So here's the thing I've noticed about the work I've been involved in for the past several years...it doesn't always look like work. At least not the way we're used to work looking. I'm speaking from my own experience, of course, but I can vividly remember when I had an office in a publishing company and what that looked like. For one thing, I had to wear clothes. Like, real clothes. No yoga pants and stained t-shirts. And clearly no pajamas. I worked in a fairly casual environment, but actual clothing was definitely required.
Second, I had to get to work, which means I had my purse, some shoes, possibly a scarf and a lunch and a water bottle. These were 'work things'. While on the way to work, I looked like I was going to work. Serious. Tired. On the bus with all the other people going to work during normal work hours.
And when I got there? When I actually rolled into work? Well, I worked, of course. And it was very specific. I sat at the computer at my desk in my office and analyzed marketing data, and then maybe met with co-workers about how to improve the things we were doing together, and attending meetings where other people saw me working as well.
And I took a lunch break, because when you go to work, that's what you do. And when I was taking an informal break and perusing the web for wedding dresses—I got engaged when I worked in publishing—well, even then, I 'looked' like I was working.
And when I came home from work, after walking to the bus station in my work shoes, and standing on the bus with all the other professionals, I would finally get home and say, "I'm home." And what I meant was, "I'm home. From work."
And while I'm used to the idea of working from home, and what that looks like, I can't tell you how often I'm surprised when other people's idea of work so differs from what my actual work looks like that it throws us both for a loop. Turns out that what I do looks so little like work that it's easy to think I'm not working at all.
For one thing, I'm writing this on a Friday night. My kids are running around. My husband is alternating between playing with them and talking on the phone. I'm in pajamas. And thus not particularly fit for human interaction. I'm often writing alongside a cup of tea or coffee, and if I'm feeling like I really need a shove in a good direction, I'll be nibbling on some chocolate covered banana bites.
While I'm working—because while it may not look like work, I am actually working—my children will pop in. "Dad said he wants to chop wood tomorrow...do I have to help?" "She hit me." "Can I have one more muffin?"
Even my husband, who is undeniably supportive, can't always distinguish 'working me' from 'doing-anything-else me'. Why? Because while my work often requires me to be at a computer, it's not unusual for me to be brainstorming article topics while pushing a grocery cart, or driving my kids to activities, or making dinner.
And I think it's a little bit because of our never-turn-off-society that we all do that, right? So many of us are always 'on'. So many of us just keep plugging away. And while that's a topic—and a big one—for another day, I think it's a combination of that never-turned-off mentality and the fact that my work can be done, and often is done, from anywhere, that gives the impression that I'm not really doing anything at all. Or worse, that what I'm doing can be delayed, or postponed at will, because my schedule is so flexible.
And this is the point. I am so, so, SO incredibly lucky to have this flexible schedule. I can work in my pjs. I can work with my kids interrupting me. I can work in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. I can do it whenever and however I like, as long as I get it done by deadline. It's a wonderful, fabulous thing and I wouldn't change it. But flexibility is not freedom. I don't 'not' have to work. Instead, flexibility means that I have to be really self-disciplined. I have to know which days I can postpone work to go to the playground with my kids and which days need my undivided attention. I have to know myself well, and know my astounding ability to procrastinate, and somehow, make that not happen.
Because the beauty and difficulties in working for yourself are one and the same...it's up to you, and only you, to do the work. Whether it looks like it or not.
Danielle Davies (@daniellendavies) is the creator of the internet sensation, My Life with Bradley Cooper, as well as a writer and artist living in New Jersey. Read more...
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