10.13.2013

how to pursue something you don't really want

Since the day I decided to go to graduate school and change my career(s), my mind has reeled with questions about the future. When will I be able to quit my horrible law-firm job? When will I get a professional position at the library? When I get it, will I succeed, and will I enjoy my new work? What place will writing still have in my life? Will my health suffer? Will I have enough energy for these new demands? And on and on. It didn't feel worried or anxious, but I was incredibly impatient for my new future to arrive. Sometimes I could think of nothing else.

One after the next, these questions have been answered, and all in the affirmative - a source of unending delight.

Now only one question remains, and it's a big one.

My current position is part-time and temporary. Whenever the next full-time librarian position posts, I will apply for it. (If I don't get a full-time position before this contract ends, I will return to a part-time position at a lower level of pay and responsibility, and continue to wait.) Meanwhile, I have been building my profile at the library, and I expect to be in a very strong position to compete for any position that posts. I have every intention of applying for - and getting - a full-time librarian position.

Yet at the same time, I dread the thought of working full-time.

My current position is 24 hours per week, and it's perfect. I work enough to be involved in the department and see many of my ideas come to fruition. I make a decent salary. I have time for activism, time to be involved in my union, and I can find time to read and to write (never enough, but that's always the case). To use that awful HR-speak, I have "work-life balance". I'm really enjoying my life so much, and I don't want to change anything.

But. There are two big Buts. One, part of the incentive for this whole Big Life Change was to increase my earning potential, and I still very much want to do that. And two, I have a strong sense of my leadership potential in library work, and in order to meet that potential - in order for the work to remain challenging and interesting - I will need to advance. My immediate goal is a full-time librarian position, and after that, senior librarian.

But... I am afraid. Afraid that when I work full-time, I will not have enough energy for anything but work. Afraid that I will be able to work, and come home and rest, and nothing else - afraid that fibromyalgia will let me stretch that far but no farther. Afraid that I won't have time for activism, which is so important to me - and which is also a big chunk of my social life. Afraid that battling fatigue may lead to enjoy my job and my life less.

I know that many professions demand much more than full-time work. Lawyers, for example, might well regard the 40-hour work week as part-time. However, I have consciously made other choices. The idea of work that I enjoy and that absorbs me is wonderful, but at this age, I would never pursue a profession that would be so demanding of my time.

I also know people who work full time and are still heavily involved with activism, or school, or sports, or whatever they're into. But I don't know if that's an option for me anymore.

I have not had a full-time job in nearly 20 years. Of course, if I added up all the hours I would spend on writing assignments, activism, and my day-job, I was often working well beyond full-time hours. But cycling through various parts of my life - changing hats frequently - always felt very different than working full-time.

The truth is, we should all work part-time, and we should all be able to support ourselves and our families and still have time and energy left for other pursuits. Believe me, I know I'm in a better position than most. But that knowledge doesn't change my concerns.

My resume is updated, and I check the internal job postings daily. And I obsess on this one last unanswered question.

18 comments:

Lorne said...

An interesting post, Laura. Looking back on my working years which, except for a relatively brief span, were spent working full-time as a teacher, I realize now, in retirement, that I let it consume far too much of my life. I suspect that is why I enjoy retirement so much, as it is a time when I have the opportunity and energy to pursue other things.

Your dilemma is not unique, but when all is said and done, you have to honestly answer one question for yourself: Is your current situation preferable to the restrictions that full-time work would impose? Listen to your heart, and decide accordingly.

laura k said...

Thanks, Lorne. There's nothing to decide, the decision was made long ago. I am definitely applying for a full-time position whenever it posts. The question is how will it be for my life... and that is unanswerable until it happens.

laura k said...

Oh, and I'm glad you are enjoying retirement!

James Redekop said...

One thing to keep in mind: working full-time can be very draining. Or it can be fine. I've found that the biggest determining factor is how much you enjoy the work. 9-5 of unpleasantness is at least twice as draining as 8-7 of enjoyable stuff. (Of course, it also helps if you're only doing 9-5 of the enjoyable stuff...)

I'm fortunate right now to be working for a company which doesn't demand long hours, is flexible with hours & days off (I work 7:30-3:30 instead of 9-5; some of the people I work with are 10-6 instead), &c.

laura k said...

One thing to keep in mind: working full-time can be very draining. Or it can be fine. I've found that the biggest determining factor is how much you enjoy the work.

That's a very good point. I'm afraid of the draining... but I do love the work. It's possible that in my mind, I'm thinking of boring, repetitive jobs I've had, where full-time work was such a killer. This is obviously very different. I actually get energy from my job now. I feel great when I come home.

And, like you, I will have flexbile hours (some 9-5, some 1-9, some weekdays off while working Saturday), which I really like.

Hmmm. Thanks. :)

impudent strumpet said...

Surely it would be possible to scale back and/or revert back to a lower position (or apply to a lower position next time one comes open) if you find you can't handle full-time? Especially since you're unionized and you have a medical diagnosis?

laura k said...

I would have to wait until another part-time librarian job opened up and apply for it. It would likely be a very long wait, as there are only a few of them left in the system. It would also really suck for my career.

I think before I did that, I would cut out any non-work activity, and investigate futher treatment.

Working fewer hours because of a medical condition would mean "modified duty / short-term disability"... which I will try to avoid.

(The reason part-time librarian jobs are so rare is that most of those positions have been downgraded to non-professional staff.)

Amy said...

I was going to say what James said. If you continue to love the work, you will find it not as stressful as you imagine. You may not get to do everything else you want to do, but you will find fulfillment in what you are doing.

I agree, however, that if we could all work part-time, life would be better for everyone: ourselves, our partners, our children, our pets, and the world---because we would use those "free" hours doing things we don't get paid for, and those things would be driven by our passions and interests and loves, not the almighty dollar.

But that's a fantasy, at least in our culture. I am so grateful for the years I did work part-time and also grateful that when I worked full time, I had a job I loved and one with great flexibility.

Good luck! It will work out.

Amy said...

(That was a comment I thought of when I first read this, but couldn't post because of the iphone...)

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy - and thanks for re-posting. You and James might be onto something. :)

And yes, we all spend far too much time working - either because we must, to survive, or because we want a certain standard of living. My dilemma is as much a product of that as anything else.

johngoldfine said...

I agree with James and Amy that love conquers a lot, sometimes including stress and exhaustion.

Another thing that conquers is the right kind of concentration. I can be knackered, dragging ass, and beat to shit--but once I get on a horse, my mind is so completely absorbed in the work we are doing together, my head is so much in the horse's head, that I am completely energized.

Riding a horse, you damn well better be!

Some jobs I've had have been that absorbing, and at the end of the day, though tired, I'm reluctant to leave.

Maybe that will be your fate as Senior Librarian!

laura k said...

Heh, you've inadvertantly stumbled on a scary pitfall of mine. One of the worst effects of fibromyalgia (for me) is low concentration. I've developed some coping strategies, like taking frequent mini breaks, and always getting enough sleep NO MATTER WHAT... but I struggle with it, and I hate it.

On the plus side, I do find that at the end of a busy day at the library, I am energized and feeling good, much as I am after a war resisters meeting. Doing something you love does make a difference.

The idea of rejuvenating your energy and concentration in a relationship with an animal is pretty wonderful.

James Redekop said...

At the end of a busy day at the library, I am energized and feeling good

That's a good sign that you're on the right track. Compare how you feel after a busy day at the library to an average hour at the law firm, for example...

The other thing I find important about actually enjoying work is having the ability to leave work at work. Work's much more enjoyable if you don't have to deal with it at home.

laura k said...

Compare how you feel after a busy day at the library to an average hour at the law firm, for example...

Exactly. Not to mention 8 hours at the law firm, or 10, or 12... I think that's partly where my fear of full-time work comes from. But as you say, this is very different.

The other thing I find important about actually enjoying work is having the ability to leave work at work. Work's much more enjoyable if you don't have to deal with it at home.

So true. In the paid work other than writing category, I've only ever had one job that followed me home, where I was expected to be available 24/7. It was a political job, fun and challenging and interesting, and well paid, but I really disliked the feeling of the job owning me.

Nova Canadian said...

Hi,

I feel too that betwen a fulltime job, trying to be a decent parent and husband, and fulfilling oneself creatively in some manner is very hard. Rather like riding a ship, I see no way off but down sometimes.

laura k said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've come to feel that what we consider full-time work in our society, no matter how fulfilling, is inhumane.

And full-time work that doesn't even provide a decent living, that should be criminal.

James Redekop said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've come to feel that what we consider full-time work in our society, no matter how fulfilling, is inhumane.

Though, thanks to the labour movement, nowhere near as awful as it used to be. :)

I've occasionally wondered how the CEO class would like it if income was directly related to the value of the toll the work takes on your life, rather than the much more arbitrary system we have now. People who suffer health degeneration from assembly-line work would be the highest paid in the world; CEOs who work 20 hours a week attending meetings would rank somewhere below telemarketers.

laura k said...

Though, thanks to the labour movement, nowhere near as awful as it used to be. :)

Yes, absolutely. Not because owners and bosses became more enlightened.

Yet so many of those gains have been rolled back or, in some parts of the world, never seen.

People who suffer health degeneration from assembly-line work would be the highest paid in the world

Some of the richest people in the world would be miners.