Joining the Rat-Race Mid-Life

 

Over 20 years ago, I sat on the tarmac in Iowa waiting to take off and return home from a business trip. I was in my first big-girl job post-college, and after receiving a promotion, was promptly sent to various cities to work with administrators in the Midwest and Northeast.

Looking out the window at the night-time sky, a red jelly-like substance began dripping over the windows. I asked the flight attendant what it was, as this girl had only been on one plane ride at 18 years old and knew little about air travel.

She explained that the weather was frigid and the plane was being de-iced. I wondered if I should be worried. I was too young to be as fearful as I would certainly be today. The delay was more annoying than anything and I decided then and there to return to graduate school and become a teacher.I’ve spent 20 years in higher education and there were two main advantages for me: 1) It was truly a meaningful career when I began and, 2) It was the best Mom-gig a girl could hope for while raising children.Fast forward a couple of decades and two giant truths now dominate my professional existence: 1) While the cost of tuition has skyrocketed exponentially, our pay has not. 2) The majority of collegiate institutions are about anything and everything except teaching and learning. Of course there are exceptions. However, if you read the data, and have current affiliation with several universities as I do, you will observe a shift in the actual “education” portion that is alarming. I have also held administrative positions along with teaching, so my insight goes beyond the classroom.

With twins just graduating from college and my youngest with two years left to go at her university, well…this mid-life Mama had to get another job. In addition to kids in college…

-We are a part of a destination wedding this August where my girls are standing up and I’m part of the ceremony (more on that in August).

-My husband went through a job change a year ago and his salary dropped considerably at the new company…blah blah blah…there are too many stories like ours to count lately. You can imagine the strain.

-Then, he landed himself in the hospital for a couple of days-nothing serious but the medical co-pays for three days in the hospital blew through his very handsome severance package.

The timing of these several things at once was comical and costly.

So, I cut the on-campus teaching, kept the online professorship, and added a three-days a week position in HR with a small company at their corporate office. Promptly after I started, the HR Director resigned. I’m essentially the entire HR department on a three-day schedule doing five days plus worth of work. I’ve already been working on my days “off”.

To say the adjustment from both a professional standpoint and a personal one has been challenging would be an understatement.Two kids (here) graduated and moved home from college. My youngest is serving in ministry in Texas for three more weeks. The change in the household has been tremendous. God bless the kids, they are doing the dishes, and occasionally vacuum…After 10 minutes of searching, I find the pasta strainer with the syrup (?), but who am I to complain?! 🙂

I’m working more than I have in a decade while still doing most everything I did prior to the new job.

I’m trying to adjust. I didn’t really think it would be that big of a deal. After all, before kids (and life in higher ed) I had a career in business. I traveled for heaven’s sake. I was a working professional!

I’ve changed and I’m waaaaay older.

Driving home in wicked traffic the other day, I was reminded of how this is just normal life for most. Sit and wait while four lights change and we creep up to finally get through an intersection. Wild morning traffic is something most people have been navigating for decades while I purposely set up early morning office hours to avoid. I taught late classes so my husband was home with the kids when I left. I graded papers and lesson-planned from my home office.

Lunch was when I wanted it and it certainly didn’t have a time limit.Oh, the schedule of “regular hours”. It’s laughable to those of you reading who’ve been in the rat race for decades. Up at 6am, on the road by 7am, work work work, eat lunch fast, back to your desk, back in the car at 5pm….

The conventional work schedule alone makes this deep thinker ponder who came up with the 8-5 workday. Why are we all bumper to bumper at 7:30am just to reach the destination by 8am? Why are we again bumper to bumper at 5:15pm? Even though more employees than ever are working from home, or have flex hours, my small company runs a tight, traditional culture with zero flexibility.

Definition of rat race according to dictionary.com: any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, especially a….life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.The part of the rat race definition that makes me laugh out loud includes leisure and contemplation. Professors contemplate! We lead our students to think, not just answer questions. We have more opportunity for leisure due to flexibility.

In those years when I had the luxury of being “contemplative”, and particularly when I was in the evening classes with working adults completing their Bachelors and Masters degrees, I spent considerable time discussing the importance of locating the job that would be satisfying after they finally graduated. We wrote out the number of waking hours on paper, subtracting not only 40-hours in a building, but planning for work, choosing clothes for work, drive time, required social and corporate events, buying Christmas gifts for workmates, etc., etc.The ultimate point of the exercise was revealing the truth that full-time working adults work more than they literally do anything else. More time at work than with family. More time working than cooking or playing or creating. I made them take a hot second “contemplating” that stark reality. Really thinking about life in the present – but also what they wanted it to look like in a few years.

Most people work for money and few work because they love what they do.

Most are hustling in the rat-race “routine”, “competitively” working to get ahead, hoping to reach those goals of “leisure” and the luxury of living more “contemplatively”.

My Bible app devotion recently stated: “You have been entrusted with talents… It really matters how you use these.” If only we could all earn a living utilizing our true, greatest talents. I have observed most people at best use their gifts in hobbies or volunteering in ministries. Excruciatingly few can pay medical and dental benefits without a company-job having nothing to do with their greatest gifts. We use our gifts to serve as best we can-where we are.

We are old enough to know that life requires attention. If we’re going to enjoy any of it, we must leave the housework, skip the obligatory visit to the distant-relative’s house and read the book that is collecting dust because too many other things trump sitting down in “leisure”.

I miss my extended quiet time with God in the mornings. I’m way behind in my Bible reading. I catch up on my days off. Things like crafts and baking are time-intensive joys that I cannot afford. My leisure time is spent with my kids doing things together. They will only live home for a limited amount of time and I’m not going to miss these remaining moments living together.

Throughout the years, I could see how my full-time career friends had time for nothing but work. I observed at a distance their counting days off…worried about arriving 10 minutes late or leaving a half hour early to catch their kids’ game after school. Mentally tortured about missing family events and simultaneously feeling obligated to their employer.While I previously watched at a distance, I now live it and while the work is interesting, the schedule is a bummer. I’m thankful that this existence now was not the reality while raising kids. As always, a big hug and sincere admiration to those working parents who legit do it all – and well.

On that note, it’s time to enjoy the weekend and family…

I wish each of you a Happy Weekend! 🙂

Photos: 99designs.com-woman; aviation.stackexchange.com-plane; nyfa.edu/Harvard/-Harvard; robbreport.com/lifestyle/news/would-you-pay-6-5-million-to-get-your-kid-into-yale-2843748/-Yale; ft.com/content/804b928e-6cde-11df-91c8-00144feab49a-RatRace; Cnn.com-man on desk; Colossians: Pinterest

Hanging on When the Winds Blow Hard

The branches in my Northeastern town remain bare. Last November’s leaves are still strewn on the ground, some lightly covered in a dusting of snow.

Despite the windiest winter ever, the few leaves in the photos hung on. Wind, snow and cold fought hard to rip those leaves off as they had pulled down every other leaf in sight.

Those. Held.

While these branches wouldn’t be considered a vine and the paper thin leaves are certainly not fruit, I thought of that scripture when looking at these photos I took a few days ago.

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.” John 15:5 GNT

The verse is actually speaking of not being able to produce good things (“fruit” such as love, joy, patience…) without remaining attached to Jesus (the vine). Depending on what’s going on, it’s not even “good things” I’m clinging to Him for. Sometimes, we hang on tight merely to survive the smaller struggles that can overtake our time and minds – swiftly ripping us from the Vine – if we’re not paying attention.

“Remain alert. Keep standing firm in your faith. Keep on being courageous and strong.” 1 Cor. 16:13

 

 

 

Like Moses, My Arms Got Tired

Exodus 17 11-13

As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when he lowered them, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side, so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his army with the sword.… 

Just like Moses, I was in the battle. Moses wasn’t on the battlefield, but he was having a profound effect on the outcome. I wasn’t in the high school, the hospital or the locker rooms, but my loved ones were and I was on a prayer mission.

Moses’ hands were in the air praying to ensure Joshua’s victory; and whether my hands were in the air praying in the car, or I was on my knees, or at church, or at the kitchen table, I had determined throughout my parenting years that I would be a prayer-warrior. And, I was. But my urgency and the amount of time spent in prayer really revved up during my kids’ later teen years. It wasn’t all about them, it was the onslaught of circumstances on top of parenting teens…

During the battle, I studied my Bible in a new way, went down on my knees more, read and prayed fervently. I spent countless minutes on the floor of my son’s room…aside my daughter’s bed while they were at school… One day kneeling on my son’s floor, completely perplexed as to why God was not answering my prayers how I wanted them answered, I lifted a photo frame off my son’s bed stand and whipped that sucker clear across the room. There is still a sharp, deep cut in the body of the NHL fathead on his wall. On that particular day, I was really angry which is rare for me. Looking back, I was just hurt that God was either saying “no” or “not yet” but either way, the more time passed, the less chance there would be for what I was praying about.

To make up for less-than childhoods of our own, my husband and I were doing way more than normal parents. We set out parenting with more enthusiasm than Dory and Olaf combined. And, we never lost steam. He is a man in non-stop motion. You will not see him reading the paper nor does he leave projects unfinished. I am just as productive on the home front, endlessly working on something to make the nest more comfortable while working outside the home part time. I invested time in my own friendships, invested in my kids and all the other kids they brought into the nest over many years, I handled group gatherings and hosted every holiday at my house.

Then, things started breaking down at a rapid-fire pace. I had small appliances given to me at my bridal shower that lasted 20 years. In the last five years, the replacements I purchased have broke down every other year. Then the oven stopped working. The fridge wasn’t cold anymore. And on it went. Between expensive kids sports and household nonsense, we were bleeding money.

Finances were tight on top of practices, games (traveling overnight for those games), driving, shopping, holidays, cooking, cleaning, talking, teaching, instructing, negotiating with teenagers in the kitchen and adults on committees, appointments, friends with diseases, extended family insanity, being lied to…

I felt like Moses. My arms were growing weak and the battles were still raging around me. My friend of 18-years was dying of cancer before my eyes and it was ripping my heart out. I was helping with her treatment visits, rotating time at her house and trying to support her daughter. My parents were embroiled in a disturbing family situation that had just come to light by a close relative. It was all-consuming and truly gut-wrenching. Despite the mountain of unpleasant circumstances, I was still mentally and physically operating at 110% as Mom, wife, worker, homemaker, holiday-maker, volunteer… just as I always had. Remaining silently overwhelmed by profound sadness and drama, I expended even more energy keeping the majority of my struggles from my children. Even though they were in their late teens, I still functioned as if they were ten. The details my extended family produced were simply not something I wanted in my kids’ heads. But, I could have exposed them more to the realities of death and dying.

One day I just got tired. All the prayer in the world didn’t seem to be making any difference at all and I eventually crashed.

I could not pray my way out of the haze draping over me. Like Moses, my arms that had held it all up for so many years were exhausted. So, I reached out just a little, looking for an Aaron and Hur. I was quickly reminded that many others had it much worse and, at minimum, they all have their own challenges. This knowledge does not deter everyone from asking for help anyway, but my type A, first-born self could not impose on anyone other than my closest friend. My dearest sister-in-Christ was the one who listened to a few of my sad tales (absent the gory details) and she agreed to be my Aaron. We still pray for each other regularly. But, I simply could not tell her all of the extended family depravity, nor could I tell anyone else about it. My own husband shrunk back, cutting me off as I shared only a sliver of what I had learned.

Everyone knows about Moses – even people who do not read the Bible or attend church or temple. They can talk about him floating in a basket, the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Not many can name his parents Amram and Jocabed. His parents no doubt, went through some stuff. His poor Mom had to eventually surrender him to Pharoah’s daughter. When they could no longer control their own situation, they reached out for help, even to the extent of having the enemy of their people raise their precious boy.

Moses’ parents’ life was not easy and neither was his. Life is life. There is good and bad and if I merely accept what is, and cease searching for reasons “why” that do not exist, I’ll fare much better. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon suggests eating, drinking and enjoying your work while you can. I had to start “enjoying” and stop thinking and analyzing and trying to figure out people because I discovered “nothing new under the sun”. There were painfully few real answers for all the sadness and stupidity. I was making myself crazy trying to understand circumstances, human behaviors and how God could bear to continue watching it all.

I had set out as a young wife and mama with the wrong mindset that if I worked diligently, life would be fairly close to perfect (try not to laugh). But the outside creeps into the nest, even when you’re really diligent. People get sick. Others make horrible choices. I internalized others’ decisions and heartache as if they were my own. I took on responsibilities that were not mine to take on. People were happy to pile their stuff on to me. It was unhealthy.

As I eventually emerged from that difficult time, I tried to see the lessons in the madness, where God may have been in the midst of some really unfortunate happenings. I refused to stay in defeat but it was not easy to overcome.

It’s hard to let go of being the go-to person because you feel you’re letting them down. And, it’s really hard to speak up to – and stand back from – crazy people, even those you may share bloodlines with. In my case, I thought I was being a good Christian by supporting others without boundaries. When you begin to draw necessary boundaries for the toxic folks, they do not like the new person distancing themselves. They want the “yes” “nice” girl back immediately. But distance and creating borders are required in order to preserve your own sanity and to have any personal semblance of happiness on this side of heaven. It also frees up mental space and physical time for enjoying the humans who truly care about you and yours.

My fellow Moses whose arms are tired, find yourself an Aaron and Hur to walk this nutty life alongside you, and enjoy yourself as long as you can.

Mama Duck 

Gratitude – For All Things New

New beginnings…

Resolutions…

Fresh journals with white, crisp pages waiting to be written on…

A stack of unread books ready to fill cold, winter nights…

January is a chance for a clean start…

I am grateful that His mercies are new each day!

Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

I am grateful that we can have everything new…whenever we meet with Him.

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEV)

HAPPY 2019 TO YOU!