They say—that all-knowing they who explain everything to us—that Sunday evening blues are a carryover from school days. Whether or not that is true, it is certainly the case that anything I leave unresolved on Friday has the potential to pop unbidden into my dreams early Monday morning. Very, very early Monday morning.
And so it was that at three o’clock this morning, I was sitting cross-legged in bed, surrounded by my twelve dogs (the puppies are really, really supposed to go away on Wednesday) and working. In the bad old days working on Wall Street, insomnia was a frequent visitor, and I have been fortunate not to see it or any of its stress-driven symptoms as often since moving to Vermont. The lesson I learned in the bad old days is that I can’t fight it. Insomnia always wins. I might just as well get up, do some work, and lay to rest the underlying anxieties.
People are always telling me that I need to be different from…how I am. That I shouldn’t worry. I shouldn’t take things so much to heart. I shouldn’t allow work to intrude on my weekend. And I have listened to a lot of good advice and changed my behavior, really quite dramatically.
I took the radical step of packing all my stuff into a truck, leaving New York City and moving to Vermont. I scaled down what I spend financially, and I continue to simplify my life. Perhaps most important, I am conscious every day of good stewardship of my physical and emotional strength. I can’t do everything. I can only do a few selected things well, and it is important that I pick the right ones.
If not exactly simpler, work here is undeniably more contained than on Wall Street. I work in a one-and-a-half person office, with oversight of a board of directors. I am fortunate that I work with people who are talented, capable and emotionally in charge of their own lives. I speak my mind. While my directness occasionally ruffles feathers, I believe that my colleagues and my friends expect not only fairness but compassion and even generosity from me. And there is none of that bottling-up-tension stuff, or not much. The skills that I learned in business school and on Wall Street—not to mention in therapy—have helped me operate in this new world with both kindness and effectiveness, and that is a source of great personal satisfaction.
At the same time, since I believe in the work that I do (economic development), and I get excited about it, I feel obligated to take it seriously. At first, it was hard to learn to leave it all at work on Friday evening. It had been years since the concept of a weekend had meaning! In the worst of the bad old days, we would work twelve to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, week after week, for months at a time. Let me stress, this is not healthy.
People who buy into that grim schedule become less effective per hour than those who work more rational hours, but the total work accomplished probably is greater…and that’s why employers don’t change the game. People who buy into that grim schedule compromise personal relationships and ultimately physical health. I know. And I’m not going there again.
But I can only shut off my brain for a limited period. By the end of the day Sunday, certainly by Monday morning, I need to be back at it, sorting through the legal implications of one situation, planning for the next board meeting, making notes to remember to call this person or that one. At any given time, there may be no project that has the live-or-die critical status that it would now require to get my full weekend attention…but there are always several that need to be tweaked to stay in forward motion. And that can’t always wait for me to arrive at the office for a new work week. To the degree that anxiety intrudes into my now treasured weekends, or even further into my sleep, I know the issues can’t wait. If I’m awake at three in the morning…we have to call that anxiety. Is it bad anxiety, or is it the kind that gets us to write the term paper the night before? Who knows?
The counterbalancing gift: that by the end of the day on Monday it all looks better. Anxieties recede in the wake of plans made and set in motion. The “to do” list looks almost doable again. Hot new projects no longer frighten me, they get my juices flowing. Free-floating fears crawl back under the bed. And so I say…Thank God It’s Monday.