In Search of Permission

It is midnight. I have been awake since 6 am, and I have been working since 7 am. I came back to my hotel room (I’m in Vancouver for a few days) for a bit, and then went to a vendor event.

All told, I have worked for at least 14 hours today in one form or another. A vendor dinner might not seem like work, or it might at least seem like glamorous work, but I assure you, you are still in a suit and heels and nylons with the start of a run that you are trying to keep from spreading, and you are still making small chat and talking about work, so it’s work.

I was about to hop in the shower just now, and I was feeling guilty because I had a few things left to do and I really just wanted to curl up in my bed with a book and not do the work.  I thought about posting a status on facebook asking for permission to knock off for the day before I was fully done. I thought a friend might come along and tell me to go to bed, and that would be enough permission for me. I could go to bed not because I had done enough or because I was tired, but because I said it was ok to go to bed.

I am supposed to work, I am paid to work 7.5 hours a day. I have worked twice that today. On Monday with some late breaking work, I worked a twelve hour day. I had a conference call on Saturday morning.  Tomorrow I have a breakfast meeting with a client, at 7:30 am. I won’t get back to my house until 6 pm, and then I will probably have an hour’s worth of emails to answer.

What got me thinking, as I stood in the shower was not the work, the quality or the quantity of the work, but why on earth I thought I needed someone’s permission to knock off after working twice my daily requirement. It’s not my boss, not my company. No one is expecting this of me.

Except me.

I am my own task-mistress.

I expect it of myself. I want permission, someone to come along and tell me, or at least validate what I already know – that I have done a good enough job for today. I have done enough, demonstrated enough value, been smart enough and capable and competent enough. I’m ok. I’m valuable. I need someone to tell me this because it rings hollow when I say it to myself.

And that’s just for today. Tomorrow starts all over again – trying to prove my value. It’s obviously not my company driving this – they promoted me. It’s not my friends – they think I work too much. It’s not Mr. Spit – he loves me the way I am and really doesn’t care about how much I work, as long as the work makes me happy.

No. It’s just me.

For the last four months I have been thinking about my relationship to my work. The universe gave me several things to think about over Christmas Vacation, and it keeps gently reminding me of them.

And so tonight, standing in the shower, I started to unpack the whole notion of what enough is when it comes to work. I’m the only person who can define enough because I’m the person who set it up in the first place. And if enough is about validation, well I think there may never be enough.

I wish I could say that I had a total epiphany about work – that in a bolt of blue I saw the problem and the solution and by tomorrow at 6 pm I will have it solved.

I saw the start of the problem – why I want permission to stop working – about how closely my working habits are related to my need for validation. I realized that work is not just enjoyable but a way of making myself feel valued and needed, and maybe that’s not entirely healthy. At the least it strikes me as a good servant bad master sort of situation.

So, I am going to give myself permission to go to bed. I am going to give myself permission to think more  about this and not have all the answers – to turn the question over in my mind.

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6 Responses to In Search of Permission

  1. Jen says:

    Wow I feel like I could have written this post. You have articulated what has been stewing in me for about 6 months. Thank you!

  2. a says:

    Long ago, I learned that the only reward for good work is…more work. That just seems wrong. So, I set myself a standard of doing the amount of work I can do without stressing and without making a mistake, and that’s what I do. What seems reasonable and still allows you time to enjoy the rest of life too? It can be 7.5 hours, or it can be 14 hours. But if you’re not enjoying those 14 hours, you should cut back. You do just as good a job in 7.5 hours as you do in 14 hours – so the rest should be about what makes you happy.

  3. debby says:

    ‘a’ makes very good sense.

  4. Mr. Spit says:

    It’s safe to assume that I have given you permission to knock off – even if I’m not available to give it to you verbally.

    You know, when this happens again?

  5. Certainty says:

    I did that – worked long hours, put in free overtime. Built a world leading program. In the end, my boss didn’t care. I didn’t get support, worked 5 FTE positions, and it was the guys that claimed my work that got promoted. So I sat down, ponder life, and decided that living in the here and now is more important. I know I’ve built the benchmark offset system. I know I’ve built the world leading benchmark verification requirements. I know I’ve debugged a department’s contracting processes. And I know there is no way in hell they are getting free overtime out of me. I may not have kids, but I’m not going to be my boss (he will wake up one day and realize his daughter moved out, and he missed life). Maybe I won’t rule the world, but at least I’ll joy the time I have here. But that’s my journey. Always give yourself permission to sleep.

  6. loribeth says:

    I agree with the others above. I am happy to work my 7.5 hours, & the occasional (paid) overtime, when it’s warranted. But I refuse to make a habit out of it. I have other things I’d rather be doing.

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