I remember a long time ago one of my friends, a guy who I really respected but we treated each other like peers, wandered into my office. You’re really talented, he said, but you lack focus. Those words have haunted me a long time, probably over ten years. I know he’s right but I still to this day have not figured out how to fix this problem.
He worked in a cube, diligently. Every morning he’d show up a half hour before work and read the paper. I think it was the New York Times or the Wallstreet Journal or something. I asked him why one time. Why didn’t he just stay home and read that paper in the comfort of his own breakfast table? He smiled and said something about not giving everything to “the man.” I think I got it but I was the kind of employee who snuck personal time all day long. A half hour before work was hardly selfish in my book.
I had a luxurious office recently handed down to me by the president of the company because he felt guilty about something. I’m not really sure what. Maybe because I’d been with the company a really long time and wasn’t properly compensated or maybe because I was going to be sidestepped for a promotion. I don’t know. Office politics were always tricky at that company. I was just happy to be upgraded from a cubicle by the bathroom (that stank!!) to a spacious office, even if it didn’t have windows.
I was good at my job and churned out all kinds of mock-ups that got sales people fat commission checks so it wasn’t that I was a bad employee but I did spend a lot of time fixing up my office (best office in the whole place by the way) and making rocket ships out of the cardboard boxes that piled up outside the IT department. So I guess I get what the guy meant when he said I was really talented but lacked focus.
But how does someone who is creative focus? That is the eternal question of a freelancer. It’s been dogging me for years.
Stress and deadlines are effective but they lack staying power and they wreck havoc on your life. You end up hunched over a computer with posture like Quasimodo. Everything hurts because you drink too much coffee and you sleep too little. Finally your body rebels and you end up having some kind of breakdown or you rebel and blow everybody off for three weeks (not that I’ve done that).
So then you set yourself up with a strict schedule. You vow to wake up at five am and work until three without even so much as a lunch break. I’ve used timers and highlighted calendars. I’ve worked at friend’s houses and asked them to be strict with me. But in the end you are your own boss and you rebel. Next thing you know you’re typesetting a cookbook for your mom or creating a dollhouse out of cereal boxes, schedule be damned.
I recently took my entire weekend off and read the whole first Outlander book. You might say, How nice. You needed to relax. No, I didn’t. I relax all the time. I’m forced to work poolside after all. It was stupid and gluttonous and I’m going to be paying for it all week. I’m sick of myself. Not to mention my kid ran wild, eating taffy for dinner and who knows what for lunch. I was a horrible mom and I vow to never do that again.
Why do I do things like this? I love to escape into a series on Netflicks or lose myself in books but then when I’m done I’m left looking at my life like a druggie about to go into rehab. How did I let things go like this? Of course everyone is fine. Don’t worry. My bills are paid, my kid is mostly well adjusted and I usually snap back to responsibility right in the nick of time but why? Why can’t I be like my friend who came in a half hour before work and get my personal time in small doses? Why do I need to throw caution to the wind and lose myself in fantasy? Is my own life that boring? No. Of course it’s not. I love my life.
I speak for myself but as a creative I am my own worst boss. Or am I? As soon as I set rules for myself I break them. Is there a way to harness creative energy in such a way that we can support ourselves and not deplete ourselves? This is obviously not a well-thought-out rant but I lack the time to be more concise. My boss, who is me, is getting after me. Focus, Brenda, focus!!
photo: me back in the day circa 1999 I think.