car at 5pm….

The conventional work schedule alone makes this deep thinker ponder who came up with the 8-5 workday. Why are we all bumper to bumper at 7:30am just to reach the destination by 8am? Why are we again bumper to bumper at 5:15pm? Even though more employees than ever are working from home, or have flex hours, my small company runs a tight, traditional culture with zero flexibility.

Definition of rat race according to dictionary.com: any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a….life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.The part of the rat race definition that makes me laugh out loud includes leisure and contemplation. Professors contemplate! We lead our students to think, not just answer questions. We have more opportunity for leisure due to flexibility.

In those years when I had the luxury of being “contemplative”, and particularly when I was in the evening classes with working adults completing their Bachelors and Masters degrees, I spent considerable time discussing the importance of locating the job that would be satisfying after they finally graduated. We wrote out the number of waking hours on paper, subtracting not only 40-hours in a building, but planning for work, choosing clothes for work, drive time, required social and corporate events, buying Christmas gifts for workmates, etc., etc.The ultimate point of the exercise was revealing the truth that full-time working adults work more than they literally do anything else. More time at work than with family. More time working than cooking or playing or creating. I made them take a hot second “contemplating” that stark reality. Really thinking about life in the present – but also what they wanted it to look like in a few years.

Most people work for money and few work because they love what they do.

Most are hustling in the rat-race “routine”, “competitively” working to get ahead, hoping to reach those goals of “leisure” and the luxury of living more “contemplatively”.

My Bible app devotion recently stated: “You have been entrusted with talents… It really matters how you use these.” If only we could all earn a living utilizing our true, greatest talents. I have observed most people at best use their gifts in hobbies or volunteering in ministries. Excruciatingly few can pay medical and dental benefits without a company-job having nothing to do with their greatest gifts. We use our gifts to serve as best we can-where we are.

We are old enough to know that life requires attention. If we’re going to enjoy any of it, we must leave the housework, skip the obligatory visit to the distant-relative’s house and read the book that is collecting dust because too many other things trump sitting down in “leisure”.

I miss my extended quiet time with God in the mornings. I’m way behind in my Bible reading. I catch up on my days off. Things like crafts and baking are time-intensive joys that I cannot afford. My leisure time is spent with my kids doing things together. They will only live home for a limited amount of time and I’m not going to miss these remaining moments living together.

Throughout the years, I could see how my full-time career friends had time for nothing but work. I observed at a distance their counting days off…worried about arriving 10 minutes late or leaving a half hour early to catch their kids’ game after school. Mentally tortured about missing family events and simultaneously feeling obligated to their employer.While I previously watched at a distance, I now live it and while the work is interesting, the schedule is a bummer. I’m thankful that this existence now was not the reality while raising kids. As always, a big hug and sincere admiration to those working parents who legit do it all – and well.

On that note, it’s time to enjoy the weekend and family…

I wish each of you a Happy Weekend! 🙂

Photos: 99designs.com-woman; aviation.stackexchange.com-plane; nyfa.edu/Harvard/-Harvard; robbreport.com/lifestyle/news/would-you-pay-6-5-million-to-get-your-kid-into-yale-2843748/-Yale; ft.com/content/804b928e-6cde-11df-91c8-00144feab49a-RatRace; Cnn.com-man on desk; Colossians: Pinterest

Post Vacation Reality Check

IMG_0427(Throw-Back Thursday: This post originally published 4/18/13.)

I had just survived a 22-hour car ride home with three teenagers in the backseat.  My bottom surely expanded another two inches from the countless hours of idleness.  Despite these truths and the annoying grunting by my family as they finally exited the minivan, I was mentally renewed, well-rested and highly motivated to commence a more adventurous, interesting life.  It’s not like I was inspired from touring cathedrals in Europe.  We were simply on the beach in Florida, but for a busy Mom, the absence of daily routine and chores was ample incentive to get moving on a few dreams that I had buried under the weekly tasks of raising a family.

Facing loads of laundry, necessary grocery shopping, and a mountain of snail mail and emails, I remained steadfast in my resolve.  Tomorrow, I would break the hum drum sound of my life by reducing the number of “urgent” tasks that consume my days, and pursue “important” goals and interests that I’d been ignoring for years.

Best-selling author and management guru Dr. Steven Covey, promotes a time management theory known as the Urgent vs. Important.  He states that urgent matters “press on us; they insist on action…  But so often they are unimportant!” He continues his explanation of what’s essential in his national bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  “Importance…has to do with results.  If something is important, it contributes to your (personal) mission, your values, your high priority goals.” (Emphasis mine.) I teach this theory to business students at a four-year college.

Three days into my post-vacation resolution, I had made progress by refusing to fold clothes other than my own, and I would no longer load the dishwasher.  Ever.  Three teenagers can certainly handle kitchen duty and their clothes are always crumpled by the time they reach the drawers anyway.  The bunny food spilled.  I delegated the clean up.  The kitchen floor was muddy.  I asked my son to wipe it down.  Still, I wasn’t yet spending time on my mission or my goals.

I felt anxious to achieve something of significance, yet remained immersed in what would be considered trivial to the world-at-large.  I wondered, particularly while in the trenches of motherhood, should the urgent be ignored to pursue the important?  Is the urgent often equal with the important?

That third night post-vacation, after grading a heap of student essays, I scanned 124 emails and checked on the cherub-looking teens in their beds. It was 1:10am and the alarm was set for 5:45am.  I stayed up until the wee hours of the morn determined to finish the “urgent” matters of kids’ school correspondence, washing hockey jerseys, baking brownies for my daughter’s class and sewing missing buttons on a lacrosse kilt.  Completing those tasks through the night would free me tomorrow to finally address a few of my long-lost plans.  I would query book agents (for the completed novel in my hard drive), send out a few cover letters for a full time university job (I’m part time faculty), research missions trip financing for my youngest (she’s asked to visit children in Zambia since she was seven), and quite possibly, even work on the family scrapbook collecting cobwebs in my basement!

Excited to be caught up with the menial jobs, my subconscious joy awoke me at 5:00am.  I bounced out of bed, turned off the alarm that didn’t have to ring, and headed for my office computer.  I envisioned the interview I would certainly have by week’s end at the “big” university in town.  We would finally be able to upgrade the minivan and do some landscaping!  En route to my new professorship, I found my daughter on the sofa, doubled over crying with a stomach virus. She bolted from the couch to the bathroom, with me on her heels, holding her hair away from her face while she vomited.  By the time I tucked her back into bed, the others were up, lunches and breakfast were underway and “important” just became a trip to the Pediatrician.

I shuffled two of three kids and one husband out the door by 7:15am, did my hair and makeup in 12 minutes, drove to work to pick up new textbooks, stopped to retrieve packages that were on hold at UPS, then to the bank, arrived home, and left again for the doctor with sick child.  My husband met us at the house afterward to care for our daughter and I went to the pharmacy.  Catching my breath in line, I encountered a lovely gentleman I haven’t seen in several years.  He updated me on his children and grandchildren before asking,  “ahh… you were working part time as a teacher when your kids were little, right?” “Yes.” “So, what do you do now?”  I sincerely felt like apologizing that I had nothing new or “important” to share.  No trips overseas (his son was in Belize), or major promotion (his other son was relocating to Chicago for an exciting new job).  I was still running a household, being the Mom who brought forgotten gym clothes into school by 3rd period, and hosting all kid gatherings at our house since I was the one at “home” most of the time.

Who wants to hear about the pancakes you made this morning or the clean house?

The lackluster responsibilities that make life good for my family appear very small when having those once-every-ten-years conversations with people.

Paying for my daughter’s prescription, I remained surprisingly delusional.  Though discouraged by the errand-running, I resolved to at least print the final manuscript of my novel that afternoon. Then, I remembered the vacation photos still to be downloaded for the grandparents, and the recipes my daughter needed typed and copied for her girls group that night.  Walking out the door of Rite Aid, I marveled at how the years had passed. While my college girlfriends were growing their portfolios, I was feeling invisible much of the time and insignificant in the scheme of the modern bigness of our gender.

The remainder of my afternoon was spent hearing about family activities, cooking dinner, caring for my sick teenager, and zooming out yet again to watch my other daughter’s lacrosse game.  The last thing I had time for that night was laying next to my pale-faced vomiter when she asked me to rub her back.  Yet, when her weary eyes connected with mine, there was nothing more “important”.  The next morning, I called a sick friend.

Immediately following the call, my husband texted, asking me to book a hotel room for my son’s next hockey tournament.  I researched the best price (very time consuming) and turned my office chair again toward my goals.  As I opened MSWord to print out a cover letter for a full time teaching job, I see the kids’ summer camp forms in my peripheral vision. The deadline for signing up is fast-approaching…

Husband texts, “did you get that room yet for the hockey tournament?”

Son texts, “Mom, I didn’t finish the application for the art contest…would you please?”

Youngest daughter asks later that night, “would you help me with this project?”

Five days post vacation, it was evident:  I choose the urgent.

Standing in front of my college freshman students a few days later, I felt like a hypocrite.  Was I not practicing what I was preaching about stepping away from the urgent to address the important?  No, I decided.  There are seasons in life.  My students are earning a degree, I’m raising a family.  My personal achievements are centered around family and friends – for now. Though previously undefined, I realized through my post-vacation reality check that for many Moms, or women caring for aging parents, or spouses with chronically ill partners, the important is the urgent.  For a season.

My Florida-pink fingernails are chipped and my spray tan has faded.  The manuscript remains in my hard drive and the full-time professorship has yet to be landed.  There is zero chance that I’m catching up on scrapbooking this weekend.

The hotel room?  My husband was thrilled to learn that I booked a suite $60 less than the other hockey Dads scored.  The art contest?  My son’s drawing is published in a national magazine.  My sick daughter?  She says the best thing about her virus was my reading a book to her that I haven’t read aloud since she was 10.

When this Mom-urgent season in my life concludes, I will move into a new time, resurrect some former dreams, and no doubt, make a few come true.

Quotes taken from: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 1989. Stephen R. Covey.

Paying for Other’s Bad Behavior Is Making Me a Little Cranky

Lucy courtesy Charles Schulz via Cafe Press

Lucy courtesy Charles Schulz via Cafe Press

Now in my mid 40’s, I’ve officially experienced enough of life where paying (in time or money) for other people’s bad behavior, no-show tendencies, and last-minute procrastination is making me cranky. Over my adult life, when I or my kids have received unfair treatment, I’ve definitely handled it firmly, but always with respect toward others, even when they might not have deserved it. I’ve followed policies that were ridiculous because I “understood”. Why have I attempted to do the right things? I have hoped to be a good example to my kids. I’ve thought that it would please God. Because I’ve observed that the senior citizens who are still nice after 80 years of living on this planet have made the effort to remain kind. Now that my kids are teenagers, I’m a little worn out from always doing the right things.

– For example, my son had his wisdom teeth out recently. I had written proof (and so did the office) that my insurance would cover the cost. The “policy” was that I had to pay $700 cash up front and wait 2 months for the office to write me a refund check. I was a little cranky. When I questioned the policy, the response was, “Well, so many parents weren’t paying their balance not covered by insurance.” But I’m not that parent!

– For years, the same 15% of the congregation at church did 100% of the work. Instead of being grateful, the 85% often complained about something. This makes volunteers a little cranky. The followers of the “serve your church” rule get piled with more until they learn that sometimes, you have to say “no”, and they hate to say no.

– One of my children takes instrument lessons and the teacher sent out a lengthy handbook about new policies. The book’s theme hinted: ‘I’ve been burned and now-no more.’ Extremely specific guidelines were printed and parents were asked to sign. Why? Because some Moms call to say they’re not taking their kids out of the pool for lessons. I’m not that parent. I’m a rule follower. I’ll bring my tired child to lessons even if they need a day off to rest because I respect the teacher’s time, not because I’m a Tiger Mom. Other parents are paying late? Yes, I’ll be happy to pay in advance, even though I just paid the oral surgeon $700. But, when I’m asked to pay for days when I know 6 months in advance that I won’t be there – and, when I have to pay a mandatory fee for events my child isn’t participating in, I’m a little cranky. Guess what? The non-payers will still pay late or not at all. The same parents will still blow off their lesson times without a courtesy phone call.

– Three days ago, I applied for a new job online. I embarked on completing a tortuously-long application form, which took me over an hour and a half to finish. Every other paragraph inserted a “WARNING” that “IMMEDIATELY” after completing the application, a personality test was required, or the information would NOT be looked at. I submitted the application, resume, cover letter, and rights to a 4th child if I ever have one. Then, I began the insanely time consuming personality test. I followed the directions – “immediately” beginning the personality test, when really, I should have ignored the “warnings” like most everyone else apparently does.

The test was getting so complicated (I was doing algebra), I took a quick break and scanned my email. I emailed the application at 1:03pm and began the long assessment. At 1:05pm, I received an email from said company that after careful consideration, they would not be pursuing my candidacy. Two minutes after I submitted part one of a “mandatory” two-part process, I received the automated Dear John letter. I was already an hour into the personality assessment.

Not sure if I should laugh or cry at how I had just spent an afternoon of my life, I emailed the Corporate Recruiter a friendly suggestion about how his Human Resources division could operate a little more respectfully of qualified candidates who actually read and follow the directions. After a little investigating with them and another large institution, guess why testing is required? So many people lie on their application forms, they need a “better” assessment than a resume. Guess why automated “not selected” responses are sent 2 minutes after submissions? The companies aren’t always recruiting for an existing position, they are bulking up their files to demonstrate a “commitment to diversity” for possible future examination.

– I’m sure you have countless examples of your own frustrations. I won’t torture you or myself with the broader issues of national health care and the number of people living in America who impressively avoid paying their taxes for 20 years.

Those who brag about “beating the system”, and who circumvent every other routine responsibility that is a normal part of being a grown up: have mercy on us do-gooders that you mock. Please obey the rules. Be honest. It’s getting really hard for us to stay sweet toward you. 🙂

“We can’t allow ourselves to get tired of living the right way.” Galations6:9GWT