Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A priority on going biking

There were plenty of reasons for me not to go biking yesterday.

First and foremost, it was a work day for me. All summer, no matter how much fun I was having with the kids or with friends or other family members, the fact that I was putting in a substandard work day gnawed at me. At best, during July and August, I wrote for about three hours a day, compared with the six or more I can log once school is back in session.

So no matter how much fun I was having during summer break, it was always with a sense of comfort in knowing that a return to real life, and full work days, lay in the not-too-distant future.

And as is the case every year, when the school year started anew, nothing could have been more welcome than the opportunity to work from 9 to 3. That’s exactly how I felt a week ago, on the kids’ first day of classes. I turned on my computer five minutes after Holly clambered onto the bus, and I powered through three or four meaty assignments before Tim showed up with his first day of seventh grade behind him, asking about snack options.

But wanting to apply myself to my work was easy a week ago. It was a welcome novelty after the summer, and besides, that day was rainy. The whole first week of school was rainy, in fact. I was delighted to sit at my kitchen table writing for hours on end.

The Tuesday one week after the start of classes was a classic New England late-summer day, though, with a tinge of humidity underlying a warm, sunny morning. “This would be a good day for a bike ride,” I mused to myself as I drove across town after stopping by my parents’ house. “Too bad I can’t take one.”

Except wait. Why couldn’t I?

Well, because I had to file my weekly set of community news briefs. And write a blog entry. And slog along on a ghost-writing project I’m in the thick of.

But those were only the pragmatic reasons. Really, I reasoned with myself, I couldn’t take a bike ride because….well, because it was the middle of a work week in the midst of a busy month; vacation season had just ended; I hadn’t planned ahead to do something special and frivolous (normally if I’m going to divert from my regular workday routine, I plan it weeks if not months in advance); and besides, everyone else was at school or work – my children, my spouse, most of my friends, my sisters, my neighbors – why should I have the privilege of being out on a bike ride?

Because I can, came the answer, crashing over me like a breaking wave. Because I devoted the majority of my limited reading time this summer to Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project,” the gist of which is that each of us has a personal obligation to the universe to find what it is that makes us happiest and try to work that into our lives, regardless of our other necessary responsibilities. And spending time outdoors, preferably doing something physically challenging, on a warm late-summer day is definitely something that makes me happy.

But one thing I’ve learned about being self-employed is that playing hooky is very different now from how it was when I had a corporate employer. Back then, I took the occasional day off from work with a sense of triumph, even glee. “I earned this,” I would think to myself. “My company owes me this pleasure.”

When you’re self-employed, though, the boss always makes you feel guilty for a day off.

Make it a priority, I reminded myself. Do the things that matter most to you.

And so I did. I made myself a sandwich, filled up a water bottle and headed out.

You’re just lucky that you can do this, I told myself. You should still be feeling a little guilty, though, that other people can’t.

I wasn’t feeling guilty, though. I was feeling grateful. And happy. And yes, very fortunate. But also a little bit proud of my sense of focus. I’d made it a priority, and I’d done it.

As my friend Tracey wrote earlier in the day when I said I was contemplating putting work on hold, “Do it. You'll always remember the bike ride. You won't remember that extra hour you spent working.”

It turned out to be two hours of not-working, not one, but that was okay. I returned with inspiration for my blog and renewed energy for another couple of hours of work before the kids got home.

I felt a sense of accomplishment, too. Not the same sense of accomplishment I get when I finish drafting an article. The kind that comes from following my own priorities, no matter how frivolous they may be. Which in this case meant taking the opportunity to savor a magnificent and unique late-summer New England day, despite the awareness that maybe I should have been working.

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