Cover photo credit goes to Monica Lie
Day 27 of Funemployment, 19 March:
On hearing news of my resignation, many well-meaning loved ones reached out:
“Woohoo! That means you have more time to meet up right?”
“Can you help me with this project since you have so much time now?”
As much as I knew these were said with the best and most loving of intentions,
I felt overwhelmed by the tsunami of requests on my time and energy.
Barely did I get a moment’s rest before my schedule threatened to start filling up again.
I had originally organized a small party after the resignation to celebrate the start of a new era with friends.
But, emotionally, I just couldn’t do it.
I cancelled my own party.
(Also, social distancing.)
Saying no is incredible difficult for me, especially to people I care about.
This is a typical inner monologue:
“But this person is supposed to be my priority, surely I can make time..”
“I could if I skip (enter self-care activity here)..”
“It’s ok, I can always catch up on myself later..”
I was in the habit of constantly deprioritizing myself for others.
Once in a while, I agree, sacrifices can and should be made where it counts.
But all the time?
It’s simply unsustainable.
Now that I’m unemployed, it’s even harder to say no.
It’s become even harder to say no because there’s an expectation that I’m “free all the time”.
I find myself constantly justifying myself to questions like:
“Huh aren’t you like super free now”
“How come you’re not flexible? I thought you weren’t working?”
Initially, I didn’t know what to say.
I thought they were right and I was just being a selfish, terrible person in wanting to say “no, now is not a good time”.
They’d made the effort to ask, surely I should reciprocate?
And then I realized.
I quit my job for a reason.
So why am I not treating that reason as equally important as my former definition of “work”?
“Work” is more than just salaried activity.
I may not be earning wages but I am surely exerting myself for a purpose (as written about in my funemployment first article).
Time and energy is limited.
The more “exceptions” I make because I feel bad saying no, the more it takes away from achieving the things I set out to do.
Of course, no one but me is going to protect my limited resources.
And time especially waits for no one.
Time can only spent, never saved.
I mapped out my ‘ideal week’, ensuring time gets dedicated to what matters.
Treating my work with the proper care that it deserves, I now set a daily routine with tasks between 10am to 4pm and call this my “production time”.
Production time is sacred and focused on contributing to my goals.
(Read about month 1 for an example of what these goals look like!)
What about the rest of my days?
Is it free time?
I used to be allergic to “free time” in my schedule.
Previously I saw my schedule as either one of two types:
- “Work time“, which was salary-related and sacred,
- “Free time” was whatever was leftover.
These “free time” gaps were flexible blocks that were better filled up.
‘Free time’ used to incite panic attacks.
Here’s how I used to define it:
Gaps of free time = unproductive = HOLY F I AM WASTING THIS TIME
But is “free time” really “wasted time”?
My partner, who is Japanese, shared the concept of “間” (Ma) with me.
It refers to negative space and the role that it plays, and how 間 is just as critical as ‘filled’ space for a whole to be cohesive.
Here’s the definition of 間 from Wikipedia:
Ma (間) is a Japanese word which can be roughly translated as “gap”, “space”, “pause” or “the space between two structural parts.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_(negative_space)
In his 2001 book The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher discusses the importance of exemplifying “space” as a substance:
Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space.
Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space“.
Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words.
Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses…
Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form“…
The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.
It’s only been a few weeks since resigning but already I am seeing tangible benefits from having 間 in my schedule.
The gaps allow me breathing space to slow down, let my mind wander and be spontaneous.
My reflections are deeper, my relationships are stronger and my cooking is getting better.
My heart feels fuller.
I am more fulfilled living day by day, in a way that is simple and unhurried.
My free time isn’t ‘free’ at all.
It is not emptiness that needs to be filled.
It is whole in itself, and just as critical for comprehension and cohesiveness.
My “free time” is to be guarded just as preciously as my “productive time”.
What about you?
Have you had similar experiences?
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I can’t promise anything life-changing, but I can promise lols, bad puns and honesty.