He Walked Into My Life on Four Legs

Two years ago I went to the Westminster Dog Show for the first time. It was great fun watching the judging of different breeds and walking around the benching area where owners prepped their dogs for performance.

But I left with an itch. (And, no, I don’t mean fleas.)

I had been thinking for some time at that point about getting a dog. In the same way that women who feel ready to become mothers say that they suddenly see babies everywhere, it seemed that everywhere I looked there were dogs, with puppydog eyes imploring me to enter the ranks of owners. Of course, the Westminster Show was sheer torture. So when I left that night I made a silent commitment: I told myself that if I felt the same way one year later about getting a dog, I would stop thinking about it and just do it.

That same weekend in February one year later, I made some phone calls in search of a Havanese puppy. One week after that, I met the little fuzzball who would be mine, and I named him Dash.

I am thinking of this today because tonight I will go to the annual Dog Show again. Yet, I’m in a completely different place than I was last year or two years back. The craving is gone because Dash and I are a content little pair.

I have also come to realize that my decision to adopt a dog was the first manifestation of a slowly percolating determination to take back control of my life. Every time I had thought about it previously in the throes of my workaday life, I would immediately talk myself out of it. "Your lifestyle wouldn’t be fair to the dog."  Yet, I knew in my heart that it would make me very happy. Miraculously I managed to shut up my internal naysayer (and a few external naysayers as well) and move forward, in spite of not knowing exactly how I’d make it all work.

So which do you think is worse: 1) not having a clear idea of what will make you happy, or 2) having a sense of what will make you happy but piling up excuses that prevent you from making that happy thing happen?

I’d like to believe that when you’re really determined the logistics will figure themselves out — fitting a puppy into an active lifestyle, falling in love with someone long distance, having a child when you’re not at precisely the time in your career or relationship you thought you would do so. We’ve created so many rules, bought into this notion of the perfect timing for things to happen in a lifetime. It’s so… inflexible. Makes you think about how much we might be missing out on by sticking to guidelines that in no way guarantee happiness. And who’s to say the universe doesn’t have other plans for you anyway that will completely bypass your timeline?

I’m teaching myself to break these so-called rules when it will make me happy (and no one gets hurt, of course). Dash was a healthy start. I invite you to consider the possibilities.

You’ve Lost That Sunday Feeling

I was talking with someone the other day about the dread I used to feel every Sunday about heading back into the work week. Saturday was typically a carefree day, but at the moment I would wake on a Sunday, the countdown would begin. And the sensation was such that at the end of the countdown, around 9am on Monday morning, I would be launched from a cannon, high into orbit at top speed, not returning to earth again until Friday’s close of business or the last late-day phone call with West Coast clients. The knowledge that I was on the verge of disappearing for five consecutive days into a black hole of work caused a persistent emotional undercurrent of unhappiness every Sunday without fail.

There have been sixteen Sundays, including today, since I left my job in October. Sixteen Sundays without that “Sunday Feeling”.

Of course, it’s impossible for me to entirely forget the day of the week, as some suggest could happen during time off, because I’m surrounded by friends and family who work and grapple with that Sunday Feeling too. I am sympathetic to them; I know how it feels.  Even as I sit here in February, sixteen Sundays later, I can conjure up the old lump-in-my-throat feeling. I’m still that close to it.

Sunday’s head was full of dread.

As I think about what I’ll do next, I need to consider how the opportunities that present themselves to me will impact my mental and emotional health both at the job and away from it. A career or job that causes continuous stress straight through a weekend, casting a pall over already limited free time, is not going to be the healthy choice.

I acknowledge that I have a role in this too, that I have to be strong enough to walk away and leave the work behind, that I have to commit to maintaining a balance, but I think we can all agree that there are some jobs and careers that make that more challenging.

Perhaps it’s time to read What Color Is Your Parachute?  Has anyone read this and found inspiration in terms of career and job direction?  I’d love to hear about it.

Prologue

It’s time to begin.  Today is the day.

I’ve been feeling a strong need to write every day for the last few weeks, and today - right now - it’s time to begin. 

February is the fourth month of my sabbatical, my self-declared non-conformist who-would-do-that-in-a-down-economy career hiatus.

In the beginning, those exciting first few weeks at the end of 2010, my sole priority was to leave the working world behind and not look back (lest I turn to stone?), to unburden myself of the mental and emotional (and sometimes physical) stresses that had coiled around me like a boa constrictor progressively tighter over the 13+ years of my post-undergraduate working life, to do as much or as little might suit me in a day without meetings, status calls, or deadlines.

November, in short, amounted to:  more sleep; a few days with my brother and his wife and kids on their vacation in the Poconos; a fantastic Philadelphia marathon (4:03:52); helping my pregnant sister and her husband move into a new house; less dry mouth (affirming its predicted connection to stress); a relaxed Thanksgiving, for the first time without the standard holiday weekend “homework”; gardening with a neighbor; and frequent trips to the dog park with Dash.

Then December: my 2nd annual holiday party a great success; recovered at my own pace from an unpleasant back injury (try not to fall down stairs if you can avoid it, trust me); time to enjoy holidays with family and friends; befriending strangers and strengthening bonds as I supported a neighbor and her family through illness and death.

Is it credible that all of this represents a mere eight weeks of my life?

Beyond to January: trip of a lifetime to New Zealand - a three-week 2,000 mile road trip around the South Island, taking in all of the natural beauty that amazing country has to offer; back to New York City for all the snowstorms Old Man Winter could muster; celebration of my mother’s 64th birthday; 1st birthday for my awesome puppy, Dash.

So now here’s February and, although all I’ve done to date has been wonderful, it’s simply time to do something… meaningful. My heart and head have been bursting of late as I think about all the living one can do when one truly has time to live.  I don’t want to forget what this time has meant to me. I don’t want to lose any of the stories I’ve accrued. I want to remember how it feels to have temporarily stepped off the hamster wheel. And I want to figure out what I’m supposed to do next.

Care to come along for the ride?