Sunday, March 05, 2006

If your goldfish was incontinent, how would you know?

Our subject title today comes from a quote in one of my 40th-birthday pressies, a book of Irish wit compiled by Des McHale. No disrespect to the book, but it is resting in the place I reserve for all books lately, on the window ledge in the bathroom, within arms reach of the toilet bowl. This seems to be the only location where I get to do any reading these days.

It's a pity, because there never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all the things I want to do. Not that I am given to vast outpourings of creativity any more, but I have many items on the agenda I should like to pursue, like one day finishing the renovations to the kitchen, or completing the Dungeons & Dragons game module I'm writing for the magazine in America, or planting in the garden, maybe even painting the gate. They all need doing, but by the time I arrive home at 6.00pm ("The hardship of it all!" my commuting colleagues cry in outrage as they read this after a half day of sitting in immovable traffic), feed the cats and cook a meal, the only thing I'm fit for is the toilet bowl, its reading material, and an evening in front of the telly.

At least that's what I tell myself. I tend not to think of my friends who do all that, raise children, build houses, go to gyms, threatres, restaurants and the rest. In the end, I suppose it's just a matter of work life balance. Of pacing oneself.

Now there's a thing: my workplace observes the annual "Work Life Balance Day", on the 1st March. I was reading an advert for it last week on our internal Intranet. Among other activities, a life coach would be in giving four 35-minute lectures on how to figure out your own goals.

I think my first own goal was in getting the job I'm currently in, but I don't think that's the point of the lectures...

My personal work life balance is completely out of whack. It happened because I started off working from home, so this meant that I had the opportunity to louse around at home for hours doing no work, then interspersing the quiet times with furious amounts of effort. There was no deliniation between what was "work" and what was "life". They bled into each other.

Maybe if I had gone through the route of school/college/work/life like so many of my schoolmates, I would have got a handle on this a long time ago. Or am I over-simplifying?

I see people around me in work who are raising kids and keeping on top of college well after the traditional college years. They are doing exams and studying for certificates and diplomas while their own "kids" are now travelling in foreign countries before settling down into lives of their own.

I don't know. Maybe I have a difficulty with setting goals or something. I just don't seem to have a handle on where all this is bringing me.

That's the problem, then, I think. I'm being brought along instead of steering my own course. Ain't this mid-life crisis stuff just grand?

On the positive side, my "untraditional" approach to life means that I have had a freedom to find out more about other aspects of life and about myself than perhaps other people of my age-group might have had time to do. I don't have a mortgage (though I do have a five-figure personal loan) to pay back. I was briefly a mildly famous writer in an infamous genre, albeit to a specialist readership. I received fan mail. I had time to feck around on the Internet and to discover the workings of computers. I taught at least three people how to read and write. I encouraged perhaps 40 others in how to perservere in the same goal. I learned how to speak in front of people, and how to tell stories that might keep people interested or amused.

My mother taught me compassion from an early age, but it wasn't until she was dying that she really taught me about life and about how we are responsible for one another. She also taught me about the importance of self and of the necessity of self-preservation.

If I had taken a traditional path through life, I should never have met Brig and joined her and her family. I wouldn't have palled around with John, or made the best man's speech after his wedding to Ludmilla. I'd probably not have a tribe of cats training me every day to do their bidding.

And, of course, the dreaded nine-to-five has to feature in there. I don't think I would have been as effective in interacting with work colleagues, the friends I have made at work, or even with customers without the crazy former life I've led. "You don't have to be mad to work here. But it helps" probably rings truer than I would have thought possible.

So where does that leave me? I don't know. Perhaps, to paraphrase my father, simply "I'm not a bad lad."

That's a fairly decent conclusion to reach, after all. Right?

Oh and the "Work Life Balance" activities completely passed me by again this year. Yes, you guessed it. I was too busy working to attend.

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