In the end, it comes down to love and death -- trying to win more of one, while cheating the other. Neither, I suspect, will be particularly successful in the long run, and yet I persist. This is my confession: I am a mid-life workaholic.
Oh, trust me. I know all about smelling those roses, being a human being and not a human doing, the evils of multitasking that make us unproductive in the end (although I'm not really convinced on that one). I can talk a good game, and certainly dole out advice to others about how we're often the most creative in those fallow moments of musing or contemplating the sky. But I don't take my own words to heart -- or at least, not often enough. I'm hooked. Addicted. This little hamster does not want to get off that spinning wheel.
I used to blame the pace of life and the demands of being self-employed: if I don't work I don't get paid. I kept adding more and more because I believed it would make me feel like more. When they were handing out work ethic, I went back for a second helping.
Plenty of mid-lifers, like me, are moving as fast as they can to accomplish more than 24 hours would allow. You can find us anywhere: at the gym, at Starbucks, at the grocery store -- all those places where I have, indeed, taken conference calls. While I do not engage in overtly dangerous behaviors (e.g., texting and driving), I must admit my rude ones -- like taking that long call on a commuter train, trying to hide behind a cupped hand to keep from disturbing other people.
My addiction (let's call it what it is) has nothing to do with stuff. I drive a 12-year-old car, and much of my wardrobe is of the same vintage. In fact, it has nothing to do with abundance; rather it's rooted in the opposite -- scarcity.
There is never enough busyness for us workaholics, who feel so alive as we tap our busy little fingers across the keyboard, as steady as a too-rapid heartbeat. We've taken on the nature of sharks, believing that if we stop moving we will die.
O, death, where is thy sting? Thou art a much better motivator. As a writer, I've often joked that I can't die as long as I have an unmet deadline. Irrational and illogical, but there is some small part of me that believes it. I'm trying to cheat death by eking out more than whatever time is allotted to me, which might yet be measured in decades, years, months... However long it is, will it feel like more if I pack twice as much activity in it?
And what if my doing includes both good work and good works? Will I be recognized for the former and rewarded for the latter? There, I meet my other great motivator, love. Somewhere along the line, I learned that just being me wasn't enough; I had to sweeten the deal with what I could do. If I get a gold star, someone will love me -- or I will have a bona fide reason to love myself.
I've been dancing as fast as I can for such a long time, whether literally in a weekly Zumba class or figuratively through a tightly choreographed schedule. I tell myself I can't afford to miss a beat because I might fall down and never get up.
But I have fallen down. Although I rarely miss a deadline, I have failed at all those other things that provide joy, renewal and validation. I'm not just talking about the proverbial rose-smelling; for me, it's about the creative side of my life, the things that bring intrinsic rewards: those short stories I enjoy writing, the blogs that express my thoughts and feelings.
It's time to change, to overthrow that tyrannical to-do that keeps me chained to someone else's priorities. If not at midlife, then when? I have enough gold stars, and death will come when it comes. While I fully intend to be busy and productive as long as possible, there must be "me time," too. Otherwise, I will have squandered my true treasure: the fanciful ideas, the musings, the creative things that make me who I am.