"Cain't nobody ride your back if you don't bend over."
~ Black Man Not Blogging's Late Grandmother
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been working on a project for work that's been a doozie for a number of reasons. First among them is the fact that, for whatever reason -- age, menopause fog, whatever -- I can't sit for hours on end behind a desk analyzing and digesting legal briefs and cases like I used to. When I was in my twenties, I could read and make sense of this stuff for hours on end until I finished whatever I was working on -- a brief, a bench memo, whatever. I'm at the point now that if I can read a decision or a legal brief for an hour straight, I've done well. It simply takes me longer to do what I could have done faster in my twenties and thirties, and I don't know why. I think the second reason is that, at this stage in my life, I'm more interested in creating and building than analyzing and defending. I'm tired of having to prove myself with every project I handle, knowing there are people who are just waiting for me to slip and fail, waiting for me to not be as good at my work as I know I am. I've got a bad case of analysis paralysis.
Against all this is the backdrop of my superiors at work metaphorically perched on my shoulder, asking me when I'm going to finish, wanting to know how far I've come on the project and why it isn't finished yet. The answer I have isn't acceptable -- I can't do this stuff as quickly as I used to do it -- but it's the only truthful answer I've got.
So the anxiety of not being able to analyze and write as quickly as I used to combined with my superiors badgering me ("Can you finish this up today? Thanks.") drove my already high anxiety level through the roof, so much so that I got really sick not once, but twice, during the holiday season. So much so that I missed a family member's funeral and Christmas. I'm still not at 100%. I've spent most of this weekend on the couch resting and watching Turner Classic Movies.
Even when I dragged my sick behind in on New Year's Eve just to prove to everyone that I was indeed working away on this project, the promise I made, and the expectation I created, was that I would work through New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, if required, to finish this project. Mind you, there's no statutory deadline for this project. No one is going to be harmed if it isn't completed this week or even in this month. Yet, because I've always come through with an excellent work product in less time than it's taking me now, the expectation is that I will continue to work away at whatever cost to myself until it's done and done well.
In other words, I've been bending over, letting my superiors ride my back. And for no good reason.
That is, until I spoke to another co-worker who was also at work on New Year's Eve long after Governor Brown let everyone leave early at 1:00 pm.
I was telling this co-worker how I had been working on this project for what seemed like forever. I worked on it after work, in bed. I worked on it while I was sick in bed. I worked on it during weekends. And because I don't have the attention span I used to have, it was just taking me longer than usual, and I was getting questioned by my supervisor as to what was taking so long and I had no good answer.
Co-worker responded: "It's New Year's Eve. Nobody else is here. What have you done that's so bad that you deserve to be here on New Year's Eve? Everybody else has gone home to their families. You ought to go home to yours."
Talk about an a-ha moment, as Oprah would say.
It dawned on me -- like my BFF has been saying to me since my thirties, "The work is always going to be there. It never ends. We just die. And then someone else comes along and takes up where you left off."
And then I thought of all the events I'd missed trying to meet these deadlines -- two Stanford college reunions, a family funeral, you name it.
And I got angry, because I can't ever get that time back.
But I can make sure I don't lose any more of it.
My co-worker went on to say something to the effect of, "Don't lose perspective. Right now, I have to decide whether to take an ill family member to an event on New Year's Day, so as far as I'm concerned, if something I'm working on doesn't have a statutory deadline, well, these folks will get it when they get they get it. And yes, they're going to be disappointed, but I've got bigger issues in my life right now."
Indeed. So do I. That's when it hit me: "Cain't nobody ride your back if you don't bend over."
With that, I straightened up, -- literally and metaphorically -- left what was left of my project on my desk, grabbed only my purse and my coat (and not my briefcase), and walked into the frosty New Year's Eve air to bring in the new year with my husband, Black Man Not Blogging.
So, don't be like me. Don't let anyone ride your back. Just don't bend over. Yes, you're going to disappoint some people, but better them than yourself.
Happy New Year!