A friend of mine called me from New York. We talked for a while about his new job--I may be one of the few people who enjoys discussing with my friends the intricacies of their day to day work.
He asked me, so how are you?
I had to preface my response with a disclaimer,
"Nothing's wrong," I said. "But things are different." My friend probed to determine if I was unhappy."Nope," I said. "I'm just getting used to this change." I felt inarticulate, like when I had nightmares as a kid and my mom came into my room and asked me what I was afraid of, and I didn't know. One time I told her, "I'm feeling something skinny; a skinny string." I still get the sensation, but I don't know what it means.
By "change" I think I mean all that has shifted since becoming pregnant. For years I've been told about how the focus of energy shifts when you become a parent. I've held off on my decision to have children knowing this shift occurs.
But even knowing that I am supposed to slow the centrifugal force that has tied me to a grinding schedule for so long, I find that I still give myself a spin or two to stay in motion, even during times of physical exhaustion. I wonder if I do this out of habit; being in motion is all that I know. Or because the slowdown scares me; all this momentum, what would it take to start up again? What if I fall in love with slow? What if slow feels like a skinny string?
A trusted friend--a powerhouse, even to other powerhouses--tells me that her desire to work, to achieve, didn't change when she had her son, but her reason for working did.
"I did everything because of him," she said.
Some might bristle at that thought, especially since working women are encouraged to have their careers "for themselves". But some of us have been working "for ourselves" for a very, very long time, at the risk of having no perspective and losing the meaning behind what we do. For me, the thought of working for someone else is liberating; it opens possibilities. It bends the rules I set in my mind of the way work must be.
Still, the rules run deep. My business partner said to me last week that if I may not want to bother commuting these last few weeks before the baby is born. Makes sense: an hour-long commute (on a good day) is hardly safe or desirable should I go into labor a few weeks early. After five years of working together (two of those virtually) she knows the work will get done anywhere. But I struggle to take her up on her suggestion. I've always valued physical, tangible presence. Presence is being in motion.
Another co-worker suggested that I use the couch she has in her cube--something she's integrated into her space for extreme back issues. I thanked her and wondered, when would I think to put my feet up? My first job out of college, when my boss traveled I'd sneak cat naps in her office. Why was it so much easier to acknowledge exhaustion when I was 21?
At the BlogHer conference I promised my colleagues and husband that I would put my feet up regularly. It took my husband physically guiding me back to my hotel room 14 hours after I started the day to do what I'd promised. As I sat there, propped by pillows, feet up against the wall, tired and restless, I lamented that it was still so early--I was leaving first thing in the morning and still hadn't seen or done everything I'd wanted to do.
I am hardly a sadomasochist or born with more energy than others. I just don't know otherwise. I suppose I will learn. And I will learn how to channel that energy where it needs to go. And rather than look upon these offers of support suspiciously, I will learn to put my feet up and note that there are moments that we work and moments that we work FOR.
And that skinny string that keeps us tethered to a life in which we've done very well won't break.