Releasing the noise of work

I’ve spent the last few hours wandering around my neighborhood without an agenda, fueled only by a desire to fill my brain with something other than the noise of my last few weeks at work.

When I say “noise,” I mean it literally and figuratively: I work somewhere with an “open work plan,” so I am surrounded by people talking all. day. long. More than this, though, I mean the noise of our business strategies and brand stories, and of the narratives I construct around my standing with every single person on the team at any given point in time. I mean, too, the noise of the language I find myself using to fit into the culture, that I would never use elsewhere, except that sometimes I do, before I can stop myself.

I recently started working at a 200-person company after 10 years of freelance consulting. It is, in many ways, like being in a foreign land — periods of excitement and others of tremendous disorientation. I am getting my bearings in a new culture and learning a new language, and trying to assimilate, while also trying to maintain my personal authenticity and integrity.

The biggest change about being in an office after 10 years on my own is the amount of energy that goes into working productively and respectfully with other people. .

I’ve always been good at drawing boundaries, at protecting my time in order to sustain my energy. This talent has served me well, and given me a reputation as someone with a lot of positive energy to share. At the end of last week, I felt positively depleted, and I realized that when you’re part of a team, and you aren’t in charge of the timelines, and everyone else is working nights and weekends — boundaries or no, you look like a total asshole if you’re the one who signs off.

So I signed on, on a day I had planned to take off to write with a friend, cognizant that my brain had no more to give. But I pushed it. I talked to my brain as if it were a person: “Come on, brain. Just a little bit more.” I contributed, and then I collapsed. I spent the whole weekend in a stupor.

And then my wonderful husband said he’d watch our daughter for the afternoon, because he understood that I needed the time. I spent several hours wandering around our neighborhood in Brooklyn, alternately writing, window shopping, and noticing the lovely fall afternoon: the pale sky speckled with tiny puffs of cloud, the dark leaves contrasting in silhouette. And then like a magnet I was drawn into a small Middle Eastern cafe, with a warm sunny patch just for me, and I began to feel myself heal. I ordered a plate of hummus and each bite brought me back to life. I pulled out my laptop and once again began to write, this time pouring out my heart, pouring out my day.

I was back — grounded, activated. I had located myself. I was happy and hopeful and alive again.

Life is noisy, you guys. I meditate every morning, I write, and still, I feel crowded by the noise. This election is part of it. A demanding new job is part of it. Toggling between parenting and work is part of it. Social media is part of it. Keeping up the family calendar is part of it.

If you are feeling crowded, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the noise, I hope you can find a big juicy luxurious indulgent block of time to do whatever the fuck you want to do. If you crave silence, indulge in silence. If you crave music, crank it up. Make something, if you can, whether it’s a journal entry or a loaf of bread or a garden. Assert your right to connect to your innate, pure, powerful life force, then take the energy of that back into the world with you.

We’ll all be better for it.

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