Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh Work Ethic, Where Art Thou?

I lay awake for a while last night listening to my characters talk to me, posing different scenarios, different bits of conversation, new ideas and directions in which to take their stories. I jotted some down just now, but don't feel like writing more. 

This is my challenge - to write even when I don't want to. And I really don't want to today. 

Which got me to thinking about work ethic. See, one of the things that bothers me about many kids today is they don't seem to have much of a work ethic. It's like they expect to have the good life handed to them on a silver platter. Working hard seems unfair. They have a Sense of Entitlement. And I hate it. Now of course I know I'm generalizing here - many, many people a) still have a terrific work ethic and b) work hard for what they have. So I guess I'm talking about the people who appear at least on the surface to believe they don't have to work hard - the high schooler with the new car, the college kid with the latest smart phone living in an apartment paid for by parents, the people on "reality" TV. My own kids. 

And me. Me? Could it be that I've fallen into this, too? I don't want to admit it, if it's true. I've always prided myself on being a hard worker. And for much of my life, I have been. I worked my tail off at Golden Corral as their salad bar girl when I was 16 - so much so that I later discovered on the nights when I wasn't working, they had TWO people to do my job. When I was on duty, they just used me. I worked hard at Target, even developing a new way to organize the back stock room, which earned me "Employee of the Month" one month, and led the Target people to ask me fairly often didn't I want to try to move up the store ladder? Which I didn't, because I knew I was going to college, where I worked consistently and diligently to graduate with a 3.92 GPA - summa cum laude. My goal since freshman year had been to graduate summa cum laude. And I did it. 

I worked hard in grad school, always feeling as if I wasn't doing enough, but trying to keep up with the reading and research. Even on my own obsessions, I've been known to slave away, spending countless hours developing my once-world-known late 1990's website, "Elvis Lives In Evil Levis," - all while writing my master's thesis and doing course work. I received praise from my professors, and my advisor assured me that even though *I* didn't believe it, he thought I could be an excellent medievalist. Apparently the DAAD grant people did, too, because I even won a grant to study and do dissertation research for a year in Germany. (Which I only finished 3 months of, I admit, because as a newly wed, I simply missed my husband too much and needed to come home. Plus I knew I was losing interest in finishing that doctorate, anyway, having my eyes on a family.) 

Even once I quit my doctoral program, I took on a job as a technical writer at Ohio University, something I did without any official training, but in which apparently I performed well enough that I took on responsibilities like redesigning the departmental website to be more in league with the official University design, using web skills and Photoshop skills I'd mostly taught myself. When I left to have my son, the professor that most people found incredibly difficult to work with told me he had been planning to give me a big raise because he liked my work so much. 

I actually don't write all of this to brag. I write it to remind myself that once upon a time, I accomplished something. 

Fast forward to today. I'm a stay-at-home mom living a very comfortable life. Both of my kids are in school full-time now, which gives me more free time to myself than I've had in 10 years. And I'm left wondering what to do with it. I'm left not feeling driven to do much. I'm left spending untold hours on Facebook, playing online games, occasionally cleaning my house, sometimes napping, running errands, getting groceries, and all that stuff. 

But I feel guilty. I feel like it isn't enough. I assume everyone is working harder than I am. And maybe they are. After all, I have a lot of choices now I never HAD as a kid or young adult. I have a lot of options that weren't available to me then. I have a husband willing to let me still stay home even with the kids in school. I don't HAVE to work. I KNOW what a luxury that is. But am I appreciative enough of that? Or have I started to feel entitled? Because it's all too easy to put off whatever I don't feel like doing, and too often I am. 

On the other hand, I still do a lot. Don't I? Maybe it's just less easy to see the value and contribution in it, because my time and efforts are scattered across so many things. I'm not producing one thing - I'm not focused on solely keeping the lettuce stocked, or writing that one paper, or running a web site. But I'm still doing all the mom duties: trying to raise my kids right, talking about values and issues with them, teaching them right from wrong, getting them off to school in the morning, packing lunches, supervising piano and homework time, cleaning the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the bathrooms, etc., ad nauseum (albeit I freely admit, not often enough), running all the errands, getting everyone to medical appointments, running carpool, getting the kids to and from their various activities, picking up the groceries, cooking the suppers, doing the dishes. 

I also am fairly active with my kids' school, drafting the school newsletter every two weeks, running various incentive and fundraising programs such as Labels for Education and selling Attractions books, supervising the stocking of the Teacher's Lounge, and updating their Facebook page regularly. 

So it's not as if I'm sitting on my duff every day, watching Oprah reruns and eating bon bons. But yet I feel I should be doing more. Because is it really fair for me to take half an hour to play SongPop in the middle of the day while my husband is at work? And he works hard for us - full-time as a professor, but also a part-time consultant to Carnegie Mellon, and he runs a Computer Science club at his university, coaches Ellie's soccer team on Saturdays, and frankly spends a lot more time actively playing with the kids and helping Jeff with his homework than I do.

How much free time is it O.K. to have (and/or expect)? It would be easier to measure my productivity, I guess, if I worked outside the home. Right? Because then I would have parameters, and I would have someone else's expectations which I would have to meet. At home now, I'm my own boss. When my kids were little, they were definitely The Boss, determining our schedules in so many ways, and I feel as if I gave a lot to them in terms of taking them to activities, playing with them, reading with them, doing all the things a mom does. But as they've gotten older, I've backed off some on that. Partly because I firmly believe my job is NOT to entertain them. But also partly because, frankly, I can. Now that they're 11 and 6, if I want to play CastleVille on FB for half an hour, usually I can get away with it. They can do a lot of stuff for themselves. I still do a lot for them, probably more than I should sometimes, but not nearly as much as I used to. 

And I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I'm sitting here right now, writing a blog post because I want to, not because I have to. I feel guilty because I assume everyone else is working harder than I am and that I should do more. And I certainly have more to do. I have an eBay business that's rather defunct at the moment, but not for lack of inventory. I have a book I'm writing that I should be writing on far more often than I do. I have other book ideas and a whole lot of research to get done for those. I have a son whose wiring is different and whose conditions I feel like I should be reading so much more about and doing so much more about than I do. So I have a lot to do. But often, like today, I just feel rebellious. I just don't want to have to work every minute of the day. Is that so wrong? 

Of course the reality is I'm NOT working every minute. This is clear. If I were, the house would be cleaner, our meals more fantastic, the yard would be well-maintained, the book would be written, eBay sales would be through the roof. Or at least that's the fantasy. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. I don't know. I just know that I often feel so overwhelmed with everything I feel I should be doing that I just don't do any of it. Or at least very little of it. And it is easy to do that, to drop it all, when I'm not reporting to a boss. 

So is this a loss of work ethic? Am I just lazy now? 

I hate to think so. But maybe it's true. 

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