Is having fun on your to-do list?

Image of magnetic letters spelling having fun on a fridge

Has having fun disappeared off your to-do list?

My friend recently quit her stressful full-time job to stay at home. She’d been fantasising about this every day for the last 10 years.

Finally allowing herself the time to piece together the missing chunks of her children’s lives, at last having the freedom to arrange every minute of the day to fit her own agenda. She couldn’t wait to indulge her passion for cooking exotic recipes, join a running group and catch up with friends who’d been lurking at the bottom of her to-do list for years

Two weeks later and she’s as miserable and stressed as when she was working.”I can’t seem to enjoy it,” she says. “I think I need to go back to work.”

Every minute must count 

Another friend, about to take some well-deserved time off after years of spreading herself thinly on all fronts for years, has drawn up a list of planned activities that will make any senior company executive break out in a cold sweat:

Refurbish the house, landscape the garden, do a painting course, volunteer for a charity, Pilates sessions every day. The list is endless and is rattled off to everyone she encounters – daring anyone to doubt that every minute of every day at home will be spent productively.

On trend 

As with every other negative parenting phenomenon, I am bang on trend. My decision to realign my life with the things I care about and enjoy – my family and my writing, is a secret rebellion against an army of inner voices telling me that without a regular pay cheque, my self-esteem will be punched full of holes by every working mum I meet.

Even if we can afford it financially, and I’m very conscious that not everyone can, mums of my generation seem to be terrified of losing their grip – even just for a moment – on the slippery corporate ladder for fear that one misstep will send them sliding down into the doldrums of depression where their minds will rot away never to spark again.

Empty diary panic

Why does an empty page in the diary fill us with panic? Why do we feel the need to justify – even to strangers – a perfectly reasonable decision to take time out from the relentless and often unsatisfactory grind of being a working mum?

We are almost ashamed of the desire to spend precious hours with our children or just have a bit of time to ourselves, doing things that might not earn money, but could pay off handsomely in brownie points with our children and in self-fulfilment.

So where is this going?

Take my writing for example – I finally got myself as far as signing up for the creative writing course I always wanted to do – (my inner voice is still not talking to me) and I love it! But the niggling voice is there every time I leave the class – So, are you actually going to publish a book? This is all good and well, but where are you going with this? Are you going to make money (highly unlikely) or get famous (even more unlikely)?

I’ve never been driven by money – a new handbag or pair of shoes turn me on as much as the next woman – however, can I live without them – absolutely.

The real problem, I suspect, is that my sense of self is so entangled with my to-do list, that the thought of having a day without a plan or an activity without a concrete outcome – is like stepping off a cliff.

On the rare occasion that I manage to shake off those fears and anxieties, take deep yoga breaths, eat lots of chocolate and focus on enjoying what I’m doing in that moment – sitting on the carpet playing with my son or getting lost in my writing in a coffee shop – I feel like I am the person and mother I was meant to be.

And if I can build more of those moments into my life – who knows where that will lead?(See there I go again – why does it have to lead somewhere? It’s fun, I enjoy it – it’s good for my children and me. Is that not good enough?)

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Am I having a midlife crisis? Am I on my own out here? Anyone?

Advertisements

Productively tweezing hair working from home

coffeeandcinnamonroll

I’m writing this while ‘working from home’ because something really got up my nose and I can’t share it with anyone around the water cooler because there is no water cooler and my only colleague is the imaginary friend I invented when I started telecommuting. (Professional speak for working from home)

I’ve had three coffees, a homemade smoothie and a second breakfast, stacked the dishwasher, blow dried my hair and re-organised the toy box – so it’s almost 11am, but I just had to get this off my chest first.

Just exactly who does this Marissa Mayer woman thinks she is? Never heard of her until this week – so just Googled her to try to understand what possessed the 37-year old new Yahoo boss and mum of one to ban home working in a company that must surely have as one of its primary business objectives to drive more people online.

Telecommuting is only possible because of the internet, an industry which will allow the lovely Marissa to take home a cool basic salary of £77million over the next five years. (This is not counting shares and bonuses of as much as £45 million per year.)

For that sort of money I could probably be persuaded to commute into the office naked on a unicycle every day, but that’s not the point.

(You’ll excuse me if I just go and tweeze a stray hair from my left eyebrow at this point. It’s really disturbing me and so hard to concentrate when you’re not surrounded by hard working colleagues.)

What outrages me is the suggestion that speed and quality are sometimes sacrificed when working from home.

If anything, the quality of my work really benefits from the daytime television and Internet surfing I manage to squeeze into my hectic day.  Speed is also not sacrificed, because I can now paint my toenails, wipe my toddler’s bottom and cook tea, while taking part in an important teleconference.

According to this poster girl for working women, home-workers are also starved of the creativity of working with others, which affects their work… affects their work…affects their work, have I mentioned it affects their work.

(Sorry, must be the lack of stimulation from colleagues)

Which reminds me, the last time I was in an office, I worked in a very small room with two men, one more boring and up his own behind than the other (they often are, aren’t they?). One was obsessed with Formula one racing and the other one was the world expert on everything including child birth and I quickly learned to avert my gaze and avoid all conversation if I wanted to get some work done or didn’t want to be bored to tears.

As far as meetings go – I can probably count on one hand the meetings I went to in my many years of working full time in an office, where a) I learned something b) anything useful was decided or c) anyone was creatively stimulated by what anyone else was saying or doing.

And sure, if I was earning millions of pounds for every article I write (cherish the thought) and could persuade someone to build a fully staffed nursery for my own children next to my office, like the ever considerate Marissa has done before decreeing all other mums at Yahoo had to be separated from their children, I might swop my slippers for stilettos and my telecommute for a chauffeur-driven Ferrari ride into the office every morning.

Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I really have to dash to fetch my son from the nursery (which was not custom built for him) and bring him home for a spot of lunch. Perhaps I’ll work a bit more later…

Quite pleased with myself really – This has been one of my more productive mornings this week!

Do you work from home? Would you be more productive, creative, in an office?

The podgy hand on my thigh

The allegations against former Lib Dem chief exec Lord Rennard have brought back some unpleasant, unwanted memories of a time when I was a vulnerable young woman hovering excitedly, uncertainly on the first rung of the career ladder.

He was an ugly old man (they usually are, aren’t they?), in his late 50s, with a huge pot belly, red, flaky skin and tiny snake-like eyes. He had an even uglier wife, (they usually do, don’t they?) enormous with a moon face and rotten smoker’s teeth.

I respected him a lot for his knowledge and was eternally grateful to him for giving me my first break in journalism. I wanted so much to please him.

It was after an office party one night.  He insisted on driving me to a pub where we would all meet up for a nightcap.

My subconscious flashed red alert signals, but I ignored them. He was my boss and my ticket to the only career that ever interested me.

Five minutes into the ride, a fat little hand with podgy sausage fingers and nearly transparent skin landed on my thigh. I froze.

He just kept talking as if nothing had happened. I moved away, his hand moved higher.

I did nothing…

By the time we got the pub, he was all over me – in front of all the staff members and his wife. Nobody said anything. He was literally pawing me like a big bear, laughing merrily all the time, while I sat motionless, tears stinging behind my eyes and bile rising in my throat.

The next day I went into the office, shaking uncontrollably. He pretended nothing had happened. I sat staring at my blank computer screen, unable to type a single word.  Every time I looked at him, I flushed, remembering his sickening sweet smell and sweaty hands on my legs. I knew I would never respect him again and I was devastated.

After a few days, I told my dad, an accomplished businessman, who instructed me to confront him.  It was the scariest thing I ever did.

I told him that if he’d ever touch me again, I would go straight to the police.

He exploded with rage, his face turning blood red and he shouted at the top of his voice so that everyone in the office could hear: “You think you’re God’s gift to men. I’ve never touched you and I would never want to touch you.”

It was terrifying, but even as he said it, I could feel the emotional distress of the days since the incident dissolving, the shift of power. I was in control. This would never happen again.

From that day on his behaviour towards me changed, as did his wife’s. They became businesslike, hostile, but very careful around me. He never touched me again.

Of course, I knew this would be the end of our working relationship, but there was no way I could have stayed there any way.

Eventually, after a few weeks, I found another job and left with a glowing reference. I bumped into him a few times after that – and every time he treated me professionally, with respect.

As pointed out by many women in the past few days, these type of incidents, which are sadly very common and typical of a certain generation of older men, are not about sex but about power.

The only way to deal with them is confrontation.