The Search for Meaning
Still no news about next steps for Ana, but I felt compelled to post again because I’ve been preoccupied this weekend with a work-related dilemma that’s got me re-evaluating how I spend my time. I’m self-employed so I know I have a lot more flexibility with my days than many people, but sometimes that means work never goes away. If I’m not careful, I find myself unable to shut it down and I end up working all the time. That’s what’s happening now.
I got a new client last month that seemed like a “too good to be true” opportunity. It promised a lot of hours and a long-term commitment that was just what I needed because we’ve really been struggling financially since about June (when I lost three projects in a row). But my father has always said if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. My client (an agency) only won a fraction of the business, which was disappointing, but some new work is better than none, so…
Here’s the thing. The owner of the agency is an extreme type-A workaholic. He works all the time, and expects everyone else to do that too.
I haven’t been able to call him off, so to speak. Everything is an emergency. Everything needs to get fixed NOW, even when I explain that things aren’t actually broken. It’s been three weeks of working with this guy, and I’m a basket case. I don’t like this feeling. I’ve threatened to quit twice and felt bad about leaving the client in the lurch since the project has already started, but the latest emergency occurred yesterday at 8:30 p.m. and when I tried to explain that 1) what was going on wasn’t actually an emergency and 2) my weekends are precious. Nothing is getting done until Monday – he pushed back with some nonsense about client priorities.
So I sent him an email and explained that weekends with my family are my priority, particularly since my daughter’s diagnosis. I know that this was kind of a crappy thing to say to the guy, but he didn’t seem to have any trouble demanding that a bunch of people give up their weekend for what he deemed an emergency (it wasn’t). His reaction to my email was that this needed to be addressed today (Saturday). I responded that I’d deal with it Monday (again – NOT an emergency) and told him to have a good weekend. That was the end of it (for me), but I’ve been thinking about his inability to understand why I won’t work today and what that means to me.
It all started the day Ana was diagnosed – a fundamental shift in how I perceive the world, and what I want to do with the rest of my time here. That probably sounds eye-rollingly dramatic, but it’s true. I mean, I’d been dreaming about writing books for years. I went to bed nearly every night thinking of stories, plotting them out, imagining what it would be like for people to read my words. But I’d never taken the important step of actually writing them down. I thought I had all the time in the world. I always had something more important to do – “real” work, mom stuff, dishes…
About a month after Ana had a liver transplant, I found myself fundamentally disappointed with my life and, in particular, with the work that I was doing. When I started my business twelve years ago, it was awesome. I loved having my own business and staying at the top of my game.
But it’s not like anyone ever changed the world by writing a Google ad.
Books change kids’ lives. I knew I wanted to write a middle grade fantasy featuring a child with cancer. I wanted to do it for myself as much as for kids out there who have gone through (or are going through) what Ana went through. So when Ana started recovering, when her cancer was still in remission, I sat down and wrote my first book. It didn’t feel one bit like work. I realized that this was how I wanted to spend my time (when not with my family, of course). I still need to work at my “real” job and I do still enjoy it (for the most part), but I also recognize that it’s not my passion. Maybe it never was.
I can’t tell my new client all of this. I can’t tell him that he shouldn’t be spending his time in front of his computer, obsessively searching for his client’s ads and cataloging when they don’t show up, and emailing me (and everyone else) a bunch of useless questions or orders that can all wait until Monday, when his six-year-old is in school. I know I’ll sound smug, plus it will probably be hard to hear me from all the way up on my soapbox and, anyway, it’s not about him – it’s about me. I can’t muster enough enthusiasm to sacrifice even one single Saturday for the bullshit involved with someone’s advertising campaign.
It can wait until Monday!
But I feel bad about this. Some people still love their jobs, and this client deserves to work with someone like that. I can’t give this to him – my unlimited time. He can have my expertise, and my recommendations and my dedication to my job DURING THE WEEK, but I won’t pretend to see meaning where there isn’t any. For this reason, I think I need to end the relationship, even though it kind of feels like I’ve failed him. Not because I’m not reacting to his arbitrary demands, but because I wasn’t able to communicate that some things in life are more important than work.