Three o’clock walls: a take-down

It happens every day. Sometime halfway between picking at the salad bar and fleeing the premises. Three pm. I have a not-quite-midlife crisis. Everything I’d ever hoped to accomplish comes flooding through my senses, reminding me that I desperately want to be anywhere else.

Some days, anywhere else is a cafe, sipping a flat white and bringing antagonistic protagonists to life with perfectly manicured nails and an effortless casual chic. Other days, anywhere else is a hut in Mwanza interviewing a little old lady about her health-seeking behavior. On Tuesdays, anywhere else is generally bed. Wednesdays, a gym… with a trainer. Thursdays, a concert hall… and not in the audience, but front and centre.

I know I’m not alone in feeling stuck at a 9–5, but that doesn’t stop the daily restlessness from invading my veins, screaming at me to stand up and walk away from my less-than-ergonomic prison. Sometimes I listen. I grab a coffee. I convince myself that bean water is the answer. At the coffee machine, I have robotic conversation in interchangeable languages with equal banality.

“How are things?”

“Busy. Thank god for coffee.”

“It’s almost Friday.”

“Yea, I can’t wait.”

The math is all wrong. We do realize that Monday through Friday are 3 whole days more than Saturday and Sunday right? Monkey barring from weekend to weekend is clearly detrimental to quality of life.

I don’t have a job I hate. I just hate the number of hours I have to spend doing it when I’m not being effective. Honestly, my efficiency would be higher if the monotony of a work day could be broken up with feeding other facets of my personality. Give me flex time. Make skill development in an area other than my primary area of work mandatory. Offer design courses (it would have the added benefit of making our products less esoteric and more usable by the world). Subsidize gym sessions (it’ll lower your eventual health insurance payments). Understand “Innovation” rather than just paste it into mission statements. Be Google. Or better.

The 9–5 is on its way out. We all know this. The rate of change of businesses is indicative of it. Disruptive technologies are winning the economic battle. Businesses are offering shorter work weeks. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking are projected to rank as top 3 on the list of skills workers need at the cusp of the “fourth industrial revolution.” * (Revolution counting guide below because when did we get to 4??). These are generally skills that are stifled by the restrictions of the traditional 9–5. Employers need to create better enabling environments for fostering the very skills that are going to eventually determine their survival, relevance and success.

But I’m in the social sector. And the shift just isn’t happening fast enough. I feel like all the multiple dimensions I spent my childhood building are being stripped away as I slip into adulthood survival mode, sponsored by the subterfuge of a Merlot lullaby. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking? They’re gasping for air in the foamy playground of my burnt cappuccino.

Final note: It’s currently 3:15pm. Let me out of this concrete box. I promise you it would save my brain, and in turn, benefit the organization.

*Guide to the industrial revolutions: 1) water & steam power, 2) electric power/mass production, 3) information technology & automation, and 4) rather undefined fusion of technology, biology and everything in between.

Re: Exhale – me too.

More than one of us contribute to guchijavahaus. We each need a certain level of “support” to reach our goals. My support will most probably come in on the spectrum of gentle reminders to incessant, impatient violence for a post. Because that’s what we all need.

In the spirit of no one should be left to suffer alone, I will be joining in on the every other day of shitty first drafts, practicing the art of giving zero fucks about the careful perfection of my ideas, committing to committing something to the page over 30 days, whatever that may be.

Should I apologize in advance? I’m practicing not doing that too.

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Exhale: on imperfections

You know that inhale? The one before stepping onto the stage at a dance recital, before the first word of a nomination speech, before the first pull at a violin string, before “I do.” The inhale that’s paired with having spent hours, decades, lifetimes preparing for what’s about to follow.

I live in that inhale. That inhale is my bread and butter. Constantly at the edge of starting to do something or be someone I’ve been preparing for, but never quite ready (or rather, perfect) enough to breathe out. To do. To be. I always have a reason for not moving on to the exhale. It’s not worth it. There’s no impact. It’ll inevitably fail. The quality is not up to par. But the truth is that I’ve mastered the inhale and I’m more comfortable in a state of preparation for action rather than action itself. No more.

You, dear reader, are going to join me as I breathe out over the next 30 days. I’m committing to writing every other day regardless of quality, regardless of content, regardless of perceived judgment. (I know… I’m really selling this). The only constant goal over my 27 years has been to use writing to make something happen – be that to inspire a feeling, capture the imagination, elicit a reaction, or effect policy change. To make this happen, I need to stop preparing and start performing. Weak word choices, comma splices, incomplete thoughts – I’m going to let it all hang out and embrace the philosophy of shitty first drafts. Enjoy.

 

21 Questions

I slipped into Lake Washington and finally exhaled. The day’s sun still burned from my skin and in a first moment of cool relief, submerged, I thought of you. You left me in a heady daze, pinned against a wall after strong coffee and light sleep. “Ask me your questions,” you had said hours earlier when I was curled alongside you and in the openness of such a suggestion, I was stone.

But suspended in the lake, just cool enough that I shivered with each passing breeze, questions simply flowed from drips to a deluge.

Do you remember that moment from our [Thurs]date when I first put my hand on your knee? You had been joking or telling a story in that epic way you have of painting narratives. Feeling you beneath me, I surprised myself with how quickly, how comfortably I had reached out. I caught a quick breath and looked at you: I’ll see him again, I thought. But I almost didn’t, did I? There’s another version of this in another universe. An ephemeral connection; a possible romance.

And still, I would have kept you in my mind. Your smile—I didn’t anticipate your smile. I’ll think of it first and the sly way you’ll coax me: “Come on.” With soft restraint, you light me up. But it’s the unexplored depth of that daydream that teases me. Do you think about it, too?

And what of my room? Those four walls that can seem boundless in their limited world. Inside them, we’re not weighed down by external rules and standards. Any sense of time, of timelines, disappears. Yet, an alarm inevitably rings.

I’ve wondered if our worlds beyond a Ballard bedroom might ever be at odds. My work’s guiding beacon remains the belief that health is a human right. What is yours? Do ends justify the means in our lives’ pursuits, K, or might we cycle in a deontological discussion?  Perhaps we’re both lines for treating an ever-present cancer: scalpel and salve. Are we strengths in different forms?

Am I strong enough for you? Is it a weakness to even ask? This isn’t a question I’ve ever considered before: stark independence and quiet detachment being the tragic flaws brought forth to me so far. But there’s a difference with you. Or is it a change in me?

Do you see? How much more revealing questions can be than answers. And yet, in capturing them I’ve released the risk that petrified my voice. Now you can guess—guess what it is I’m thinking.

On knowing what you want.

I’m always jealous of those people who know exactly what they want. You know, the ones in your class who know that they love this, that they’re passionate about that, that this is what they want to do, what they were meant to do. The ones who know exactly what field they want to work in, in which role, focused on which particular topic. That when they introduce themselves, they can tell you where they’re heading because that’s where they want to be. They go around in life actively pursuing this goal. Maybe they have several. But there’s one that’s guiding, that they’re working toward, now.

These people exist. And they’re excited and passionate and determined and often insufferably happy doing it. And they are doing it. Moving forward towards something, whatever that may be.

My question is: how do they know? Is it something that holds their interest above all else? Do they understand themselves well enough to know that following this path will make their future selves happy or fulfilled, or whatever it is that they’re seeking? Or is it simply for lack of imagination? Of exposure? How do they know? There are so many things in the world. So. Many. Things.

How do you know exactly what one wants in a partner? In a workplace? In a career? Is it naïve to know exactly what you want with such conviction? Are you forcing your future self into a box, into an abyss from which you can’t climb out? Is it not crippling to find out that it wasn’t what you believed it to be? How can you want something so much without knowing what it truly means to have it?

Maybe all of this struck me too early. I wanted to be a scientist when I was little, specifically forensics, believe it or not – an investigative scientist for justice, if you will. This lasted for years. When I started to understand what that really meant, beyond solving problems and serving some sort of justice, but what that meant in the day-to-day, and realizing that that wasn’t something that I wanted, I was crushed. I remember going to my dad, nearly in tears, asking him what do I do. I had spent so much time focused on this, planning for this, imagining a full life. Of course, talking to a 10 or 12 year-old kid, he told me that it’s okay to change my mind. He’s had to tell me this several times since, but that’s beside the point. With seemingly nothing else to fill the void of this passing realization, I felt both loss and lost.

Maybe it’s something that everyone goes through. I feel like I’ve gone through it a hundred times over. It’s exhausting, mentally, emotionally, and physically. It seems as though I’ve flipped through the options a thousand times. Nothing seems appealing anymore.

So then, what happens when one doesn’t know what one wants? I’ve told myself that it leaves me open to more – more experiences, opportunities, people, places, ideas. That I’ll find something, eventually. But I haven’t. I can hardly articulate what I do, or say that I do it with “passion”. In fact, I cringe at the thought of saying so. Decisions are made based on seemingly fleeting desires and interests or what seems to make sense in this moment, or the next year. It’s a reasonable justification to say that you can’t plan for the next ten years, but it’s nice to have an idea of direction – that progress is being made towards something. Or maybe my type A-ness needs to take a backseat here. JUST LET ME LIVE.

Still, I’m jealous of the knowing – the knowing where you’re going and that you want to be there. Perhaps these people don’t feel so limited by their dedication to their “passion”. Perhaps it’s an issue of trusting yourself to know yourself and make decisions for your-(future)-self. Perhaps it’s not being intimidated by the investment, or the impending disappointment. Perhaps it’s something to work toward just to do something, moving somewhere. Or perhaps everything else is just alluring distraction and I’ve stumbled into a labyrinthine house of mirrors that only ends with me choosing a single image of myself, abandoning all the rest.