Having too much free time is a burden. There, I said it.
I had a job once where I could knock out my daily responsibilities in about an hour or two. The rest of the day I would sit at my desk and pass the time as covertly as possible. It wasn’t exactly a secret that I had nothing to do, but I didn’t want to advertise it either. Towards the end of the fiscal year, my manager realized she had a chunk of money she needed to use or the budget would be that much less the following year. In order to solve her surplus problem, she sent me to a conference in San Diego. The topic of the conference was only vaguely interesting to me, and completely unrelated to my job and skill set. I tried to make polite conversation with the other conference attendees, but it was painfully obvious that I knew nothing about the industry and had no business being there. Unfortunately I was (am) too much of a rule-follower to blow off the conference and enjoy San Diego. I tried to soak up the Cali vibes from my hotel room, enjoyed the dinners I could expense, and on the very last day skipped one of the optional seminars to take a nap. It was such a colossal waste of time and money, and the whole experience left me feeling cynical and disappointed. A few days after arriving back in Kentucky I got swine flu.
I would try to explain the mind-numbing tedium of this job to my friends and family, but no one was ever properly sympathetic. I was bringing Netflix DVDs to work and at some point realized that ordering TV shows was a better option because movies were over too quickly, leaving me with still too much day to chew up. The work I was being paid to do was vaguely support-ish so very, very occasionally the phone would ring or I would get an email. I would pause the media player, take out my headphones, say something like “you need to enter the month in a two digit format, like zero-two for February, and then the system will accept it. Okay great. No problem. Thanks, you too. Bye” and then click play again. My friends were all busy in graduate school or being analysts and bankers. They would send me emails at 2AM after getting home from work, and they all told me I should be grateful. I had the dream job. I was getting paid to do nothing.
Often I would stare at an empty Excel spreadsheet and daydream about the productive ways I could be spending my time if I wasn’t obligated simply to occupy my cubicle all day. I could clean my apartment. I could write the book that would finally launch my career as a writer who gets paid to write. I could get in incredible shape. I could learn a new language.
Later in life, when I had jobs that required my attention, I would daydream about the things I could accomplish if only I had more time and energy. If I could get away from the energy suck of office life, I knew that I would finally be able nurture that little seed of greatness that we all possess deep within into the ultimate realization of my true potential!! If only I could live somewhere vibrant and lively, I would be driven to push myself further, exploring new ideas and existing in a perfect feedback loop of inspiration and creation!!!!
And then I quit my job, we moved to Amsterdam and I got exactly what I asked for. Except for a brief dalliance with a company that was totally not my type, I’ve been largely unemployed since we moved here in September of 2014, giving me just the kind of time and energy in a beautiful city that I’ve always wanted. Hurray?
If the past several months are an indication of the kind of greatness seed that I’ve been storing, I’m well on my way to realizing my potential as one of the best listeners of podcasts in all the land. My excellence at finding typos in articles on Slate is unparalleled. And my deep knowledge of the Netflix online catalogue is astonishing.
I have a loving, supportive partner who happily pays most of the bills; I live in a city that is world-renowned for start-ups and small businesses; I’m drowning in free time. I even have a personality type that’s really well-suited for creativity and independence (where my INFJs at?). It’s an embarrassment of riches. What do I have to show for it?
13 ways to tell you’re a grown-ass adult who is completely adrift with no purpose in life!
- You write a couple of whiny posts about the expat experience and then abandon your blog for weeks of content-free silence.
- You have a moderately active Instagram account that fluctuates between heavy use of hashtags that garner a bunch of likes, and complete disavowal of hashtags because hashtags are for people that know what they want.
- You know exactly which shows are available in which countries on Netflix.
- You justify your existence by claiming that the first key stage of the creative process is consumption.
- You knitted so many infinity scarves that they need their own cabinet space.
- You never have a bunch of unplayed podcast episodes stacked up because you went back to the very first episode of that podcast and listened to every single one until you’re caught up and now have to wait for new episodes.
- You ruined five or six tank tops with a screen-printing experiment.
- You’ve started five courses on Codecademy.
- You’ve finished one course on Codecademy (Make a Website).
- You regularly google advice about freelancing and then get so exhausted and overwhelmed at the mere idea of self-promotion that you turn off the computer and play Rise of the Tomb Raider for three hours.
- You dedicate an hour in the early morning to write and then spend that hour scrolling through writing prompts.
- You devise carefully nuanced opinions in the shower and then convince yourself you have nothing unique to contribute.
- You’ve read several articles about the power of meditation.
I know I’m very lucky. If I was on the outside looking in, it would be difficult to summon much pity for the girl who gets to live in Europe, looking for a job in between visits to the museum and trips to the cheese store. Here on the inside, I’m not very sympathetic to myself either.
Being unemployed isn’t easy, though, and when I spend every day in relative paradise, it can be hard to admit to myself that it’s okay to struggle. We spend a lot of time thinking about the reward after a challenge, but the daily grind has value too. Patience, perseverance, self-acceptance. I don’t know why I can’t manage to turn my free time into something more productive right now, but I’m trying to cut myself some slack. I try to keep a sense of humor, and take each day as a fresh opportunity. I celebrate victories, big and small, and I practice gratitude until my cheeks hurt. I allow myself to feel angry and disappointed, but on a day like today when it’s unseasonably warm and sunny, I also allow myself to look away from LinkedIn for a minute and go outside.