Working the Boxes


“It’s an act of courage to let go,” Mr. Simon said. “I am going to see what happens if I let go. Then I’m going to see, who am I? Or am I just this person that was defined by what I did? And if that’s gone, if you have to make up yourself, who are you?”
from a New York Times article by Jim Dwyer on singer-songwriter-musician Paul Simon

I’ve been thinking a lot about work lately. Last week, I worked the kayak charter here at God’s Pocket, doing housekeeping in the six guest rooms and supporting the cook and kitchen. Honorable work, certainly, as all honest work is.  I really enjoyed making up the rooms, and making sure the comforters were “just so” on the bed, ensuring the rooms looked fresh and inviting. I enjoyed the physicality of it, and the routine. I didn’t so much enjoy cleaning the bathrooms, but used the experience to systematize and refine my approach each day. (Well, of course I did! I know that doesn’t surprise any of you: that’s who I am; the same person who wants to process-improve TSA security checkpoint processing at the airport.)

When I think about work, resort housekeeping notwithstanding, I mean some sort of productive, contributive set of endeavors that I’ll undertake with enthusiasm and passion sometime after the end of this 2016 gap year. Naturally, the picture of my work that comes to mind is the work I decided to leave earlier this year: corporate, linear, intellect-driven. It was good work in a good organization, and even though I had a full 28-year career, I knew it was only part of my life’s work. And so the journey began to figure out what is next. I know that I want my pursuits to be of use to myself and others, to make a difference, and to honor the heart and spirit that moves in each of us.

I fully recognize the luxury of having this year to explore. We have worked hard AND we have been lucky, so we can afford (financially) to do so. I started planning more than five years ago to take this time; it was an imperative for me. Now that I’m in it, the clarity is a bit murky: what should my days look like so that I’m moving forward? In the past, my work has always been the primary source for my identity, and this gap year has been an interesting adventure in finding out who I am without work, even as I try to figure out who I next want to be at work.

I keep hoping for the big reveal, the epiphany that clarifies my purpose and the shape of my days and next career.  I know, instead, that it will more likely be a game of “hot and cold” (also known as “hunt the thimble”). I will need to pay close attention as I move forward with my thinking and doing, seeing if I feel that I am getting closer (hotter) to something important or meaningful, or not (colder).

The picture that comes when I try to imagine future work is the one I’ve already known, and that is a box I want to move beyond. Boxes are defining in both good and bad ways, with their boundaries and limits, but also by their spacious interiors, where depth and focus can be had. Whether I imagine a similar leadership role in an organization or not, I know that my doubts and fears about the future and about what I offer form another sort of box, a more limiting one if I heed my perceived boundaries. I need to “work the boxes” to find which limits are my intuition waving me off from a direction, and which are limits I am meant to see over and move past to find what is next.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about “not work.” We are care-taking the resort this week, which has a few daily chores and some advance work for the next charter, but is mostly about doing what we please. As is typical for me, doing what I please often presents a conundrum. Sometimes it’s because of the call to do, to be in motion, is strong with me; at other times, I am lost in the choices of what to do, what to begin next. I know that anything I start will need some time to unfold.  Then again, we’ve had warm and sunny weather of late, so I’ve spent the afternoons sitting in an Adirondack chair on the deck reading (or not reading), toggling back and forth between doing, being, and not thinking too hard.

The question of “not work” is important for me, on equal footing with the “work” question. For years, my life was shaped by the demands of my job: everything else was leftovers. I made some choices in that construct but often felt I’d be making different ones if my job were not so consuming energetically. Now, there is space and time enough to be intentional about the pace and content of my days, about the balances between work and not work. (I have never liked the use of the term “work-life balance” as if “work” and “life” are in separable spheres and at opposite ends of the teeter-totter. Still, I recognize that for many “work” is an inflexible construct that doesn’t allow for the needs of working families.  I also know that “not work” isn’t a great term either, and doesn’t do justice to the richness of life outside of the office or beyond work.) Specifically, I want my work to inform my relationships, my community, and my creativity, and for my work to be informed by love, and play, and art, and rest, and friendship.

I don’t know what those combinations will look like, but I do know it is time to experiment. With all this room to explore creatively, with the exception of writing, I have struggled to develop a consistent creative practice. On the other hand, even as I say I am not working this year, I am (pro bono) coaching a woman I know from a non-profit I support, and I am also consulting with a small business owner who wants to take his vision to the next level.  Much to my surprise last week, the resort’s co-owners asked me to help them have a discussion about a thorny topic they needed to talk about and work through together. I was honored by their trust.

I’m working from a place of ‘there are no coincidences,’ and trying to pay attention to the things that keep coming around. For example, I happened a few days ago to decide to join a free online webinar about using intuition and emotion, rather than intellect, for personal decision making. I remembered the saying, “the longest journey is from the head to the heart,” and that I have longed for work that was more heart-centered.  Meanwhile, coaching, facilitating, and advising opportunities keep coming up, as does my need to write, to create art, and to move my body. Time to pay attention to themes, ideas, colors and desires that I have noticed but haven’t yet sat with, and see where they lead.

Today I notice that what I’ve been thinking about and doing this summer at both work and not work are connected.  I may be getting warmer to what is next. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work the boxes.


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