Thursday, November 14, 2013

On my workiversary

An email went out to my entire organization today, congratulating me for 15 years of service.

[Let's pause. Let that number sink in.]

15 years?! Oh, no. How is this possible? I cringed. I contemplated running to the mirror to pluck gray hairs. I pictured 23-year-old me walking through the doors of that building, thinking it was temporary, because after all, who pursues a publishing career in Delaware? I thought of all the missed opportunities at other companies, mourned all those books I was going to write, imagined my younger colleagues pointing and laughing at my complacency and old-timey thinking. My stomach flipped. I spiraled.

Then my friend -- with whom I've worked for almost 13 years, and who has agreed to stick it out with me until they pick up the building and shake us out -- sent me this article titled "How I Learned to Stop Explaining How Old Things Make Me Feel." It's so darn perfectly, beautifully appropriate for this very moment. No regrets, no lamenting. Only learning and growing and becoming.

I certainly would not be the person I am today without these 15 years at one organization. I started as an assistant editor earning $18,000 a year (which was a jump from the $16,000 salary at my previous job), and I have worked my way through editorial, marketing, product development, and acquisitions. I've been riotously happy and dejectedly sad, sometimes in the same day. I have always been challenged, encouraged, and surrounded by really smart people. I have learned how to think strategically, how to negotiate, how to communicate with people from all backgrounds and experience levels. Most of all, I have learned perseverance -- I have learned that I can persevere, even when I am in a deep, dark professional valley full of pointy-toothed monsters.

And I hope that a few (hundred? thousand?) teachers have learned a bit from the work that I've done, and in turn, perhaps some kids have learned to read -- or even better, gotten excited about reading. That would be nice. In fact, it's possible that in the time that I've worked here, a few kids have graduated high school who wouldn't have done so otherwise. That would be really nice.

Without this full-time job, I would not be able to enjoy this comfy middle-class suburban lifestyle, driving my two blond babies around to their various activities in our gas-guzzling minivan. More important, this job has allowed me the flexibility to attend to the needs of my family -- to work from home when there's a Halloween parade at preschool or from the hospital when my husband was sick. I don't know many people who have the same luxurious holiday schedule or generous vacation time, either.When I started this job, I was just a girlfriend, not yet a wife or mother; I had no idea how crucial the flexibility would be to helping me find balance between work and home, but it is. Crucial. Absolutely and without question.

"Work is not supposed to be fun; if it was, they wouldn't call it work." My mom used to say that a lot when I was a kid, but I think that was mostly in reference to cleaning bathrooms and other house chores. My mother loved her job; she was an award-winning teacher who was passionate about her students and always an advocate for her colleagues. (She had been dead just over a year when I started this job; my father had just started dating the woman who is now my stepmother and friend. I was not yet married. I was so very young.) I think of my mom every day, over and over, because it's for people like her that I'm sticking it out, even through the last few rocky years.

My mom also said that only boring people get bored, and you make your own experiences what you want them to be. In these past 15 years, I have learned that all these things are true. And I have learned that work does not define me; work is part of me, but more importantly, my work helps me to enjoy my real life -- the life outside of the office.

Over these years, I have made deep and lasting friendships, I have traveled to new cities, I have met some of my favorite authors, and I have connected to hundreds of people all over the world. Also, even though 15 years seems like an extraordinarily long time, I still have about 30 years of working life ahead of me...so there's a lot of time to keep growing and setting new goals and pursuing new opportunities.

So I've stopped spiraling. For now, anyway. Instead I'll be grateful for all of these 15 bumpy, sometimes ridiculous, occasionally rewarding, always interesting years. I don't know that 23-year-old me would appreciate this sentiment -- in fact she'd probably roll her eyes -- but what does she know? Very little, it turns out. As the blogger wrote in the article above, "Lamenting my age, at this point, even in jest, feels ungrateful. It's sort of an insult to the integrity of my intact life, without which I would not be sitting here. You pull out any of the pieces, however much I may have hated them at the time, and the results would be unpredictable. This is where I am, this is how long it took."

Amen. This is where I am, this is how long it took. And I am grateful.