I’ve gotten back into the workplace for several months now and it’s opened my eyes to how much has changed, how much I’ve changed, and how much more there is to see ahead. Here are some highlights.
There are no stupid questions. Seems everyone’s computer screen in the orientation room was displayed as full screen, but mine was minimized and with a mess of distracting icons crowding the space. Noticing my lag, a helper walked over, “You might want to make your window full screen, ma’am.” I’ve gotten used to this elder etiquette lobbed my way, but this and at orientation no less made me cringe. Is it that obvious? Because inside I’m nowhere near fifty-nine. Accustomed to my Mac’s screen, I’d hesitated a bit. Ahh, yes. Full screen. Ok, this ma’am is all caught up. Since then, the IT folks have helped me with anything else that has cropped up and kept me ticking along beautifully.
You DO have something to wear. Up at zero dark hundred to draw a bath–well before my shamrock plant has even thought of opening–you find your makeup bag so you can sketch some semblance of awake onto your face, and cobble together whatever might be whispering business casual in the hall armoire. Then it’s out the door to see if you can travel six miles in under 30 minutes. Some things haven’t changed: Atlanta still bleeds traffic.
Go to bed! The first few days after work found me lying prone on the bed in my son’s empty room for several hours surrounded by cats, bored from coexisting in silence all day, hovering and hopeful that I would infuse the place with some energy. Sorry kitties, the tank’s empty. On any given evening, if you were to do a midnight drive by, you’d likely find our house ablaze in lights, very likely the only one on the street like this, the one with no sense. What are we doing except feeding fatigue? I actually fell asleep at a stoplight on my way home the other day. It wasn’t for so long that someone had to honk to wake me, but still, my eyelids closed for a pregnant pause, and for a second, I forgot where I was. I am finally learning that sleep is no longer some out of reach luxury. You’ve got a job to do, girlfriend. Get some sleep.
Put down the cookies. Always simmering on the back burner, my sweet tooth has flared up again and I broke down and bought some Oreo thins which I’d planned to use in the crust of a raspberry pie I wanted to make. But until pie making commences, I’ve been snacking on them. The other day, sated with cookies, I pulled the familiar, I’ll just lie down for a second on my bed routine, this time in my room. I was curled up for a most delicious catnap when I woke with a startle. It seems a little stream of drool had trickled out of the side of my mouth and onto my cream-colored bedspread. Not your run of the mill translucent drool, this was Oreo cookie drool. Lovely. Ok, people, nap time is over. There’s a bedspread to clean.
Structure is underrated. I’ve started and run my own business before, and I remember that you wear a lot of hats. Most days you’re Fred Flintstone propelling your own car with your own legs, also focusing on where you’re headed, finding clients, getting gas, repairing equipment, and orchestrating and paying for it all. In a larger work environment, engines are built into the cars so you can focus on all the rest. It’s that same feeling after someone took the first shower and you start yours when the water is already hot. You’re free to lather, shampoo, exfoliate, shave or even sing, but you don’t have to wait on the water to get hot or wrestle with the mechanics of getting it out of the showerhead in the first place.
The plumbing’s changed. Here, we boy moms consistently find sparkling clean toilet seats in the delightfully DOWN position nestled behind blonde wood louvered doors which extend to the floor. These toilettes it seems doubles as bidets. If you sit a little too long emptying that bladder, the sensors assume you’re all done and kick in and present you with a startling complimentary splash. Similar to the carwash you get if you fill your tank, here you get the freebie if you are too leisurely emptying yours. Also, there’s piped in music, which isn’t awful. Think tea at the Ritz versus Muzak.
People need people. Working alongside people together yet separate inside a thick cloud of silence leaves me feeling isolated and tends to sap any creativity and energy I brought with me. For me, collaboration and connection, even in tiny doses, is the missing link. I have discovered a non-negotiable absolute for my environment if I’m to pursue something more regular. I only know this because of what happened Monday, which was shaping up to be a fine, full day until I got into an impromptu chat with two colleagues, also recently back in the workforce. We briefly compared notes on work challenges and family and whatever else needed to spill out into the open in that moment, and then got back to our respective afternoons. The rest of the day rolled along pleasant and productive enough, yet something had shifted. I felt better about everything, in large part due to this wonderful newfound sense of belonging as if I were in the right place after all, and everything made sense–the work, the people, me. I’ve worked plenty of places, but I’ve yet to discover an easier, more perfectly controlled experiment which speaks volumes about myself. I need to interact with people, if only for a few minutes each day, if I’m going to be happy.
Life is short. Get the frames. As most nearsighted 50 somethings have learned, the distance from book to computer screen to farther away requires different strength lenses. I’ve avoided getting progressives because I’ve heard so many whine that you must retrain your brain to look up then down and here and there, and they’ve all sounded so unhappy and this nuisance has left them full of regret. As a result, I’ve spent a decade too long flipping my glasses up to read and putting them back down to see far away, yet never finding that middle distance clarity you need to see a computer. Until now, and I will add I am in love with my new frames.
If you don’t get help here, please get help somewhere. This subhead is from an ad years ago for a drug treatment center in Atlanta. The idea is if you don’t come to our institution for help, get help somewhere. This instruction holds true for most things, including one’s career. At this stage of my life, I am appreciating how there needs to be a place outside your four walls where you can go and think clearly and solve problems and contribute, and cogitate on things that matter, things outside of your own life. You’ve invested years in your family and your home and all the trimmings, but there is still more out there, more to understand, invest in, contribute to. Yourself included. And if you haven’t yet found it, keep looking.
Not sure what’s ahead, but this sure feels like a start, and I’m grateful.