We’ve been terrible about updating this blog, and today we'd like to place the blame for our silence squarely on the beefy shoulders of work. Work has truly bulked up this fall, and I for one suspect steroids, but It’s so hard to turn work in while it continues to bring home the gold. And I’m sure Paul feels as I do, that while we’re horrified by this metaphor and also by the gratuitous machismo of work moving in to our otherwise cozy lives, we put up with it because, this is America, and what else can we do?
After his summer hiatus from emergency medicine, Paul has returned to an ER graveyard shift in Northern California. Working three to three, even just for 3 days a week, truly robs you of a portion of your soul. His four days off are always deceptively eaten up as he sleeps most of the day away on his first day off, and then immediately needs to rest up for his return to the grind. Somehow work has bullied him to accepting lots of overtime shifts. Even as a nocturnal creature, Paul makes a pretty good room mate; he manages to wash the dishes and run the laundry through in the few hours he’s both home and awake. Given the choice, I prefer him over work 100% of the time.
I’ve been keeping busy too! This summer I spent a stint as a driver at Merrowvista, possibly the only employer who considers the role of hot air balloon flight crew member an asset on my resume. I had a great time picking campers up from their hiking and canoeing trips throughout New England.
I practiced daisy chaining ropes each time I tied canoes to the trailer, my bungee cord skills when I helped campers pack for their bike trips, and my sick trailer back-up skills when I maneuvered a 15 passenger van and a box trailer in to the tiny mud alleys that the AT provides for parking lots. The hot air ballooning DID pay off, in that I had to be skilled with a map in both jobs. You can’t google “open range where that balloon just dropped” and you can’t access the internet or google on most of the logging roads where hiking groups emerge from the trail.
In addition to my time as a professional driver, I have also picked up a steady, remote job. During my adventures in freelancing last summer, I came across a short-term gig posted on FlexJobs.com. A rare disease foundation was looking for someone to cover for their executive director while she was on maternity leave. They needed someone 20 hours a week and were happy to let me work remotely. I was thrilled to slow my freelancing for that kind of gig.
There are people who freelance full time, and I take my hat off to these people. Of all the types of work out there, freelance certainly requires some chest thumping and beefy bravado. I was not very good at selling myself or my skills. It seemed ludicrous to charge someone for something as simple as writing. The projects required no creativity and little brainpower. I churned out a project and received almost no feedback on the work. It was soulless, and an unpredictable sort of soullessness at that.
Now, I knew very little about rare diseases, but I did know about people, and I knew about the precious nature of good health. I threw myself in to the foundation’s aims—to cure the disease and improve the lives of patients—and enjoyed the work. When the Executive Director returned from maternity leave, they decided to keep me on board, and this summer my hours increased to full time.
The new gig has been a gift for the bank account, and honestly made me much happier while traveling. All the national park pictures and vineyard tasting rooms aside, It is hard to be stranded in a trailer while Paul is away on a 12 hour shift. The loneliness I felt was only underscored by the lack of a larger purpose into which I could pour extra energy (which I have in spades). Turns out, I am intrinsically motivated only to a point.
While I was skeptical about telecommuting to purposeful work, there are many aspects of remote work that make the mission easy to focus on. Unlike the office environment, when I clock in to my remote job, I am truly zeroed in on my task. There’s no office banter or walk to the water cooler. Since I’m able to work around my own schedule, I can easily schedule around doctor’s appointments and household tasks.
I still miss people. Despite their many obvious flaws, I really like people! I’m interested in what they have to say and how they think and what ideas they have, or what ideas we might have together. Remote work with a non-profit has helped me contribute to a community, a dispersed community across all states and countries. It’s forced me to learn a lot about public health, orphan diseases, and the pharmaceutical industry. It’s given me meaningful employment, while also allowing me to avoid work pants—for the most part.
I have had to wear work pants and travel for work several times this fall. I’ve flown to DC and Chicago for conferences on rare disease and industry partnerships and patient-centered research. I also helped organize and run the Foundation’s patient conference in Maryland. The conference was overwhelming in so many ways; I worked 20-hour days, listened to hours of important (and often scary) medical information, and met so many people. It was energizing! Remote work can offer so much, but it often lacks the connection and collaboration that I loved about my previous work in programming. Finally getting to meet some of the patients and families who reach out to the foundation online meant a lot to me.
That said—traveling for work is exhausting. We’ve been in Northern California for 12 weeks, and I was gone for almost 4 of those weeks. Let me verify that It is possible to love travel, and to hate traveling for work. It is possible to want strapping, morally-muscly work, and to shudder with revulsion when the work week rears it's ugly head.
Apologies if our posts continue to be few and far between, we’re just trying to live our bohemian lives while also contributing to social security.