What if there was no such thing as work?

I work three jobs, just to prove that there really is such a thing as a workaholic. I work full-time at a university, part-time teaching a class at another university and own a consulting company called The Julia Group. If you count being a full-time student as a job, then I have worked at least two full-time jobs since I was fifteen years old, except for a brief two or three month stint with retirement. To discover how retirement worked out, re-read the first sentence.

I retired because I realized that I was working 80 hours a week on automatic pilot. I had to do it to get through school, and then, when my husband was sick, and later died, I needed to do it to pay all of the bills and take care of the kids. The bills got paid, the kids grew up and I just kept going. So, I took off for a few months and discovered that it is really boring being retired when all of your friends are still working and your kids have their own lives. Besides, I like statistics, and I like programming, so I went back to work and the work piled up.

Then, this week, I had to have my knee replaced. Basically, they cut a nine-inch wound into my leg all the way to the bone, sawed off the ends of two bones (I wonder if this is where the term sawbones came from. Probably not), then replaced the ends with Titanium and sawed the whole thing back up. You can see pictures of what it looks like here, but I wouldn’t look if I was you, because it is pretty gross. The other not-fun thing I discovered is that much of the pain medication gives you nausea. So, the choices are to really hurt or puke your guts out. Having had morning sickness with four babies, I remembered that eating a little bit helped. Two tips, if you have to do anything like this, try to eat a little bit all of the time of the blandest stuff possible. I have lived on crackers and 7-up for the past five days. Also, don’t exercise within an hour of taking the medication. Try not to be male, too, if you can help it. I can only imagine what a catheter would be like if I was male. I am certain the phrase, “damned inconvenient” which was my experience, would not begin to cover it.

So, I made a solemn vow that I was not going to do any work this week. As more than one of my co-workers strongly emphasized to me,

“You are on medical leave. That means you LEAVE work for medical reasons and you do NOT do any. Get better.”

I work with some really nice people.

I am also the president of a national non-profit, but I didn’t do that either. That is work also, just work for which I don’t get paid.

It probably comes as no surprise that I did not succeed in not working for five days, although I did make it for four. I left my cell phone and computer at home for the first two days, so that helped. One thing I wanted to discover is what would I do, what would I think about if there was no work

One thing I discovered, is that my husband loves me unexpectedly more than I had thought. He is, literally,  a rocket scientist. He is a very methodical guy and treats marriage much like designing a program. There is a reason he picked particle physics over poetry as a college major. You need flowers on your anniversary, remember her birthday – and, of course, he uses iCal and various services for those things. Well, Dennis was so nervous when we went to the hospital he was actually shaking. When the receptionist asked for our insurance card, he gave her his Ralph’s Club card. He took most of the time I was in the hospital off work just to be there. I’d wake up and he would be sitting in a chair using my laptop. When I asked him,

“Why aren’t you at home?”

He answered,

“Because you’re here and I want to be here with you.”

I always tease him that if I left him, he wouldn’t notice and then three weeks later, he would look at our youngest daughter and ask,

“What happened to that lady that used to live here? I kind of liked her.”

I guess I was wrong. As for my daughters, two of them are in LA right now, the youngest, because she is eleven, and the second daughter, because she is in graduate school. I thought my eleven-year-old, who continually reminds us that she is in junior high now, despite the fact that she is attending the same parochial school where she started kindergarten, would be too cool to miss me much. Besides, she has dad. The second day I was in the hospital, Dennis showed up with two bags our littlest daughter had packed. He tried to tell Julia that it was a lot of stuff and she insisted,

“No, mom washes her hair with this one, and she likes this kind of soap, and she buys all her stuff at these stores in the Promenade and you know they don’t have that kind of thing at the hospital. Well, you don’t know, Daddy, but I do because I’m the one that goes with her.”

She started in on the litany of things that were not right once I got home. Apparently, dad does not help her with her science projects right and does not read her bedtime stories correctly.His contention that his knowledge of science was sufficient for the graduate school faculty at UCLA did nothing to convince her.

My second daughter took care of all of the emails and phone calls for the Julia Group and somewhere found time in there to bring my ice packs and cook for me while I was in bed. And this was the child we could not get to do her homework in high school even after we cut up her credit cards, disconnected her Internet, and took away her DVD, TV, phone and MP3 player.  One thing you might notice if you spent less time at work is that you have a pretty nice family.

You might also notice some things about your co-workers. One person sent me FIVE emails during the four days I was in the hospital, each progressively marked more urgent. My initial thought, I must admit, was WTF? This is actually a very nice, intelligent person. He is also very focused on his job and very much like I have been nearly all of my life. I don’t think he gave a thought that it was unreasonable to expect me to answer email the day I had surgery. I don’t think he gave a thought to the fact that I had surgery. No, no one had died and the fate of the universe wasn’t hanging on this project. He just thought it was really, really important that this particular thing get done because some people might be unhappy if it didn’t come out exactly right. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. I know, though, that I won’t be working with that person in the future. It’s not that I am mad at him. On the contrary, I know exactly how he thinks because I have thought that way most of my life. However, I decided that I no longer think that nothing short of your own death is a sufficient excuse for being out of work more than a day. I don’t think that I will be less successful because of that change in attitude, if anything, I’ll probably be more successful by some standards.

My manager at the university wanted to speak with me before I left. He said,

“I know we talked about you working from home, but I just wanted you to know that if you don’t feel you can put in a full day, just stop working. We’ll work it out. Just get well.

One of my clients emailed me twice while I was in the hospital, both times to ask how I was doing. Those are two people less focused on work than the first one, but I guarantee you that I will be working with both of them in the future.

If I hadn’t worked so many hours, I would have noticed more about how amazing the people are that I work with. My business partner for 19 years was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago. How he has kept going, kept writing presentations, working on grants, running a business, meeting with people all over the country, while having radiation treatment, driving 180 miles round trip from the reservation for every doctor visit – it just amazes me. Another one of my co-workers has been in a wheelchair since an accident 25 years ago. He occasionally mentions having a pressure sore or how much of a hassle it is, but having to lie in bed for a couple of days and make a conscious effort every hour to move this part or that part, having to actually have a plan for getting around the house in case something is in the way. I am a little embarrassed to admit that this last week has caused me to have more respect for people who I should have had more respect for all along, Not in a condescending “Isn’t he inspirational?” sort of way but more in a “Damn! You’re even more amazing than I realized. How dumb am I?” sort of way.

If there was no work, I think I would pay more attention to bigger affairs of the world, like politics and economics. Of course, lately, I have been thinking about health care reform. I have no real complaints about the health care. It cost $3,000 for the surgeons, $3,000 a day for the hospital. Once you throw in the anesthesiologist and the home physical therapy, I am guessing the insurance company will pay out about $17,000 and we’ll pay about $2,000. I think the monthly cost for our health care is around $2,000 a month, of which we pay $200. Interesting fact there is that I don’t even know what the company pays, but it’s a lot. No matter what health care reform passes or doesn’t pass, we will be fine because we are in that elite group that companies want badly enough to pay benefits to keep. Do I seriously think that there will ever be a system where everyone in America stays at a hospital where you only have private rooms and you have a view of the Santa Monica mountains? No. I feel lucky I have that. Part of it is luck. Part of it is choosing to study the right things (and marry the right person). No one in America will lose access to this type of health care because any bill passes because

A.) Very few people have access to it now, and

B.) There is never a problem in America with being able to buy things you want if you have the money to pay for them. Hell, this is true of illegal drugs now and they’re, well, illegal. How much truer will it be of legal drugs?

If you are like me and work essentially all of the time, I strongly recommend you try this exercise. You might say that is nothing more than a vacation or the weekend, but, if you are really like me and a lot of people I know, you spend your “vacations” and “weekends” just working in a nicer location or for only eight hours a day. As my oldest daughter patiently explained to me,

“Mom, when you meet with a client over lunch, that’s not lunch. That’s a meeting with food. Stop working. Just try it some time.”

Try it sometime. Don’t work. Not at all. Even one minute. See what you would think about if there was no such thing as work. If you have the option, skip the being sliced open and try it in the Bahamas. You’ll save money, be  a lot more comfortable and hopefully learn just as much about yourself.

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