The busy trap
‘I don’t have time for personal counselling.’
It was just an off-hand jokey comment that slipped out without me thinking. A friend had asked me if I was planning to see my personal counsellor again. (It’s OK, she’s a fellow counsellor, we have conversations like that. ‘Honey, your process is showing.’)
We both laughed. But that sentence kept on echoing in my head. And after a while it didn’t seem funny anymore. I’m a counsellor. I fundamentally believe in the value of counselling yet why wasn’t I doing what I recommended for my clients for me? Was I really so busy I couldn’t clear a 50-minute slot in my schedule for myself?
It’s become fashionable to moan about how busy you are. As a person I have a tendency to try and do all the things. Collapse with exhaustion. Clear space in my schedule. Forget, and try and do all the things. Well, you get the idea…
But let me run through my schedule for you. From 9-5 I work at the day job, five days a week. From 6-9 four evenings a week I work in my dream job as a counsellor, I sees my supervisor, I update my website or I go to peer group. From 9-11 I see my husband, eat and ‘relax.’ Two weekends a month I do counselling training which left a luxurious six days of freedom a month which I filled by seeing friends and family. Looking at this now, it sounds insane. My life wasn’t meant to be this way. When I trained to become a counsellor I was searching for a job that made a difference, fulfilled me and paid the bills. After graduating and setting up my private the first two conditions were fulfilled but earning enough to support myself… that’s been tough. Books are expensive, you guys!
When did you stop dancing?
I’ve hinted around this in this blog but for the last six months if you are a friend or family member you will be intimately aware of how fed up I’ve been recently with my day job. For a year now I’ve searched for a way out and felt increasing stuck at work. Writing about it here felt like revealing my secret shame that I wasn’t where I wanted to be life-wise.
In many ways the day-job has been the best job I’ve ever had. I love the people I work with. Plus it’s a editor role, in Brighton. Aah, the wonder of the no commute.
That doesn’t change the fact that I feel as if I’ve been at work, oh about four years too long. It bores me, the same questions, the same drama. I feel as if I am making a massive difference when I am counsellor but as a editor I’m just moving deck chairs on the Titanic.
It made practical sense to stay in my day job. Staying there allowed me to do my counselling training without having to pay tuition fees. It gave me time to set up and grow my private practice. It’s supported me financially.
But I became sick of being practical. The urge to leave and to strike out on my own over the last year has become almost unbearable. We spend a huge proportion of our lives at work and if you no longer enjoy what you are doing that’s a huge proportion of time to be bored, frustrated and unhappy. I needed a change, stat.
In February, I was offered a role as a counsellor. I was ambivalent. Pros: a counselling job. Cons: it involved a massive pay cut, a commute and HWSNBN’s job was shaky. I couldn’t make it work. I chose my head over my heart and stayed in my day job.
Returning from holiday in March I asked to go part-time at work. The week after my head of division left and we were absorbed into another team. The day job became thrown into chaos. I have the best timing. The answer was of course, not now. Wait until things calm down in a couple of months, hah!
For next couple of months I continued my superhero life – editor by day, counsellor by life. I asked periodically at work to go part time but was told ‘wait’. At this point I was only working three nights a week in a futile attempt to keep exhaustion at bay. I was getting increasing unhappy and frustrated in my day job. Even though when I was counselling I came home at 9pm at night I was animated and happy. On my nights off when I only worked my day job I was drained and miserable. Why had I trained so hard for two years to become a counsellor only to go back to exactly the same life?
I felt stuck. One job paid the bills but I was beyond over it and the other I loved but couldn’t yet make it work financially. I was in limbo.
In May, I made the decision to lean in. If I took on more clients in my private practice I could earn enough to leave my day job and just work as a counsellor. As a back-up plan I applied for every counselling job I saw. But I wasn’t hopeful. Getting a paid job as a counsellor in this economy was a tough ask. I started actively hunting for more clients by rehauling my website and advertising. I increased my prices. Instead of counselling three nights a week I began working every weekday and training at the weekend.
The more clients, I took on the more exhausted I got. Even my eyelashes felt tired. I was working 12 hour days and in between trying to fit in friends and family. I felt like I was failing at everything. If only I was better, cleverer, quicker I could do it all (hah-fucking-hah).
Around this time I said ‘I don’t have time for counselling.’ I don’t have time became my mantra. I didn’t have time for anything. Everything I enjoyed fell by the wayside. I stopped dancing, writing, reading. I worked, I worked, I slept. I began getting sick because I was so run down. Life was a treadmill and I just needed to get off.
Finally I snapped. It was a Sunday and I was so tired I felt like I was moving in slow motion. My parents asked me to fed their cats while they were away. I love feeding the cats so much. But that day it felt like one tiny weight being placed on back that was already bent double. When you don’t have time to feed cats you know your priorities are messed up. They asked if there was anything they could do but there wasn’t really. I had been flailing around hoping somebody would say ‘Rowan. You need to stop.’ (They did often. But I was too tired to hear by this point. My thoughts felt confused and lumbersome.) But I needed to take that decision myself. I sat on the beach crying so hard my glasses filled up with salt.
I asked work to go part-time again the next day. I told them if it wasn’t possible I would have to leave. I may not have any money but I would find a way to survive. I just had to jump and have faith that I would find my wings on the way down.
As I waited and waited and waited for an answer I desperately tried to make a life as well as make a living. I started meditating daily which had a huge affect on my thoughts and mood. I did acupuncture. I started 100 days of happiness in order to fill my life with more things that nourish me.
In July the day job told me it wasn’t possible to allow me to go part time but it would happen once we’d recruited more people in October. I knew that if I stayed I would lose parts of myself until there was nothing left. That severe exhaustion was looming for me. That given the chaos at work it was unlikely they would recruit before January. I started drafting my letter of resignation.
That day I got a phone call about a job I applied for months ago. The same role I turned down in February except this time it was in Brighton and for a little bit more money. I expected that they might be asking me to interview. But they were so impressed with my previous interview, they offered me the role. It was part time which allowed me to continue my private practice. It was a life-raft that I grasped with both hands. I handed in my notice that day in a gesture my lovely colleague labelled ‘Sticking it to the man.’
I still can’t believe it but in a month I’m going to be a full-time counsellor. Life changes in a instance. I’ve got so accustomed to tragedy falling from the sky that I’ve forgotten about joy. Dreams do come true. It still feels miraculous that a year after graduating I will be working full time as a counsellor. I’m filled with lot’s of worries. What if I hate it? What if they hate me? What if I am so broke all I survive is Cup-a-Soups?
I’ve learnt a lot this year about myself. Life lesson’s learnt:
Be flexible – 2014 wasn’t meant to be the year of the career. But life had other plans and the more I fought against that the more stuck I felt. The minute I realised that I needed to stop settling and find a new job everything fell into place.
Avoid being a victim – I have a tendency to go ‘poor me’ especially when I am tired. I desperately wanted somebody to step in and save me this year. But there was no millionaire waiting in the wings to pay me to help people and keep me in bon bons. I chose to be a workaholic and although my reasons were valid I needed to take responsibility for taking care of me. In the end I learnt how to save myself.
Self-care is fundamental – eat well, sleep, meditate. If any of these fall by the way-side I’ll know I’m in trouble again.
Work to live rather than live to work – I have work-a-holic tendencies to equate being busy with being effective. This is bullshit. Working effectively means taking a lunchbreak. It means taking five minutes each hour to stretch the cracks out of my back. It means saying No to things.
Take more risks for big payoffs – I am not a natural risk-taker. I like certainty, lists and big books full of big words. Risks terrify me. However, once every half a dozen years I feel something outside of myself begin to move me to take a chance.
When I was 14 I cut my hair of at home in the bathroom mirror. My family and friends thought I was having a break down. But I knew this was my rebirth
When I was 22 I left my cushy job to travel by myself driven less by a desire to see the world than to get away. I hated it at first missing my family and my new boyfriend (now husband). But when HWSNBN and I travelled together I changed. When I returned I moved to Brighton, he followed two years later and we never looked back.
When I was 28, based on a feeling of envy. I took an introductory counselling course and then another.
When I was 31, I took a risk and left a comfortable job to become a full-time counsellor.
And in one bound she was free.