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Posts tagged ‘volunteering’

Confessions of a (Recovering) Workaholic

Exhibit A: A typical daily to-do list from the height of my workaholism. (It does sound like a dirty word, doesn't it?)

What my daily to-do list looked like before I saw the error of my wicked, workaholic ways.

I’ve always been passionate about my work. My career path has had its twists and turns, but my level of commitment has always been the same – nothing less than 100 percent. It’s just my nature. Additional responsibility? Extra hours? Unexpected challenges? Sign me up! Because I don’t even know how to say ‘No.’

Not when it comes to work, anyway. In my personal life, it’s another story. Because when you’re really passionate about what you do, sometimes you do it to the exclusion of virtually everything else in life.

But then, work is life when you’re a workaholic.

And that’s what I am: a workaholic. And if you were nodding along to any or all of the above, you’re probably one, too.

Only sometimes it’s hard to recognize that fact when you are in the throes of an addiction. It can take a truly life-changing event to wake us up.

For me, that life-changer was the Great Restructuring. That’s my little pet name for the event that lead to my unceremonious and unexpected unemployment a few months ago.

Now, I suppose I’m a recovering workaholic. Although let’s face it, I’ve been actively looking for a way to fall off this particular wagon. But I’d like to think I’m making progress.

In the beginning – the first week or so following the aforementioned layoff – I was a hot mess. I still woke up in the middle of the night, mind whirring through a laundry list of projects and tasks. Only instead of the angst of having them looming over my head, I felt relief that I no longer needed to worry whether they got done.

Which would have been refreshing if, say, I wasn’t lying awake in the middle of the night.

During the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So many hours of my day had been spent consumed by work. Now they stretched before me like a barren wasteland.

And when I took stock of what was left after I subtracted out work, well, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright depressing. Because who has time for things like family, friends and hobbies when you’re a raging workaholic!

Thankfully there were a few friends I hadn’t yet managed to alienate – despite my track record of canceled plans and unreturned phone calls – and some family members that were still talking to me. I both clung to them like a lifeline AND tried to make up for lost time.

Which is to say, I started smothering the life out of them.

I also realized that I’d been woefully negligent when it came to the community boards on which I was serving. Now that my schedule was a bit more, err, flexible, I could actually attend all of the meetings I’d previously been missing.

It was also about this time that I realized that, while I was very committed on a philosophical level to the organizations I was involved with, I should have been committed for saying yes to all of them. Even if I was physical able to attend all of the board meetings, committee meetings, fundraisers, etc – and I couldn’t because many of them overlapped – I didn’t have enough time or energy to do them justice.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying. Because you know, that’s what workaholics do.

I wasn’t use to having down time. So between the smothering of loved ones and the manic volunteering, I endeavored to fill every moment with…something. Anything.

Well, anything short of daytime television. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Thankfully, we were on the verge of what would be one of the longest, coldest and snowiest winters in recent Central New York history.

(Yes, I just said that. Which is a sign of my fragile – and deeply disturbed – state of mind at that point in time.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time shoveling. And when there wasn’t enough fresh snow to necessitate shoveling, I trekked through the woods on my snowshoes.

Both of these activities would terminate with me collapsed in a sweaty, exhausted heap, content in the fact that with Mother Nature as my personal trainer, I didn’t need to renew the gym membership I’d long since let lapse. After all, I needed to be more careful about my discretionary spending. (In retrospect, the gym membership would likely have been cheaper than the massage therapy and chiropractic appointments I needed to fix me after all that shoveling.)

I also spent copious amounts of time bingeing on sci fi/fantasy novels and Justified. (I have a serious addiction to both.)

This was all in addition to the time I spent searching for and researching job opportunities online; reconnecting with past colleagues; fielding questions about my change in employment status, etc. All while studiously avoiding the dreaded resume update.

I think that even in those early days, while I was struggling to make sense of it all, I knew that I needed to make a change. My workaholic tendencies were sucking my soul, even in my unemployment. And I knew I couldn’t let myself ever be that all consumed by a company or a job ever again.

I knew my thinking had shifted when, maybe a month after the Great Restructuring, I had dinner with a former colleague.

During our meal, she was constantly checking her phone, frantically (and almost unconsciously) fielding text messages, emails and even a quick call between bites of her (woefully neglected) salad.

As I savored every uninterrupted bite of my delicious entrée – a lovely eggplant parmesan, if I recall correctly – two things hit me.

The first was that I had been like that too, not all that long ago.

The second? That despite the horrible shock to my system, despite the uncertainty of the future, a part of me was both grateful and a little relieved that I’d turned that page. (Even if perhaps technically it had been turned for me.) Here the universe was presenting me with an opportunity to reconsider my workaholic ways.

And maybe, just maybe, I can still be incredibly passionate about my work but not have that passion be at the expense of everything else.

Now, my to-do list looks a little different...

Now, my to-do list looks a little different…

It’s not the easiest of transitions to make. Especially since in order to have a semblance of a work-life balance, you need to actually have a life. Which is what I’m working on right now. The whole getting a life bit.

It might be the most important project I’ve taken on to date. It involves quite a bit of travel and a lot of writing.

And I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I’m giving it my all.

Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Doreen Rowe)

One of our Wonder Woman's passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience - including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski,when I tagged along for a story in 2011.

One of Doreen’s passions is being an adaptive ski coach at Greek Peak. She gave me the full experience – including a trip down the bunny slope in a mono-ski – when I tagged along with her in 2011.

The weeks leading up to Christmas are always hectic, filled with last minute shopping and holiday gatherings. So why I thought it was the perfect time to plan a reunion of sorts for my Leadership Chenango Class of 2010 classmates, I’ll never know. With everyone’s schedules packed to the gills, it was nearly impossible to find a time that would work for even a meager majority. But finally a date and time were identified that might work.

And it just might have worked, if not for Mother Nature’s untimely intervention. The heavy, wet snow was beautiful, but it made the roads rather treacherous. So much so that I wasn’t entirely surprised to find only one of my compatriots at our chosen venue (Uncorked Cafe & Lounge in Norwich, NY).

I was glad to see that person was Doreen Rowe. Doreen and I had met as part of the community leadership program, and our paths had continued to cross professionally and through shared interests so often that we’d naturally grown into friends. It had been awhile since we’d had an opportunity to catch up. So, we had a glass of wine and did just that as we waited to see if anyone else intended to brave the weather.

It was close to an hour before another member of our group, Roger Connelly, arrived. By then Doreen and I had worked our way through a number of topics, from the sudden turn my career had taken and some things that had been weighing heavily on my mind to her volunteer work as an adaptive ski coach, an upcoming ski trip she had booked and our respective holiday plans.

Doreen left shortly after Roger arrived, anxious to get home to meet her daughter Amy, who was driving down from Albany. But our conversation stayed with me. The last couple of months have been a bit tumultuous, and our time together did me good. Talking to Doreen – even just being in her presence – always helps me put things in better perspective.

I was still thinking about Doreen and reflecting on our conversation the next morning, when I received a message from a mutual friend. Doreen had suffered a major heart attack and was in very serious condition.

The tears came instantly, as a jumble of thoughts and emotions hit me. She had been happy and laughing and her usual amazing self the night before and I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this had happened so soon after I’d seen her. I was scared to death for Doreen and her family, fervently praying that she’d pull through, scrambling to think of any way I could be of help to her family, and feeling completely lost.

There was one thought in particular that caused my heart to ache so badly it felt like it would burst: what if the time I had spent with Doreen the night before was the last time I would see her? If I’d known that was even a possibility, what would I have said? What would I have wanted her to know?

Let me tell you a story.

Doreen is extremely intelligent and incredibly knowledgeable about her fields of expertise (of which she has many). She’s also one of the strongest, kindest, most caring and selfless people you will ever meet. But I didn’t realize that at first. Because Doreen is calm, cool, collected and incredibly modest.. where I, umm, skew to the emotionally impulsive and wear everything on my sleeve. So, you could saw we were a bit like oil and water when we first met.

That all changed after Doreen came to one of our classes with a new haircut. I mean no offense when I say it wasn’t very flattering. It had an air of mullet about it, cut very close – almost shaved – on the sides with the top/back a tight perm. I am ashamed to say, I may have thrown her a few sideways glances when I first saw it.

But then I learned WHY she’d done it.

You see, a dear friend of Doreen’s was scheduled to have brain surgery. And one of the things causing her the most angst was what she’d look like after she had the operation. So Doreen went with her and had her hair cut, too.

I went home and cried after that. I had clearly, almost criminally, misjudged this woman. Who was a better person than I. See, my father had recently started chemo. He too had been self conscious and anxious about loosing his hair. But it had never crossed my mind to do what Doreen had done.

From that moment on, I paid more attention and had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that the differences I perceived between Doreen and myself came down mostly to communication styles. (And some startling immaturity on my part!) But once I got past that, I began to truly discover what an amazing person she is.

We all have our own way of making a difference. For me, that way has been through writing. But Doreen makes a difference by doing.

One of my more spectacular spills of the day! (Which Doreen was more than happy to capture for posterity…)

One of her greatest passions is volunteering as an adaptive ski coach, helping blind and physically disabled individuals learn to ski and snowboard at Greek Peak’s Adaptive Snowsports Center. I got to see her in action in 2011, when she invited me to do a story about the Winter Challenge she’s involved with.

The day I spent with her and the challenge participants was truly life-changing for me on a personal level. (And not only because I learned how much abuse my body can take – I fell A LOT. You can read all about it here.)

It also solidified my friendship with Doreen, something for which I will always be grateful. We’ve golfed together, skied together, laughed and cried. I’ve come to value her opinion and her insight on so many topics and issues, particularly those relating to education and agriculture. And one story she told me, about a piece of advise someone gave her early in her career, has been something I’ve gone back to on more than one occasion.

Every time I see or talk to her, I am more amazed. There’s a reason my mother calls her Wonder Woman. She’s a one woman dynamo. And she pushes me to be a better person, simply because I want to be more like her. Although she has no way of knowing that, because I’ve never taken the time to tell her.

Until now.

Doreen, without realizing it, you’ve become an amazing influence on my life. You inspire me to put my heart into everything I do, and to be there for others. Your selfless acts and strength have touched so many lives, including my own. I cherish the time we’ve spent together, and I can’t wait to hit the golf course and the slopes with you again.

You have never been far from my thoughts these last few weeks, and you and your family will remain in my prayers throughout your recovery.

Get well soon, my friend.

And thank you for teaching me yet another life lesson: how very important it is to let people know how much they mean to you.