Thanks, I hate it.
Attempts to (half) convince myself that taking a break from work is a good idea
From an early age, I was taught that success comes from meticulous planning, preparing for every contingency, and avoiding liminality at all costs. You know, the standard “much effort, much prosperity” wisdom. Yet here I am, a woman without a plan in a liminal space, seeming to have disregarded everything I learned. I guess you can even surprise yourself sometimes.
Back in February, my job ended, and I decided to take some time off before getting around to finding a new one. In the year of the Great Resignation, this wasn’t that bold of a move on paper. Plus, I had a solid cover story about burnout for anyone who asked. In reality though, this decision has been anything but easy.
You see, the dividing line between me (a person) and my work (something I am paid to do) is tenuous at best. I’m more than just an employee, naturally. I’m also a friend, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, and someone in desperate need of some hobbies. But the hard truth is that if I’m working, I’m never not fully consumed by my job. I’m either doing the work or thinking about doing the work, and consequently, never fully present for anything or anyone else. At my worst, I like it this way. I am good at work, where I can be capable and in control, and not so good at life, where things are messy and unpredictable.
From the outside, it’s easy to romanticize liminal spaces. In the past few months so many people have asked me, breathlessly, how much I’m enjoying my time off, which is a rather leading question if you think about it. Sure, some days I do like having an empty calendar to take the dog on a walk or futz around in my garden. But these things take up mere hours, which means there’s always free time to wallow in my uncertainty.
Productivity is one hell of a drug, but it doesn’t do much for you in a liminal space. I can’t plan or push or work my fingers to the bone to get to the other side. I am left to wait for anything vaguely resembling progress to happen. On really bad days, I feel disoriented, if not desperate for a full calendar and the reassurances that come from a job well done.
So why keep at it? Well, because at 41, I’ve learned a lot more about success than I was taught as a child. I know now that jobs never love you back. I’ve seen how victories can be completely hollow when the costs are considered. I’ve learned that being good at work doesn’t equate to happiness. In fact, I can stack up a whole pile of professional successes, and they still don’t make up for the fact that I wasn’t around when my son took his first steps, not to mention all the other, important things I’ve missed.
Truth is, I’ve come to believe that the only way out of this liminal space is through. I want to be more than just my title and my role, even if I don’t know how just yet. So, I’m going to sit here for a while and write my way through the hard questions: Would work feel different if I had a purpose or a calling (or is that just misguided pop psychology)? How will I know that I’m doing a good job when the measure is not total sacrifice? What might my life look like if the person I choose not to disappoint is me?
This is liminality, after all. There’s time for more questions to come.