I’m almost at the end of my 15 month sabbatical, and I have to tell you that I’m not handling it particularly well. I remind myself that I’ve had more time off in one year than many workers do during their entire careers. I remind myself that I have a job – and one that I’m both trained to do and that I’m good at. I remind myself I have almost-ironclad job security. I remind myself that my job (with its 9 month contract) still has more flexibility and autonomy than most jobs. I remind myself of all the amazing, hard, rewarding and challenging things I’ve done – and thought – during my sabbatical.
Yet still, I whine.
My chiropractor – a wise, wise man – commented that a lot of it has to do with the rhythms of work, that even when you are gone for a few days, it’s hard to get back into the swing of things. He advised that I be gentle with myself when I return. Absolutely – and now my challenge is to find ways that don’t involve copious amounts of ice cream and/or alcohol.
His comments got me thinking about the rhythms of work that existed before I left. Over sabbatical, I started seeing how dysfunctional some of my patterns were. Here are a few:
- Saying yes to almost everything, because saying no might lead to closed doors or alienated colleagues and maybe the possibility of not getting tenure
- Operating as if work had first dibs on all of my evenings, weekends and other free time, thus letting everyone else’s priorities come before my own
- Berating myself for not accomplishing everything on my to do list, because if I didn’t do everything I wanted & planned & dreamed of doing, it meant I was a failure
Much of my work dysfunction stems from the same place as most of the other dysfunction in my life: Deep down I think I’m not good enough. So I have to try super hard to please everyone and do everything so that everyone can see that I am, indeed, good enough.
This is an old wound and a persistent one. It’s one that plagues a lot of people. And it’s one that can go to hell, although that’s easier said than done. (Even as I write this I have an irrational fear that people I love will reject me after reading my thoughts, because they’ll think I’m dull, boring, inarticulate, stupid, [insert low self-esteem descriptor here].)
Even though I haven’t fully healed that wound, I do know that the challenge facing me in a few weeks is not only getting back into work rhythms, but getting into new ones. Sabbatical gave me a new sense of my own authority. It’s almost as if, at age 37, I am finally becoming an adult – independent, autonomous, one who is a player in her own life and not just a passive recipient.
I have some plans and ideas to put in place when I return to work, ones that I hope will establish a healthier relationship with my workplace. Basically, live like I – and my plans, dreams, writing, life outside work – matter. Because they (and I) do.
I’m still going to need a whole bunch of cookies for those first few weeks, though…