Wednesday, May 11, 2011

be a bad worker

Lately, I've been getting fed up with the stress of being me. Being me means my mood is almost solely tied to how well my work is going. If my clients are happy, work is shipping on time, orders are fast and furious, kilns are firing the way they are supposed to fire, production is snappy, new work is in the pipeline, then happiness is mine. From that list, the convergence of all of them happening is about once a month for approximately 3 minutes. Basically, I have it all set up so satisfaction is almost impossible and I'm always wrestling with this demon who is telling me if I just work harder, try harder, maybe everything will finally come together in the way I think it should.

I've had to admit to myself that I am a workaholic. I resist that word because it seems like a word that would apply to somebody else doing different kind of work. But if I take some of the classic symptoms of alcoholism and apply them to work, it's hard to deny that I have a work problem. For example:
  • I minimize how much time I actually spend working, the way an alcoholic minimizes how much he drinks.
  • I don't count certain types of work as work, like listing stuff on etsy or cleaning my studio, the way an alcoholic may say that beer isn't really alcohol.
  • I hide work, like snapping my computer shut and pretend like I was in the middle of doing something else when my husband walks into the room, and we all know alcoholics hide booze.
  • And then the classic: does work make your home life unhappy? Yes, yes, and yes. My husband is an independent soul who doesn't allow me to dictate the mood at home, but there's no doubt I undermine his pleasure in life when I come home and whine about work, or worse, cry because the stress is getting to me.

It was suggested to me by my friend Jack, who is similarly driven-- actually, I am surrounded by these types, now that I think about it--is rather than work so hard at being good, apply myself to being bad. Be a slacker. Say "no" to clients. Be late to meetings. Blow off emails. Spend all day making something ridiculous instead of filling orders. And do it all without a single apology. I was laughing so hysterically when he was making these suggestions to me, tears were rolling out of my eyes. He was making a larger point about Americans working too hard in general, and how the culture of being "busy" and driven all the time is killing us and making life difficult to enjoy. "We all need to learn how to be bad workers." is how he summed up his theory.

It's an indication of how deeply ingrained the American hard work ethic is in me when these suggestions make me almost hysterical with laughter and seem about as realistic as walking on water or setting myself on fire. However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that these measures could actually be therapeutic, and maybe being a bad worker would be like taking some vitamins. Maybe I don't have to do all of them at once, but I could try a few of them and see if the studio collapses or my head explodes. So if you are wondering where your order is or why I haven't responded to your email, you'll know I'm taking my medicine!

19 comments:

  1. Very good post. I can sympathize with you and will be thinking about this all day. Not sure I would be able to purposely be a bad worker, but the challenge of doing that could be a nice distraction from the 'business as usual'. Thanks for the thought provoking post:)

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  2. my goal is to 'be in the moment' when i'm not working in the shop.

    yesterday i worked outside most of the day (loved every second of it)...but find it difficult not to constantly nag in my head about how i 'should' be throwing pots. i find myself watching the clock and making a plan for what time i will throw.
    (of course i spent time preparing clay, loading a bisque, picked up kids projects, mailed and delivered pots but for me, that doesn't count either)(crap...when i write it out, makes me feel better) i agree that often we need to redefine our definition of 'working'. for me it is usually-throwing, trimming or glazing.

    first nice days here in montana and damn if i'm not going to take advantage...i hope you find a way to do the same. what would happen?

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  3. Jack, always in rare form and always good for laughing tears and surprisingly good advice ;-)

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  4. This is a PERFECT example of how our social networks help us all with discovering how alike we all are!!!
    I too have the workaholic gene, and do the same things you describe.
    When I closed my retail store after 17 years it was cold turkey :0
    Now, I'm looking for that balance, and how to say NO to clients who treat me like a slave.
    Still we are so lucky to even have the opportunity to make a right living from our own creativity.
    Just as long as we can find that fulcrum, and balance on it.
    Thanks Whitney.

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  5. Unfortunately your work ethic is what makes your work beautiful and so imperfectly perfect. This is the case for all of those that work this way, their product is better and they are successful. Slackers don't make work this nice!

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  6. Yesterday, I took the day off, because I had a rough day in the studio the day before. I thoroughly enjoyed my day off, but after dinner I made a few pots. It wasn't an order, I was making prototypes for a new design. That doesn't count, does it? Oh crap, I'm a workaholic too.

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  7. Ha! That's hilarious. The important thing is you took a step by taking the day off. Which justifies drinking-- I mean working more!

    Heidi, my husband and I have a joke about the word "should". When one starts saying it the other says, "There you go shoulding all over yourself!" You may have to say it out loud to get the joke. And I'm the same when I only count throwing and trimming as the "real" work.

    Tracey, I know what you mean. It would be impossible for me to slack around the standards I have for my work, but I think I could relax them in other areas. Maybe.

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  8. Like an alcoholic surrounds herself with other similar drinkers (so they don't look "as bad as them") it sounds like you are drawn to similar worker-bees like yourself!

    What is success? So many ways to measure it...the external measurements only push us to the gerbil mentality more (the whole wheel thing~ goin' no where!). Easy for me to say, but I struggle with the whole issue too!

    I have learned that balance is the healthy place to strive for. Being Perfect or a Slacker...the extremes are not healthy.

    Balance, ah- shoulders come down, exhale. Best of luck in your search for peace of mind!

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  9. Thanks for this post, Whitney. It is so hard to remember to take a break sometimes. For those of us who are so driven to work hard and produce! produce! produce!, it's easy to forget that our bodies and our minds need time to recover. Sure, hard work leads to a really solid business and body of work, but those breaks are just as important for giving our imaginations time to discover things and dream. This was a great reminder. :)

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  10. having watched as two of my siblings worked hard all their lives only to die too young and too soon in the past 7 months I have changed how I work and how I think.
    Both said- I worked my life and now I can't and the now I can't was that they were too ill to do anything of joy and fun.
    Me I am working less and taking a little more Joy with me.
    I say take some frigging time off and figure out what is really important- like your husband.
    You really can't take it with you.
    Go out and break bad!

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  11. Life is short. Make it something that when you look back you are happy with what you did or didn't do. Ha! Easier said than done!

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  12. I wish I was a workaholic, instead I'm addicted to chocolate:

    * I minimize how much chocolate I eat, the way an alcoholic minimizes how much he drinks.
    * I don't count certain types of chocolate as chocolate, like hot chocolate or chocolate icecream, the way an alcoholic may say that beer isn't really alcohol.
    * I hide chocolate, like shoving it down the side of the chair and pretend like I was in the middle of doing something else when my husband walks into the room, and we all know alcoholics hide booze.
    * And then the classic: does chocolate make your home life unhappy? Yes, yes, and yes. My husband is an independent soul who doesn't allow me to dictate the mood at home, but there's no doubt I undermine his pleasure in life when I come home and whine about how fat I am, or worse, cry because I haven't got any chocolate.

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  13. I remember noticing how expertly productive my brother was when getting a group of people together to do something fun. It made me contemplate about all the turmoil and freaking out that go into just deciding i need to take a break! I surmized that my clever bros. had a good "play" ethic and decided to cultivate my own...good post!

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  14. Thanks for all the words of wisdom. As I was reading your blog, I recalled some info you posted some time ago on wholesale orders and went back to that for a quick review... I'm considering adding a gallery out of state and your earlier posts are really helpful about the pitfalls. Just wanted to say thanks.

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  15. One thing I've learnt about in the last few months with regards to the internet is that its 'always on'. Theres always something out there to do but you need to switch off. There are somethings that can be put off until later...

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  16. Chocoholic... hilarious!

    Regarding the internet, I've been taking at least 30 minutes in the morning when I wake up to enjoy my coffee and sit around before diving into the internet. It's made a big difference to the tenor of my mornings. I've also been turning off any work related internet in the evenings when I eave the studio. A big step for me! So far, it has not impacted my business at all, and stuff gets done within the "normal" work hours.

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  17. Perfect observation of the potter's life! I too struggle with finding a way to be okay while not making pots. I cycle everywhere, that way I have to be outside and leave early. I also plant and tend a huge garden so that requires me to get out there and use a different working position and reminds me to stretch my stiff shoulders. Great post, excellent idea and beautiful pots too!! HH

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  18. Those collection you have. Are those italian ceramics?

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