23 May 2008

Wooo-hooo! Toward a more balanced life

So I get to start my Memorial Day weekend on a high note. A long-standing dream of mine (OK, "long" means maybe two or three years, but still) has finally come to fruition: this will be my last Friday at the day job until further notice. (The actual arrangement will be a little more flexible than that, truth be told.) I have the official letter in hand: starting next week, my hours are dropping from "full time" (which to USA TODAY means 37.5 hours per week, or five 7.5-hour days - but which in practice for a salaried position means "whatever it takes") to 30 hours per week (or, typically, four days in the office). My bosses are being much more insistent than I am about ensuring that when I make this change, the company keeps its side of the bargain, and that they don't want me monitoring work email, working extra hours, etc., beyond my 30.

Speaking as someone who is trying to make my life work as a "tentmaker" (i.e., giving quite a bit of volunteer time to the little "emerging" church I'm a part of - in addition to other ministry and missional activities - while drawing income from a secular job), I have to say I'm over the moon.

I've worked full-time constantly since college, and I'm (hopefully) not whining about that - of course most people in this world have to work way more hours for way more years than me to make ends meet. But I found myself in the uber-blessed position of feeling strongly that I need that time more than I need that income, and of having an employer, a spouse, and other key relationships that are willing and able to enable that tradeoff.

And in the interest of transparency, I ought to admit that it wasn't a trivial thing for Tina and me to figure out how to take the primary breadwinner's salary and cut it by 20%, or to decide that this was a good thing to do. But we did it!

I don't intend to use the one day in seven that I'm getting back in my life to do more "church" work - I sorta feel like I tend to do plenty of that already. Instead, I have two initial goals and a meta-goal. The two initial goals are:

1) To be a more equal partner in my marriage. Since I work what typically ends up being the equivalent of a full-time day job plus a part-time volunteer church job, Tina ends up doing way more than her fair share of the housework, etc., even though she works full-time (plus) too.

2) To get some more "sabbath" time in my life. Certainly Sundays are a sacred day for me, and worshipful, but I'm often so busy (with good, hopefully God-given work) that I don't get much time in my life for reading, writing, contemplative prayer, podcast-listening - all that good stuff that's helpful for formation and a healthy relationship with God and with the inside of my own head. I'm hoping to get some of that back.

The meta-goal is to teach myself how to uni-task. I have multi-tasker's disease, really bad. I need to learn how to vacuum, and just vacuum. Or read a book (for more than 20 minutes before I fall asleep at night) and just read. Maybe with some awareness of God, and of what a gift it is to be able to do these things. Brother Lawrence, help me out here.

Beyond that, I think I may pick up the guitar again. And we'll see what happens down the road.

But for now, I'm rejoicing in this gift. Yeee-haw!

P.S., Deep gratitude to my dear friends Dee and Pete, who helped me to realize that this was even a possibility, and to my kickass employer and particularly to my bosses (Erik and Steve) and my team there (Raul, Jeff, and Alon) for making this possible. And especially to Tina, who is amazing beyond words. And I'll shut up now, 'cause I sound like I just won a freakin' Oscar. :-D

photo "part time" by ubiquity_zh (rights)


WMS said...

Wow Mike! That's great to have better balance! There are consequences to spending more time with God and in contemplation. Not that I do it. But I remember having good results the last time I did... results that have never really left me. I think I may have found Common Table during a time like that... and a fast.

Liz said...

WOW! You are my hero :)

dave said...


Jayce from Rochester said...

I guess two things to contemplate, my friend ...

You say, "... I'm (hopefully) not whining about that - of course most people in this world have to work way more hours for way more years than me to make ends meet. But I found myself in the uber-blessed position of feeling strongly that I need that time more than I need that income, and of having an employer, a spouse, and other key relationships that are willing and able to enable that tradeoff."

Having made the transition myself from a 40-hour-week corporate job to my own hours as my own boss, I feel I can speak from some experience. One of the things that I have never quite reconciled is guilt from not working hard enough. I think it is a combination of my own psychological make-up and of pressure from the outside world. I am still working toward what I believe is a more enlightened mindset: that laziness alone is amoral (neither right nor wrong), finding what you want to do (your true calling, perhaps) and doing that is good, and martyring yourself on things that do not lead you to that fulfillment is not good.

"Disdain for laziness" seems to be the fulcrum for a lot of ugliness. There is resentment for taking a short-cut or using an advantage available to you — you "should just know that you are supposed to [take the hard way]". It seems that sitting around gets a bad rap, too, but why, really? At what point are you really doing harm — to yourself, to others, or to the world?

A friend of mine uses a technique of being excited by attaining small triumphs to subvert the guilt of laziness — for instance, "wait a minute: you say you put away the phone book, had a bagel, and brought laundry downstairs? You've already accomplished three things today — you definitely should take a break before you strain yourself. In fact, if you do nothing more today, you're far ahead of where you were yesterday."

And just to put another nail in the coffin, laziness is what drives us to find more efficient solutions. If we can do something more efficiently, we should be allowed to take advantage of that technique and do the same work, make the same pay, and do less work. It seems, though, that we are immediately rushed to work the same amount or harder for the same pay, eliminating the reward for our inventiveness. Read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged if you want to deeply soak in this concept.

But my second point is related, and derived from my own experience: use caution. I strove for a life of more flexible work and efficiency at my last job to yield more free time — even at less pay. I firmly believe that is the most significant reason that I got laid off. I learned that I was not as invaluable as I thought I was. I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of a generous severance package and had adequate financial resources to survive for a long time without work. Fortunately, despite my best efforts, I actually did have money saved. And that let me see the precipitous drop in my income as a blessing right away.

spankey said...

as one who draws his full time (plus) salary from a church (which is tops on your pet-peeve list) I really honor your commitment to the 1st "t" in the tithe equation; time. I get paid to do what others call volunteer work, so I have been very careful to not fall into the bad model of justifying overcommitment of time at the church as "volunteerism."

You've motivated me to get back into my practice of active time keeping. thanks, and blessings on the transition.