The Portland Phoenix

Miserable & Magical: It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it

After 10 months and five days of being a world-class couch potato and midday nap aficionado, my days of leisure are officially over.

It’s time to wipe the cobwebs from the alarm app on my phone, wake up early, and get to work.

In other words, ya girl got a job.

When I was offered the job, I had to restrain myself from screaming, “Yes! A thousand times yes!” like I was a Barbie whose Ken had finally proposed.

After doing my best to play it cool and accept the offer as calmly as I could, I called [name redacted] to tell him he wouldn’t be the only one bringing home the bacon anymore.

I then FaceTimed my mom to tell her she could finally stop wondering where she went wrong. (Just kidding, my mom spent my unemployment being more jealous than worried.)

After the initial excitement died down a little, though, a different feeling set in. It was like all of a sudden it’s the week before the first day of school and you’re in a panic wondering where all the time went. You had planned to have the summer of your life, but in the blink of an eye it’s over and you’re left with nothing to show for it.

When I left my previous job last March (good timing, right?) I thought I’d have all the time in the world to finally work on my writing. I would finish my novel, write short stories, and freelance for national publications. I had spent so much time sitting at my work desk dreaming of a life where the burden of a job didn’t exist, and then all of a sudden I had it.

The things I craved most – time and autonomy – were finally mine. I had no more schedule, no more boss, and no more responsibilities. Unfortunately, my situation wasn’t living up to my expectations.

In all my dreaming, I never really envisioned a pandemic setting in and taking up every inch of brain space I had. Instead of writing fiction in coffee shops, my days were spent on the couch anxiously scrolling through Twitter and Instagram.

So, with a new job on the horizon, I suddenly had a ticking time bomb on my freedom. Feelings of regret, failure, and inadequacy hit me hard. The feelings didn’t pertain to the job itself, but rather to what I was leaving behind. I felt I had squandered all of the glorious free time I had waited so long to have.

My novel still isn’t finished, my only freelance work is this column, and I only wrote a couple short drafts. I felt like I had wasted so much time. About a week after I accepted the job offer, I went into full panic mode – it hit me that I hadn’t accomplished any of the things I wanted to. I started to mourn the time I couldn’t get back.

I needed more time, I thought to myself. This can’t be it. Dread settled deep in my stomach and sent me into a spiral of self-pity (not a cute look). I told myself that if only I’d had a little more time, I could have written some really incredible pieces.

But here’s the thing about that: It’s a complete and total lie. I already had plenty of time. Time wasn’t the problem. The problem, it turns out, is that I can’t work without structure. Also, you know, the whole pandemic thing and our white supremacist president trying to make our country implode. (Side note: On the day this is published we’ll have a new president and oh my god that is so exciting, it doesn’t even feel real.)

I think a job is actually exactly what I need right now. It’ll give me focus, structure, and ambition. And I’ll be writing! That’s been the goal all along. And even though I didn’t do much of it these past 10 months, I’ve realized that the time wasn’t wasted. I spent the time learning how to cook, reading more books than I ever have before, camping, exploring walking and hiking trails around the state, advocating for human rights and candidates who support them, and keeping myself safe and healthy.

I’m excited to feel motivated and inspired again. I’m ready to have balance in my life because it’s been sorely missed. And I’m ready to feel more like myself again. Or maybe more like Dolly Parton – adjusting to that 9 to 5 isn’t gonna be easy.

Kate Gardner is a Portland-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, SELF, and Bustle. You can follow her on Twitter @katevgardner.

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