It turns out, I enjoy mowing the lawn. I used to enjoy punishing workouts on the treadmill, track, or elliptical, but since those aren’t in the time budget these days, I often get my exercise doing things that double as chores. When I mop the floor, however infrequently, that thing gets a power scrub. Then I fall into a chair and congratulate myself on my two birds approach.
The best part about the lawn, aside from the grueling nature of it, is that there is nothing else I can be doing. I don’t get distracted by the stray sock under the sofa and end up putting a load of clothes in the wash and then removing the ones in the dryer and then maybe folding a few and then fretting about the website I need to be working on and then…
It’s kind of a relief.
Working from home part time (for now) and trying to manage the home front has me thinking about the nature of work. There is a lot of research into learning styles for children, and a push for schools to accommodate this. And I’ll admit I haven’t researched this, but what about work styles? I think this is one of the factors that makes the freelance life so attractive.
Robert Reich has written a good deal about the on-demand economy, and there are some very serious concerns with it, especially regarding fair labor practices. But for so many people, it is the dream. It is both entrepreneurship and the ultimate individualism for some. I’m no exception.
The thing is, I started out loving my jobs – at least some of them. Sure, sometimes the human factor grated on me. I have a low tolerance, it seems, for mean people. But the best work environment I ever had was a small office with four other women, and we worked together marvelously. Even still, the job got stale. I loved the work. Believed in it passionately. The pay was crap, as happens at small nonprofits sometimes, but it was a great opportunity for that point in my career. It’s still most impressive job title I’ve ever had.
What I now believe is that I have a work style that is incompatible with what office work requires. I can work – hard – with great bursts of creativity and productivity. But I can’t sustain it for eight hours a day, five days a week, on top of mundane tasks that never cease. I always, always get behind. And then my great bursts of productivity do less to get me ahead than to just stay caught up.
And now I just wonder if this is the basic contradiction that makes full time employment such hell for some people. Some people can work so hard at a furious pace day in and out, or so it seems. They relax at home, and that is enough. Now, some of us don’t expect work to be pleasant in any way; perhaps it is a function of privilege to even ask these questions, like Thoreau musing about “lives of quiet desperation.” But people are always looking at the tradeoffs with regard to work. Status, income, respectability, stability versus drudgery. I see inspirational articles and images all the time about following your passion, about mastering the thing you love and how the income will follow. About ditching the soul-killing job for freedom.
So for me, I was thinking about what made my jobs ultimately so unpleasant, even when I liked or even loved the work in theory, and this is what I’ve come up with: the rhythm of work. My rhythm is an erratic one that requires a natural ebb and flow in order to be most effective. Employers just don’t want to pay you for the ebb that is necessary for the flow with me. And this is what freelance promises me. The idea that I can mow the lawn and ponder my article, and this is work. That I can push to meet a deadline without the crippling guilt when I spend half an hour checking social media on my phone after, because this down time is necessary. I won’t be a six figure freelancer, most likely, but if I can make a living this way, then I really will be living the dream.
Are you fast and furious, slow and steady, or ebb and flow when you work? What styles have I missed?