Becoming Like Water

Teapot pouring hot water into a cup

It used to annoy me endlessly to receive a work assignment during evenings or weekends. Often, as I was working, I would daydream about a hypothetical future where I had quit my job and off-hour obligations were a thing of the past. But, after the past weekend where I had unexpected work calls and emails throughout, I realize I’ve entered a new phase of my career and perspective on life, for better or worse.

Instead of feeling like I was liable to quit if my buttons were pushed beyond a threshold (like Milton from Office Space), it seems like I’m becoming more like water, as Bruce Lee advised. Rather than gritting my teeth and actively feeling like I’m enduring a negative situation, I’ve gotten better at adapting to the circumstances and going with the flow.

In the past, when I first started my career at a law firm, I resisted getting a work-issued smartphone for as long as I could. I didn’t want to check email off hours if I could avoid it. I was already working long hours in the office, so when I was off-site and not anticipating anything urgent coming in, I tried to disconnect as much as possible. But, that meant that whenever I received a dreaded call or text on my flip phone that required me to log back in, I resented that crossing of boundaries that much more. I did the work that needed to be done, but I was really grumpy about it.

Fast forward to today, as I work in-house at a company. If anything, I get even more emails during off hours than at the law firm, as I’m responsible for a wider range of things in-house than the discrete projects I worked on at the law firm, and our company is based in many different time zones. But, the way I react and handle incoming work is different.

Part of the difference is my role, as I usually have more control over my time and when and where I get work done. Also, whereas many assignments at the law firm were fire drills, there’s a wider spectrum of how time sensitive my work is now. Just as importantly, another difference is that my expectations are now better aligned with the reality of my job.

I’ve now largely accepted (first subconciously, and now consciously) that while I’m working in my current job, that will necessarily mean evening and weekend work, as that comes with the territory of working at a fast-growing startup. Whereas previously I would have resented that my boundaries between personal and work time were being eroded, I’m now beginning to appreciate the newfound freedom that comes from not putting up boundaries in the first place.

As boundaries work both ways, having fewer of them also means I feel free to arrive to the office late or leave early if I need to or even occasionally work remotely. I feel less guilty when I do that these days, as I know people trust that I’ll get my work done and that I’m exercising good jugment over my time.

This past weekend, instead of letting the unexpected work calls and emails ruin my entire weekend, I found some time in-between activities to do what I had to do and got on with my day. In retrospect, that felt like a breakthrough in how I viewed and handled my work. The alternative would’ve been to not do the work at all or to do it and be mad about it, but those seem less viable if I plan to work at my current in-house job for the near term.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll be working forever, but it does mean that while I do, I’ll continue to do a good job and try not to resent it too much. And, when it’s finally time to leave, I’ll take those lessons with me. It’s also possible (and likely) that this period of zen is temporary and something will throw off my equanimity, but I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.

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