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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

The worst part of self-employment – well, apart from the boss, the pay, the lack of sick pay, and in fact the un-employment – is doing my own tax. And so, even when I put it off to the last minute (which is tomorrow), I still procrastinate.

Things I am doing or have already done today or still could do if I get really desperate, instead of doing my tax, include:

  1. Writing a blog post about procrastinating doing my tax
  2. Cleaning my desk, filing, and generally tidying my very untidy office
  3. Message a friend I haven’t seen for over 30 friends
  4. Ensure I am up to date on Facebook, because that can’t wait!
  5. Check my frequent flyer points totals in case they’ve grown overnight
  6. Email my travel agent
  7. Write an overdue letter to a friend who likes receiving real letters in the mail
  8. Join a new recipe site and go through a bunch of recipes and save them in my Cookbook
  9. Watch the pilot of Missing online
  10. Play Solitaire
  11. Write some more blog posts about the value of social networking
  12. Write some other stuff
  13. Check I’m up to date with blog reading
  14. Finish the daily Sudoku in the newspaper
  15. Read the newspaper
  16. Copy photos onto a disk for a friend
  17. Make another friend a birthday card
  18. Continue puzzling over the dilemma of where in the world I should celebrate my birthday
  19. Plan dinner
  20. Make dinner
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Life, and plans

“Life is what happens when we’re making plans.” I like that quote. I’m going to write about it in the context of infertility on my other blog in due course – there is a post simmering, though not quite ready just yet. But recent events have just made me aware that yet again, things don’t go according to plan. But you know what? That’s okay. Lots of the best things in my life are there because something I’d planned turned out differently to what I had expected. There’s no doubt that life has sent me down a path that is different, not better or worse, but one that in general I’m happy about.

Something happened a week ago that sees me rather poorer, and with more free time. It will require me to make some decisions about my future and how I live my life. But not now, not just yet. Right now I’m going to do what needs to be done, and I’m going to make the most of my freedom. Not having plans often means having freedom. Sometimes I find freedom frightening, scary, and the sheer quantity of choice can paralyse me. But right now, I’m deciding to enjoy it. For a few months, anyway.

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The week’s end

“What is a weekend?” asked the Dowager Countess of Downton Abbey. It was a brilliant line, delivered perfectly, quizzically, by Dame Maggie Smith. In just four words, it summed up the life of the British aristocracy, and their disdain for the need of the middle and lower classes to work. It contrasted strongly with my feelings earlier that day, as I realised that the late May Sunday afternoon was slipping away, and that Monday, with the stress, anxiety, and frustration that working with other people brings, was looming.

Recently I have been resenting the unseemly speed of a two-day weekend, those two days a safe haven from the aforementioned stresses and frustration. The time is too short to do everything we want to do – to relax, to get out of the house and have fun, to have a lazy morning in bed, to cook and eat and drink, to have a decadent, perhaps even energetic, afternoon in bed, to catch up on sleep, to catch up on TV or music or books or blogs, to plan travel, to paint, to play the piano, to do a crossword, to read the weekend newspaper, to meet up with friends, to spend time alone, to explore somewhere new. The time is too short to do any of that, and do the things we have to do – the laundry, the ironing, cleaning the house (yeah, right), tidying the garden, the maintenance and repairs (the gutters, the driveway, just don’t mention the deck), visiting the in-laws, buying birthday presents for the relatives, phone the relatives. I’m frustrated, and I don’t have children to take to sports, or the endless round of birthday parties, or music lessons, or dance lessons, or theatre, or swimming, etc etc et cetera.

We’ve just had a three-day weekend here in New Zealand. Three day weekends are I think just about perfect. We managed to tick off a lot of the list above – and in one swoop we managed to catch up with friends, to get out of the city and to do something new (I’ll blog about that later). We don’t have another three-day weekend until late October. That’s a long grind of winter and work to get through. We’re going to thwart that by taking September off. But still, it’s a long time to wait.

Still, part of the joy of a weekend is the knowledge that it is a limited time in which to enjoy ourselves. A respite amidst the chores of everyday life. And there’s nothing quite like a Friday afternoon – the stress begins to fade, the anticipation of freedom smoothes my forehead and drops my tense shoulders and eases my mood. That glass of chardonnay helps too of course, and never tastes better than on a Friday afternoon.

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Martyred slaves of Time*

It seems to be fashionable to stress how busy we are. More and more people stress what busy lives they live, how there is never enough time, and take some pride in doing so. It seems as if our culture believes that busy equals important. The busier you are, obviously the more important, more in demand, you are. People who are not as busy seem to be viewed disdainfully, with contempt. Scathing comments can be made freely about the less busy, directly to them. I know this. I received an email mocking me a few weeks ago. I have endured condescending comments about being “retired” and, simply because I am not in full-time employment, have been asked “what do you do all day?” The implication seems to be that if you are not fully employed and frantically busy, then you are either a) lazy, b) unimportant, c) unloved, or d) all of the above.

Yes. My name is Mali, and I am Not That Busy. I freely admit this. I’ve even bemoaned the fact that there are times that “self-employed” feels like “unemployed.” But here’s a secret. I only bemoan it, because I forget, and buy into other people’s expectations, and I guess at times I cave, and don’t want people to think I’m unambitious. But if I’m frank, I enjoy not being too busy.

I once lived a life where I travelled internationally regularly for work, would come home exhausted from jet-lag and long hours away, suffering from an inevitable virus picked up on the plane or in exotic locations. I remember that I started to look forward to the flights – economy class flights, so you understand how desperate I was – simply to get some sleep after working double time before the trip to both prepare for the trip, and do what I’d normally do if I didn’t go away. Of course, getting home, I’d also have to make up for the “lost” time away, and really all I wanted to do would be collapse and hibernate. And then before I knew it, I’d be away again. Apart from the frequent flyer miles, I don’t miss that life. I enjoy having time to see friends, to have lunch with my husband, to write, and to volunteer for people in need, and simply to have enough time to cook a healthy meal. I enjoy having time to think about my work, to recover, to plan. I know am not reflected only by my work; I know now that I am much more than that.

There are of course different categories of busy. A friend I admire seems to have energy to burn, and manages to fit work, play, family, and time for herself into her busy schedule. She has her life balanced – busy but balanced. I have another friend who has a real passion for his work, and works long hours, but always finds time for himself too; again he manages to find some balance in life.

But I see others who seem to be so busy running, they don’t know what they are running towards. They don’t seem to have any balance, and yet they boast how stressful their lives are, and how busy they are, as if they deserve a medal for being busy. When I see people who are so busy they “don’t have time to do X or Y,” or who self-importantly talk about the long hours they work, I pity them. I see people who don’t take time to do things they enjoy, to spend time with their families, or partners. I see people who never read a book, because they say they don’t have time. I see people who are too tired to give time to their children, or partners, or parents. And I ask myself, why are they so busy? What are they running from? What are they trying to prove? And to whom?

* credit to Deloney for a comment on my Any Excuse for a Drink post, and Charles Baudelaire, and apologies to them.

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Men at Work

Before I started working, I heard stereotypes about men and women in business. That men were decisive and strong, women emotional and weak. I wondered if I should believe the stereotypes when I began working, because I was shy and intimidated, and saw overwhelming confidence amongst the men around me. It looked like strength to an innocent young graduate.

When I found my stride, I realised that many of these men blustered, confusing volume and quantity with substance. But I saw them rewarded for it, the men who talked up a good storm to hide their incompetence, who sounded certain, who intimidated by language, by the raise of an eyebrow, or by simply ignoring other, talented people. Women who behaved confidently, who spoke up with substance, who debated ideas were side-lined, labelled as “too hard to work with.” Quieter men, decent men, less confident men, also fell by the wayside.

Where was the stereotypical fearless, rational, “strong” man? Hadn’t we been told that men debated issues, not people? Wasn’t it women who took arguments personally, emotionally? No. This was not my experience. As my own expertise grew, as I became confident of my ideas and approach, I lost my shyness, I spoke up for what I believed in, I put forward ideas and I debated issues. I began to stand up and as I did, many men took a step back, sheltering behind me. But not the bullies.

I realised that the corporate world – its hierarchy, competition, and processes – killed confidence in its workers, when the most profitable option would really be to nurture it, listen to it, grow as a result. I knew I needed to leave before my hard-won, newly-found confidence was also destroyed. Unfortunately, the blustering bullies followed me to the Board table.

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That time of year again

One of the joys of being self-employed is having a more complicated tax return. (Sarcasm, anyone?) I shouldn’t really complain, because I understand that New Zealand’s tax system is actually quite easy. A wage or salary earner (when they are taxed at source), with no investments, is not even required to put in a tax return.

But of course my independent status means I don’t qualify for a tax-return free life. And so, three times a year I am required to submit returns both for income and GST (our value added tax), and I make tax payments twice a year. I’ve never been into keeping accounts. I don’t find it hard. Numbers don’t scare me. I was good at maths at school. But there’s no joy in them, no ambiguity, no personality. So let’s just say being an accountant would pretty much be at the bottom of my preferred job list – probably just above high-rise window cleaner, sewage worker or miner. I can’t imagine anything more tedious than spending my working life with accounts. And so, I grudgingly keep all my receipts, file all my invoices electronically, and procrastinate, delay and defer actually keeping my accounts.

The dates I have to make my tax payments and submit my returns are very clear. I know them well in advance. I have plenty of time to prepare. But I watch the calendar, reassuring myself that there is no rush. Gradually the days slip away, procrastinating, head-in-the-sand denial, until it is tax day. Then I hunker down. Cancel the gym, no lunch or coffee dates, no meetings. The day is clear; the tax is ready and waiting. So, just to make sure, I procrastinate some more.

Tuesday was tax day. So on Tuesday morning, I found myself cleaning some drawers out in the kitchen, and doing the laundry. When I made it to my computer, I suddenly found some volunteer work that needed to be done, and some emails that just had to be written. Finally, in the afternoon, after Facebooking and reading blogs, I closed my Firefox browser, and turned to Excel. I found all the receipts I needed, calculated my business share of our household expenses, filled in details of the receipts and invoices in the excellent spreadsheet I’ve set up, calculated the GST, calculated my income tax, made sure I wasn’t getting the gross and net columns confused, checked each formula. As I do every time, I cursed myself for not having done this once a week, or at least reasonably regularly, in the six months previously. It’s really not too complicated, and a few hours is all I needed to finish it.

The relief and euphoria when it is done almost makes up for my disgust at the state of my bank account at the end of it. I go away with good intentions to be better this year. I’ll register all my receipts in my spreadsheet once a month. I’ll register my invoices as I send them out to the client. I’ll be efficient and diligent. I feel optimistic at the strength of my resolve. I feel in control.

It happens every time.

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I guess there comes an age when you have most things you want. I don’t want a huge, flat screen TV or the latest, loudest home entertainment system /stereo. I don’t want a fancy car – I’d far rather spend my money on other things, or save it for my retirement. And sure, I can always do with another piece of jewellery, or CD, or artwork, or handbag. And yes, I’ve been thinking of replacing the light fittings in the dining room and lounge. And yes, my oven needs replacing as I have to turn it on for pre-heating the day before I intend using it. But in the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing I really need. And little I actually want. Apart from business class tickets to … well, to just about anywhere.

It’s generally the same with technology. I like having a laptop, but don’t feel the need to have the latest and greatest. I like to have a cell phone that works, that allows me to take the odd photograph and text to family and friends, and that allows me to roam internationally (I even had to buy a new Motorola –a rarely-used brand here – to travel to Canada and the USA a few years ago, because of course – and very inconveniently – Canada and the US use a unique cell phone system/frequency that no one else in the world uses, and requires special phones). But I don’t own a Blackberry or similar, and I have no real desire for one. I don’t have an urge to be contactable every second of the day, and I don’t want my business emails to follow me. Likewise, I don’t like taking business calls when I’m “out and about … – after all, I’m either at another business meeting, or I’m either off having fun and don’t want to be interrupted. Not to mention I’d have to change my cellphone contract for a smartphone, and pay much more every month. Gasp! So my little Motorola is fine by me.

I have had an urge for one of those little netbooks, mainly so that when I travel I a) don’t have to lug around my laptop, with all the risks that involves (considering my life is on it), and b) I can get to email or surf the net without having to use ridiculously expensive hotel business centres or find internet cafes. They’re small, not too expensive, and cute.

Then on the weekend, I saw my first e-reader. I’ve heard reviews of the Kindle and followed some of the furore around the launch of the iPad, but I love my books, and haven’t really given these gadgets a second thought. But seeing and holding an e-reader – even the very basic Kobo now on sale at our biggest bookstore – whet my appetite. I constantly have a book in my handbag, and frankly, they get heavy. My husband and I also always have a quandary about how many books to take on holidays. We are both avid readers, and frequently take four to five books each. That’s quite a weight in our suitcases. And frequently we finish them half-way through. This is manageable at a resort where there might be a library, but if we’re on the go, travelling regularly, then finding an English language bookstore can be difficult. Suddenly, it dawned on us that an e-reader could hold hundreds of books. Problem solved.

But we then started talking. We realised we’d need two e-readers, one each. We started talking about the iPad. It’s not on sale here yet, but is due for release in July. When I realised it could be my reading book, diary, notebook, contacts list, and travel computer all in one, I was sold. I walk around with a large diary/notebook in my handbag, along with my reading book as already mentioned. You can start to see why my handbag is so heavy. The days I have to take a laptop with me as well, or additional reading material for business meetings, I feel exhausted, weighed down by my belongings. An iPad could replace most of that. And it would keep me connected. Unlike a phone, it wouldn’t beep at me every time an email arrived. And it would look very cool.

I want one. So does my husband. I need one. He doesn’t. But he also doesn’t think that’s important. I think there’ll be a fight.

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