Sunday, January 5, 2014

Leaning In Alone

I have a feeling I'm going to have doubts about this post for a very long time. Is it really something I should be expressing so publicly? Or is it simply too personal? Too many opportunities to be misread or misinterpreted? Too girly?

Daring adventure or nothing -- so here goes.

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. I was reading it kind of simultaneously with the aforementioned The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Both excellent books, full of amazing insights that I found profound and useful, easy reads and enjoyable -- my favorite kind of books. Maybe it was because I read them at the same time, but I was struck, and almost annoyed by the emphasis both authors placed on the importance of their husbands in their success. Sure. Great. Awesome for them that they have that type of built-in support. But what about when someone doesn't?

Couple this thought with the multiple, almost constant conversations I have with many of my single friends, and I've got the topic weighing on my mind.

Up-front disclaimer: I do not mean to suggest that working couples have it easy, or that stay-at-home parents solve every household logistics problem, or that marriage or partnership is uncomplicated and every one is wholly 100% supportive. I am selfishly focusing entirely on the challenges of being personally motivated, professionally successful and single. And I may make whiny, plaintive comments about the lack of assistance and empathy for the difficulties of being single.

First, there are the logistical difficulties. I work about 55 hours a week on average. Add to that my commute time on either end, any workout I wish to try to shoe-horn in, and I'm away from my house, unavailable for chores for about 80 hours a week. My Saturdays are consumed by laundry, grocery shopping, any yard work that can no longer be ignored, and thankfully no cleaning since I have a cleaner come in every two weeks. Sundays are prep days for the week -- food prep to make sure I have easy access to lunch and dinner, and making sure all the stuff I have to take in is ready to go. It is actually hugely disruptive to my schedule to have dinner plans out with friends or go for a motorcycle ride or enjoy some time hiking or whatever.

If *I* don't go grocery shopping, the fridge and cupboards become bare. If *I* don't do laundry, I run out of clean clothes. If *I* don't put gas in the car tank, the Honey Bee will leave me stranded. If *I* don't stock up on paper products, I am the only one to blame when there is no more TP in the house. If *I* don't leave work early to meet the repairman, no one will open the door to fix whatever has worn out in the house. There is no back up. There are no house elves scurrying around behind closed doors when I'm gone. The cats try, bless them, but they're really much better at leaving bits of food all over the floor, giving me some quality time contemplating the sustainability of using processed corn cobs as kitty litter, and staring picturesquely out the front windows at me when I'm on my way out the driveway in the morning.

Then, there are the prioritization issues. Fortunately, I haven't personally experienced the situation where I've been asked to cover holiday duty so that the married watchstanders can have time with their families (because that would make me crazy and probably spark an entirely unprofessional rant), but I have heard about them from fellow singles. Fortunately, my current co-workers are so entirely awesome that MC Hooligan immediately, with absolutely no hesitation, offered to cover Christmas week so I could spend the time with my sister and her husband.

For me, right now, I think the prioritization issue is that it is so very easy to get wrapped up in work to the exclusion of all else. Do I not have much of a social life because I work too much, or do I work too much because I don't have much of a social life? I'm really not sure which is the cause and which is the effect. I do know that my New Year's (not a) resolution is to try to keep in closer touch with my family. A year or two ago, Uncle Heathen started a weekly email named after an old BBC show "This Was the Week That Was" (aka T3). It was just a quick, weekly blurb to family with mundane news or happenings. We had a couple of good months of hearing from people, but then it just kind of fell away. I think folks felt like what they were saying was too much the same from week to week, and nobody was interested. Well, this year, tough luck for them if my life is boring! Because they're all gonna hear about it!! Both sides of the family, too!!!

Lastly, there are the emotional energy shortfalls. I have a friend who is single. She is beautiful inside and out, kind-hearted and sweet, smart, ridiculously hard working, out-going and energetic, and gorgeous. I have **NO IDEA** why she is single. She started seeing someone and things were great for a little bit. Then the guy just kinda turned off and disappeared. Her comment was "It's just hard to not feel inadequate all the time - I constantly get my ass kicked at work and now I can't seem to hold any male attention." My heart goes out to her, and unfortunately, the only solace I could offer was some lame platitude about "hanging in there." But I think that her plight is nearly impossible to avoid for the single person who is leaning in. Leaning in means taking challenges. If challenge was synonymous with success, everybody would challenge themselves. People don't because challenges inherently present the possibility of failure, and depending on the greatness of the challenge, the *probability* of failure.

To be faced with failure, even small ones, or maybe even just not sterling successes, in personal and professional facets of life at the same time, every day, all day is exhausting! It has made me question myself, every single decision that has brought me to where I am, every single future decision I will make, and undermines my ability to focus on anything but failure. "Of course I'm single, I'm too dumb to even figure out how to not get yelled at at work." "Of course I suck at this job, I can't even get a date." No matter that the specifics of the two things are completely unrelated, it is So.Very.Hard. to not comingle them.

So, I don't know how to lean in alone. But I also don't feel like I have any choice. I will continue to accept the challenges presented by my job. I will continue to work as much as I need to get the job done. I will continue to express my opinion, continue to build my credibility, continue to seek out new and greater responsibilities, continue to be an example to anyone who wants to look to me for mentorship (gawd help them!!), continue to be myself -- because I'm certain that's the only thing I know how to do with complete confidence.


CG said...

We were talking about this sort of thing with our children the other day -- that we are a family of six, and as such, we have to coordinate as a family of six. One person cannot, ever, just decide to do something. It doesn't work. So that if you want to live without coordinating with five other people, then live alone -- and in that, a plate of food will never be set in front of you when you are told dinner is served; and if the laundry is dirty, or the dishes, or the toilet, they will remain dirty until you clean them. You may not have to do as much of whatever the main thing is that you do in this household, but you'll have to do EVERYTHING that gets done. Or pay someone else to do it.

I'm not saying that one is easier or harder than the other -- they are different. Choose your method, choose your results.

Just a Girl said...


*Absolutely* agree that one is not easier or harder, just different. I don't know how my coworkers who have families and kids spend so much time away from them. They are gone from the house before the kids are up in the morning, and for many, many, many days are not always home before the kids go to bed.

In the CG, we call something similar, "pick your rate, pick your fate." I have made choices that brought me to this point. I *own* those choices. They are mine. I live with the good and bad of them every single day. And I will fight to the death whoever tries to take that ability to chose away from me. But I also reserve the right to, every once in a while, whine about some of the choices having unintended consequences :)

Anonymous said...

Write your own damn book, Girl. I bet it would be a freaking bestseller and people would forget about Cheryl Stanberg (is that her name?)