Not a Workaholic Anymore

On being uncomfortable with free time

There are a lot of words in the English language that make people cringe: "moist," "pustle," "phlegm" and "squirt" are just a few. Want to know what phrase bothers me? "Free time."

I like the word "free" -- in fact, as someone with a liberal arts education, I love the word "free." "Time," on the other hand, stirs nothing in me; I'm completely indifferent. But put the two together, and a small knot forms in my stomach.

For way too long, I've always been short on free time. In fact, since I was in high school, I've always been a juggler. School and work. Or work and part-time work. During my years at the newspaper in Charlotte, I gave my nights either to a part-time gig as a bartender, graduate school or teaching English composition at the community college.

And I was OK with that. I thrived off filling my Google calendar with appointments, meetings and deadlines. The more I could fit into a week, the more accomplished I felt. No one ever saw my calendar, but I didn't need anyone's validation -- I knew how busy I was. I knew I was getting shit done. 

But that life's over now. Due to some unexpected circumstances, it's going to be a while before I can, as my dad puts it, "run around like a chicken with its head cut off." And that bothers me. 

I know I'm not any less competent now than I was when my calendar was packed. I'm not a different person, talent, skill or personality-wise, just because I happen to have the time to watch most of my TV shows when they air live. I know I'm not wasting away simply because I'm not producing/impacting/meeting/talking/brainstorming/working as much as I used to.

But I still feel uncomfortable. I still feel unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line, someone or something taught me that busyness equals productivity equals accomplishment.  Maybe it's that stereotypical Asian work ethic? My mom did, after all, go into labor with me while trying to dig up a bush in the front yard. (She couldn't wait for my dad to do it for her.)

I talked to a friend recently about all this -- the lack of hustle and productivity has me feeling a little inadequate. (Crazy -- I know!) She suggested that maybe, after all these years of having a full plate, this was my much-deserved downtime.

Perhaps the world is telling me to slow down. Enjoy the simplicity of a cool breeze outside. Shut off the noise and appreciate the healing powers of silence. 

And I'm trying to do that. It's just that I haven't figured out how to get rid of that knot in my stomach.