Seeking alternatives to the office life.

One of the main reasons I decided to start freelancing was to get away from working in an office Monday through Friday, 9:00-6:00.

I didn’t like sitting in an office every day, all day. I was physically uncomfortable; it seemed like I was always cold, achy, tired, or hungry.

Worse, my schedule ate up all of the time in which I felt creative and focused. By the time I left work (feeling guilty because it was too early and I wasn’t billing enough hours), ran or went to yoga, and had dinner, it was 8:00 p.m. at the earliest. I might work an hour or two more if I had to, but I couldn’t start on a non-legal project that required inspiration or creativity or focus.

I beat myself up about this for a while—comparing myself unfavorably to friends or acquaintances who could work a 50-hour week at a regular job while writing a book in the evenings and sleeping only five hours a night—but I think I’ve accepted it. I need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. I like to exercise every day. I like to cook. I like to wander.

Because I wasn’t getting any satisfaction or fulfillment from my job, I decided I had to make room in my life to spend time in ways that would give me satisfaction and fulfillment.

It’s working, more or less. I’ve had more time and I’ve spent much of it reading, writing, and thinking. But in this, as in everything, I’m assailed by self-doubt. I waste too much time, and a critical voice inside regularly pops up to tell me that the way I am spending my time is silly. That it is not adding anything to the world. That it will never lead to anything.

Plus, everyone else I know works full-time in an office and is fine with it, making me wonder what is wrong with me. (This is almost certainly not true, but sometimes that is how it seems.) Right now, it’s dumbfounding to me that so many people feel that way, but thinking about this today I remembered my last job before law school, writing proposals and doing other marketing tasks for a school bus contractor.

I never minded going to work, and I felt like I had plenty of time. After work, I sang in a chorus, went to regular yoga classes, and tutored kids in reading. It probably helped that we all left at 5:00 on the dot, and also that my then-boyfriend had a totally different schedule. A stand-up comedian, he often worked at night and always stayed up late. Though our different schedules started to feel lonely after a while, they also gave me more time free of the distraction of someone to hang out with.

I think the key difference, though, was that I was young, and never thought of the job as permanent. I knew I’d be moving on, probably to graduate school or some other adventure, and I did, leaving after two years to go to law school.

So maybe I shouldn’t rule out office work and a 9-5 schedule per se. Maybe there is an office job out there that will feel like an end in itself, that is enjoyable but not too stressful and that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something I care about while I’m in this world. Until I find that, though, I’m going to focus on work with a different schedule so that I can continue to make space for exploration, joy, and quiet.

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