As I slurp my large cafe au lait on the patio at Common Grounds in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood, I can understand why my friend recently told me to stop expecting people to feel sorry for me when I tell them I’m unemployed. After all, it was my choice. Also, if you work 60+ hour weeks like she does and never take a break (even when on vacation), it sounds absolutely glorious and, in some ways, it is.
It’s also terrifying and stressful, primarily because I’m now the one in control, not my employer. It’s up to ME to prioritize what I get done and make sure that it actually happens, because it’s MY shit and not someone else’s. It’s up to ME to make sure I can financially support the latest bend in this bumpy road of the year-long midlife crisis I’ve been on. That also leads me back to why being intentionally unemployed is glorious.
For the first time in 16 years, I’m setting my own schedule based on what I care about and what I want to get done. That may not sound like a revolutionary statement to you, but when your life has been measured by 30, 60 and 90-minute Outlook calendar meetings, daily back-to-back phone calls from 8 AM-4 PM, managing people who expect everything and give very little in return, all of the stress (and sickness) that comes with constant business travel, and making a masochistic sport out of staying on top of the hundreds of emails coming into your inbox every day, it’s nothing short of life-changing.
I’ll admit that I’m still going through signs of employment withdrawal. When my friend, who was visiting Denver from San Francisco over the weekend, had her laptop open on my kitchen counter in a frantic effort to get as much work done as possible before we went to a Rockies day game, I couldn’t tune out the familiar yet dreaded ping of each work email coming through to her inbox. It made me instinctively anxious and edgy. I kept looking for my company iPhone, fingers itching to reply on a phantom device that had been shipped back with my other company-provided equipment when I left work a few weeks ago.
I keep telling myself that it’s going to take some time to adjust, but while I am adjusting, I’ve also started to recognize all of the things I don’t miss about working for someone else in a corporate environment. As I bounce between the patios of the Highlands neighborhood coffee shops (see the list of my current favs at the end of this post) and try not to get overwhelmed by the freedom to do whatever the fuck I want today, tomorrow and every day after that, I know that I have zero nostalgia for the following shitty things that I was once so used to putting up with:
- What day is it? The days of the week are starting to lose their significance. There’s literally no difference anymore between Saturday and Tuesday. I notice that I often don’t know or care what day it is. That’s because I no longer spend Sundays working to catch up on projects or email because the previous week was spent in unproductive meetings with no time to actually get work done. I don’t loathe waking up on Monday morning to start my week with hours of back-to-back phone calls. I no longer treat Friday as a desperate precursor to the one full-day of rationed freedom I was used to getting. Suddenly, every day is Saturday when you’re no longer working for someone else.
- How about never – is never good for you? I can’t emphasize enough how soul-crushing it is to spend the majority of your working life in meetings, especially unproductive and poorly run meetings, which describes most of them. Whether it’s in-person or on the phone, I’d wager that 80% of my time at work was time wasted in meetings that had no agenda, no purpose and no structure, and where no decisions were made and no meaningful or productive outcomes were reached. The meetings I was required to attend almost always started late, ended late and were a blur of pointless conversations to “align” or “get consensus,” which really just meant pushing off decisions that needed to be made. Usually, the only next step from these meetings was to schedule another meeting, likely involving more people, leading to even more unproductive meetings. I spent more time talking about getting things done that actually doing them, and I was widely considered by my managers and peers to be a highly productive person (hence the rant about meetings).I recall hearing co-workers brag about their bloated meeting schedules like it was a badge of honor: look how important and busy I am; I have so many meetings with so many people. What they didn’t realize was that it just meant they were working for a slow-moving, hierarchical, ineffective company on it’s way down the wrong side of the bell curve. How successful is a company that would rather its employees waste its time (and their own) committing to nothing and moving at a snail’s pace to make decisions? If you’ve ever sat in a four-hour meeting to set your department’s annual goals when half the year is already over with and the only “outcome” of the meeting was agreeing to “drive more revenue” without any concrete plan for making that happen, you know what I’m talking about.
- How did you get this far? I’ve had one amazing manager in the 16 years I spent working for other people. She was a true mentor, and I learned so much from her smart, honest and supportive way of leading. For the 12 other years she wasn’t my manager, I mostly reported to men (and one truly insane woman) who put their egos first, did the bare minimum, focused only on what they cared about (instead of what actually mattered to the success of the business) or were used to having a “work wife” who did the heavy-lifting for them and made them look like they deserved the titles they had. They were often unresponsive, unengaged, unsupportive and uninspiring. How did I wind up being “the woman behind the man” so often? If I’d wanted that role, I would have stayed married (both times).
I also noticed that the men I reported to would consistently use the fact that they had children to excuse missed deadlines, missed meetings or a general lack of follow-up to what they had previously committed to owning. They often bragged about scheduling school pick-ups during work meetings or leaving early to attend soccer games, as if this made them better, more likable and well-rounded people. It often seemed like they were hoping to be commended by colleagues, peers and direct reports who had been counting on them to get shit done for taking some responsibility for raising their own children. This was especially interesting to me because of all the women who were mothers that I managed over the years (10+), there wasn’t a single one who used their children as an excuse for anything, ever.
So, instead of continuing to deal with the above bullshit, I’ve spent the past two weeks actually learning. As it turns out, I have a LOT to learn because I’m trying to figure out how to support myself doing something I love, which isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever was. When I compare the past two weeks to the past 16 years, I can’t remember the last time I learned something fundamentally new at work. Once you get to a certain level, you’re just applying what you already know to solve the same handful of problems over and over, and that’s not learning.
As promised, here are the awesome coffee houses I’ve surfed this week, and some of my favorite brews and snacks:
- Common Grounds (Sunnyside): Sit on the partially shaded patio with a view of the community garden and try a locally-made Lik’s ice cream with any of their delicious coffee drinks. My go-to is a large cafe au lait with skim milk, but you can get way more creative than that.
- Black Eye Coffee (LoHi): They take their coffee seriously, and their “patio” is more of a bench in front of an open garage door, but that counts in Colorado. They have a super tasty menu (I love the oatmeal or acai bowl for breakfast) and their coffee is strong and delicious.
- Huckleberry Roasters: They have a concrete patio with wooden benches, but my favorite spot is perched on a stool at the counter overlooking their patio and North Pecos Street from the open garage door. In addition to great coffee and classes about how to make coffee the right way, they have creative tea and sparkling drinks. I highly recommend you pick up a bag of their “You and Whose Army” whole beans, with a portion of each sale going to charity. I was excited to see that they kicked off their fundraising efforts with Planned Parenthood. You can read more about it on their blog.
- Allegro Coffee Roasters (Tennyson): Their flagship location has fantastic indoor and outdoor spaces to work, relax and fill up on tasty drinks and yummy food. Their Thai basil sparkler is just what you need to refresh yourself on a 90-degree Denver summer’s day, and when I’m torn between drinking coffee or tea, their Earl Grey latte solves the problem for me. Try their mozzarella,prosciutto and pesto sandwich or one of their delicious locally-made quiches.