(Not So) Common Sense
We have to know when to quit
By Carole Townsend
One of the best decisions I ever made, for both myself and for my family, was to just bite the bullet and leave corporate America for unchartered territory. It’s hard to explain my motivation for doing so; I just knew that it was time for me to help my husband start his business and to be home for our children during their middle school years.
And as selfless as all of that sounds, I also knew, deep down where my heart lives, that it was time for me to start my writing career or to pack that dream away forever.
Twenty years later, I am happy to say that making that decision was one of the best moves I have ever made. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, mind you, but that decision was a really good one. My husband and I launched a business that by all accounts has been a fruitful one. I embarked upon my writing career, and that’s been fun, rewarding, exciting and challenging, but most of all, it’s been a dream come true for me.
Just as important, I was home when our children got on the bus every morning, and I was home when they returned from school. When they’re in middle school, they need Mom or Dad, or at least a big cuddly dog with an intimidating bark, waiting at the door when they leave and when they return. For our kids, middle school is a blender of hormones, emotions and just plain meanness – especially if they’re girls. They need a soft place to land every day.
As with most really good choices in life, there is an obvious positive side, and there’s an eventual (potentially) negative side. I’ve already stated the positive changes in our lives that came as a result of my decision to leave the conventional workplace. Now, the negative. I learned early on that it’s not so easy to mark an official “beginning” and an “end’ to the workday. I found myself breaking the very rules that I had been preaching to my children about, using their phones and computers past a certain time in the evening. I worried that they never unplugged, never had any downtime during which they just had time alone, to think or to dream or to just…be. I found myself struggling with those very issues myself. I found myself breaking the unspoken rules governing business hours and such. I have tried to rein in the impulse to communicate with friends, family and clients whenever a thought pops into my head but so far, not much luck.
Just the other day, in fact, I sent a text message to a gentleman who is the subject of a story I’m working on. It was 10:30 at night when I sent it, but a question occurred to me, so I sent him a text. I didn’t really pay attention to the time that I sent it, until he replied at 10:45.P.M., that is. For some reason, that’s when I realized that I was conducting business well outside the customary hours of doing so. In the words of my long-departed mother, “That’s very rude.”
I sent a text message to my sister at 4:30 a.m. last week. I guess I thought that since I was having trouble sleeping, she probably was,too. I was wrong. You see at our age, a 4:30 a.m. text or phone call means one of two things: someone’s dead, or someone’s dying. I need to watch that.
I think the problem is connectivity; there’s too much of it. We’re too available, and we think that everyone else ought to be, too. We’ve forgotten that a 40-50 hour work week is an honest effort, and that number of hours leaves us plenty of time to attend to our families and homes, our hobbies and our downtime, however we define that time. What we risk the danger of losing, is balance. Balance is key to maintaining health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. We’re going to have to learn to rein ourselves in, to know when to quit, for the day anyway. If we're lucky, we have tomorrow to get right back at it. If we don't have tomorrow well, then, it wasn't really that important anyway, was it?
One of my favorite professors in school told me something once that I have never forgotten. You see, I was a nerdly over-achiever in school. I had to be first and best in all things academic. I would burn the midnight oil when my friends would be fast asleep, or burning something else entirely at a Greek party. By the end of that particular semester, though, I was losing traction. I was making silly mistakes in research, or I’d miss a deadline that had been made clear to the class several times. He pulled me aside one afternoon after class, and he told me that while the mistakes were not characteristic of my work, he was not surprised that I was making them. “It was only a matter of time,” he said. “I was waiting for this to happen, and every semester, it does. It happens to my brightest, hardest workers, because they don’t know when to quit. They can’t turn it off. Eventually,” he said, “you reach a point of diminishing returns.”
Translated, what Dr. Arnett was telling me was that hard work pays off up to a point. After that point, the hard work takes over theresults. The results suffer, because I hadn’t made time to relax, to play, to just unplug. To recharge.
And that was before computers (personal ones, anyway) and smart phones came on the scene. They have helped us, to be sure, but I'm not so sure they've enriched our lives. They have upped productivity and connectivity. But we need to learn how to curb their appeal, to resist the siren song of 24-hour availability, of a bottomless pit of information at our fingertips. It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I apologized to the gentleman about whom I’m writing a story, for texting him so late in the evening, that is. He answered by telling me that it was no problem at all; he was just checking basketball scores for some sort of league he’s in, and then he was planning to balance his bank statement. Online.
We simply have to figure out when to quit.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth and newest book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, is slated for April 5, 2016 publication. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her most recent book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a sidesplitting look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. Her first two books, RED LIPSTICK AND CLEAN UNDERWEAR (a book about our Mothers’ advice) and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH (a hilarious look at the unique, charming and sometimes outrageous ways we Southerners conduct ourselves) earned Carole almost instant national fame, with her “unmistakable humor and hysterical honesty,” (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2012). Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the southeast region, teaching writers’ workshops, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well being of the family. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.