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Written a year ago on the plane back from my babymoon through Southeast Asia.
Theo is now five months old.
I found it topical to post today because one of our employees’ “dharma talk” (A speech someone from the company delivers to close our weekly meetings- imagine topics like efficient vs. effective, done is better than perfect, there is no right and wrong, only discovery etc.) was about how “busy” is not an answer to the question “how are you doing?”.
As some of you know, I'm currently five months pregnant (and yes, that was a crop top I wore to our holiday party because I guess our baby can't yet afford to upgrade the sq footage of their place with Manhattan rent prices and all). The past three months in my life have been a quest to discover the meaning of "work". My entire work history has been littered with jobs in which I had no large title, no recognition and massive, tear-inducing, sleep-depriving work-loads that gave me tons of secret power and tons of less-secret pride. I joined Ryan and Corey at hOM nearly two years ago, with that work-obsessed streak that has since been more than recognized and applauded by the team and those that work with us. It's been so applauded in fact, that somewhere along the way, my obsessive attitude toward working (my ignoring showering and eating and moving) became more than just a comical one-liner about being a bachelorette frog. It somehow got confused for the definition of me: Francesca. Somehow I forgot that I wasn't a robot and my gift to the world wasn't eating massive to do lists and meeting seemingly impossible deadlines as the sun started to rise and I considered closing my computer and getting to bed in the same PJs I’ve been wearing all day from the night before.
While of course, finding out I was pregnant was the most massive catalyst for self-reflection, the moment of reckoning for my work addiction had been set in motion months previous by a recurring in-company dialogue about my anxiety. Founder meeting after founder meeting when we'd take turns sharing “clearings”, Ryan and Corey had been hurt by how I'd spoke to them when I was in the heat of a difficult deadline or up against a wall with a repetitive problem. Suffice to say, I realized I was in a constant loop of recognizing my stress levels, justifying them, getting mad at everyone for not being stressed with me and then winding them up, or at least unintentionally trying to.
I have to say the most comical part of all of this, is putting it in context with my situation. Concurrently, I was CEO of a company whose mission is to eliminate the world's stress. I’m married to a meditation teacher. I’m auditing teacher trainings, teaching stress relief, preaching about work-life balance in emails and on blogs, and walking my mother through plans and techniques post cancer-scare.
Corey and I went on vacation the week of Thanksgiving for a little longer than three weeks. I was brought up by Europeans, used to traveling often and for long periods of time, so three weeks didn't seem nuts to me the way that it does to everyone else here in the US. There were so many reasons we took this trip: I bought a deal for 10 flights for $170 through airasia a while back and it was about to expire. I can't fly my last trimester, so it was really the last chance for a big adventurous vacation sans-baby. We were also totally burnt out. At home my husband and I felt like work colleagues still in our 550sqft apartment-office all day and I wanted to respect our marriage. While I justified our departure, there were still comments that I replayed in my head before we left. Ones that made me feel very guilty for going.
One client, having just returned herself from a vacation that overlapped with our project launch, said "it's crazy, I mean we just launched this project and you're leaving for nearly a month". The human-suppressing robot/guilt-monster inside of me was seriously in need of cancelling our trip as a response to that comment. The trip had suddenly become unjustified because her perception, regardless of how fear-based it was, was her reality. Her reality meant more to me than my own. Unknowingly, her off-hand comment was the subtitle to every relaxing experience I had for the first week of our trip. My guilt would send me back to the hotel to leach onto my computer like a junkie, unnecessarily audit already complete work, and beat my team to the punch replying to emails in the middle of the night their-time. Worse, I would miss moments because I couldn't get to wifi and 3G was too slow, or my check-up texts weren't getting out or because we couldn't get back to the hotel quickly. I was worried about something that couldhappen in the future that nobody was prepared for because I didn't leave my WHOLE brain with the team before I left. I felt going on vacation was so irresponsible and selfish. Reality was, that was the biggest waste of brainpower. Back in New York, that client was more than well managed by the amazing hOMteam and probably wouldn't even remember that she had said that to me. Half-way through the trip the motherboards on both of our laptops fried (humidity. I’m looking at you Malaysia) and Corey got really sick (we thought he had typhoid) and I was forced into being present. It took me the entire remainder of the trip to realize, I hadn't been present like this, consistently, in nearly… ever.
I really thought that hOM was catering to a society of people that were somehow different from me. I wasn't able to listen to my own advice and eat and sleep like a human, because I needed to be a martyr. I was a too young and less educated and less wealthy and less whatever (of course, all in my head), so I had to work noticeably and inhumanly harder than anyone and die for my cause. Life and work could not possibly coexist for me, because I wasn't good enough. Because I identified with being a great problem-solver, I thought that meant having to live life solitary in a world of worst case scenarios. In days of burning time creating solutions for disasters that rarely actually came to be. And, I think you all see the point coming: I was way off base. I'm exactly the person who needs hOM. My self, not my abilities, needed to be making my decisions. That was really difficult to understand when I was genuinely proud of what I was able to do. Genuinely proud of being able to say “I’m so busy!”
This month, I've been asking myself, how badly do I want to put the pedal to the metal and push through this workload? or take on this extra few hours of work time? Is this want based in fear? Is that fear self-generated? How solid are these deadlines I create for myself? What of these fears are actually real?
Stress is not real. That keeps blowing my mind. It’s an illusion my brain has chosen to create. When it’s doing it too often, it’s because I’ve patterned it.
When I feel it, I have opt out, or it will get worse. I'm freaking out because my computer's at 7%, I left my charger at home and I'm not done correcting this reminder email for students' class in 1 hour. Sounds stressful. I would, in a former life, be able to justify the poop out of my anxiety. Except, let's get real, what percentage of the students are getting that email 1 hour before and saying, "oh, I'm glad I got this email, now I'm coming!", and 7% might actually give me enough time to complete the blast, and hOM's revenue and teacher's incomes aren't hanging in the balance of this one class' attendance this one time. I’m not saying, let’s all not do our work now. I’m saying: zoom out.
Also. we’re human. Sometimes things aren’t possible. When they aren’t? Fix any mess, acknowledge (notice I didn’t say apologize) and here’s the hardest step: Let it go. Nobody thinks you’re a better person because you have continued to apologize for a week. That need is purely selfish.
Of course, stress still crops up constantly. I mean, hOM is a start-up, how could it not? We’re creating something out of nothing. Building a world, a community, a system out of thoughts and aspirations. That’s what what I want to be doing, and no longer acting out of fear. My new mantra is “joy only”. Who's guilty of not buying what they’re selling? Me. Maybe you? If it works for you, you can borrow my mantra.