For many of you that know me, you know that starting late 2001 I’ve been self-employed. January of 2011, I took a job with a consulting / marketing firm in northeast Ohio as the Director of Technology Services. Why you may ask? Many, many reasons.
- Money – Business had been slow the last couple years and cash flow wasn’t there. It came down to a decision to keep doing what I was doing, but be broke, or get a steady paycheck. I opted for that steady paycheck.
- Opportunity – This was actually a big deciding factor. I could stay on my own, trying to build a business with limited resources. Or, I could join forces with this new company and have direct the technology side of the business with a team already in place (and added to over the last year). I opted for the opportunity.
- Camaraderie – When I was on my own, I had partners that I worked closely with, but I wasn’t with them every day. We were all independent consultants and as such I believe we had separate goals with our business. Some of us wanted to build something larger than ourselves, others were content with just making a wage. This was probably the hardest reason for me to move on. I miss working with those people as much as I do. I still see a few, and I value that time with them, but it’s not as often as before. I’m now at a company where I see my co-workers most every day, we all have the same goals in mind and are moving forward in the same direction.
- Free time – This really is the main point of this post. When I worked for myself, I felt like I never left work. Weekends, evenings, holidays, it was all non-billable time that I wasn’t making any money. I felt like I should always be working. Now, I have paid vacation, paid holidays. One of the biggest attractors for me taking this new position was so that I could now be free to relax off hours. Well, that’s a bigger struggle than I realized. Let me explain.
Letting go of work
Here I sit, using up the last bit of my vacation that I had left over this year. Yes I’m able to sleep in. I’m able to spend time with my wife and children. We are able to prepare and enjoy the time leading up to Christmas. And all the while, I’m earning a paycheck.
So, why can’t I relax? Why do I feel like I need to be working and that I’m not earning any money. I see this vacation time as lost income, since that is what it was when I would take time off before. I stress over spending money, since I feel we will have less of it now since I didn’t work this week. I feel a bit guilty to my co-workers and my company that I’m not spending time working over the week. In essence I’m driving myself and my wife nuts.
Practice makes permanent
Here’s where I think I went wrong. For almost a decade I trained myself that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning. If I wasn’t earning, I wasn’t billing. If I wasn’t billing, I wasn’t receiving any money. If I didn’t receive any money, I was broke. For all that time, any time off was missed opportunity for income.
I’ve learned over the years that the old adage, “Practice makes perfect” is actually incorrect. How it really goes is, “Practice makes permanent.” That’s nothing new so I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really hits home at this time of year especially when there is more time off and less work being done (and usually more bills to pay). I practiced for 10 years to always be on the job. Now that I don’t have to be, I’m finding that all that practice worked, it made that mentality permanent.
Well what to do to fix my misguided programming:
- First, realize what the problem is. This is usually the first step to everything it seems…admit there is a problem, well there I’ve done it.
- Next, determine the path I want to follow. How do I want to be retrained? What does the retrained me look like? Well in this instance, I want to look forward to vacation and time off as a positive, as a reward for hard work. Now I know how I want to react in the future.
- Finally, the hard part. Practice. Practice at relaxing, practicing at letting work go for the holiday and enjoy the time off. This won’t be easy. This is exactly what the problem is now, but I must practice. The good people at Lifehack (Lifehack in general is a very good resource) have a nice post on some steps to make new habits stick. 18 Habits to make new habits stick. You can find tons more out there, just do a search on something like “30 days to a new habit” and you’ll find what you’re looking for.