A contemplation of the preciousness of time

I’m writing this on one of those days where people doing small, stupid things at work inordinately pissed me off, so please allow me to indulge in a bit of a cathartic rant. We do quarterly reports multiple times a year so why is it that I need to clarify “what timeframe does the report cover?” every time? Try looking up when you gave me the last report (searching your email is so easy!) and go with that as the start date. Why are you CCing me on an email about finding a time for you to be on a call with an outside person when I’m a) not even in your goddamn department, b) would have to ask you anyway what your calendar looks like because I don’t have access to it, and c) am not your fucking assistant?

I’ve been in a weird non-position since my boss left earlier this year (and thus rendered the position I was hired for null and void) where I’ve essentially been doing everyone’s busy work in the interim until my department finishes a reorganization. By the time that happens I’ll have sacrificed a year of my life to being on hold.

(I haven’t left yet because I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll be able to leverage my way into a fucking fantastic different position. I feel trapped in the spectacularly boring/frustrating admin track because that’s literally my only job experience to date so this is the only way I see myself breaking out of it. So here’s to staking a significant amount of time on hoping this actually happens and hoping it comes with a similarly fucking fantastic pay raise. Cue the hysterical laughter!)

Rant done, but I’ll return to this general subject in a bit.

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I’ve been a bit emotionally raw lately (which no doubt contributed to some of the righteous indignation I felt at work today) due to two things that have happened recently.

My brother was in a scary car accident a few weeks ago. He’s totally fine, thank goodness, but the car was completely totaled. I was hiking that day, so I got that particular piece of news in the form of a whole slew of family group texts that blew up my phone at once as I briefly got service again at the top of a mountain. Since I was out of service for most of the morning/early afternoon, I’m even more incredibly thankful it wasn’t bad news.

The friends I was with on that particular hike gave me a moment at the vista to sit down and process that information. I was immediately struck by how things so easily could’ve gone differently for my brother instead of just some bruising where his door airbag hit him when it deployed. There’s nothing like a family member’s near-death experience to make you consider the ephemerality of life.

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Last week was one of those weeks at work where it seemed impossible to get anything done because we spent the entire week running around putting out various fires. We had a huge event towards the end of the week that was a Big Enough Deal that I showed up to work wearing a pencil skirt, which I don’t think I’ve worn since my first week on the job—before I learned that while we officially aren’t causal enough for jeans on Fridays, it turns out no one particularly gives a shit what I wear most of the time anyway (so yeah, I’ll show up in jeans some Fridays. Occasionally some random other weekdays, too).

That morning my department got an ominous email from the head of our company asking for all of us to be in the break room in half an hour so he could talk to us. Given all the prep that needed to happen that morning for the event, speculation started flying about what could possibly warrant this meeting: was the entire department about to get fired? I mean that’s not rational, but that was the pet conspiracy theory of us nobodies down at the bottom of the ladder.

Nope, we got the bombshell that someone in our department had died.

The details are not mine to share and I wouldn’t even if they were. But she’d been out of work sick for a few months—one of those horrible cases where she could never seem to catch a break and things just kept coming at her one after another. We all assumed she’d never be back at work and would take an “early” retirement (emphasis on the quotation marks because she was nearing retirement age anyway) once her health got better, but we didn’t expect that she was just going to be gone gone all of a sudden.

The entire week had been everyone rushing around to do everything, which made for a very surreal experience when everything got very still immediately after that. And then we all had to get through the event that afternoon.

I’m sad. I didn’t know this coworker terribly well or work that closely with her, but I’m still sad. I’m even more sad for the coworkers who just lost their boss and the people that knew her way better than I did. I’m sad for our company and the huge loss of not only a integral part of the place but also the institutional knowledge held by someone who had been there for decades.

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Being at work this week has been weird, and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on life and mortality, on work, and on FIRE. I’ve been debating whether to write this post at all since talking about this loss seems like something it’s not my place to share, but this is taking up a lot of my available headspace at the moment. Stories like this, of people who work their whole lives and never make it to retirement so they can finally enjoy their own time, break my heart.

Remember that rant from before? I’m just tired of it all, and I can’t help but feel that being this miffed/drained/petty/resentful/bored/completely unenthused is such a horrendous waste. Every time my mother asks me about work and I respond with a very neutral “eh, it’s okay but I’m so bored sometimes,” she’s fond of reminding me that overall I like the company I work for and that it could be so much worse (and it could be! I do acknowledge that on better days). Besides, she says, every job inevitably comes with parts you won’t like, things that make you mad, and days you’re bored. It’s just what happens.

Maybe that’s the status quo, but I refuse to accept that as my life sentence for the next 40 years.

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There’s so much I want to do and see in my life, and I can’t do any of it while tied down to a traditional job. I want to travel the world for a year, just for starters. I want to spend a few months on the west coast visiting all of the national parks. I want to spend time with family and friends. I want to read the stack of library books in my room and not feel stressed out about how many there are. I want to learn new languages and brush up on the ones I already (or at this point, did previously) know. I want to learn new skills and pick up new hobbies.

And I want to make a difference in the world. Back when I was a young, naïve college senior, I wanted to find a job where I could help people (damn me for being an idealist because that usually doesn’t pay so well!). Two months of unemployment meant I said yes to the first crappy receptionist position that came my way instead, and I’ve been struggling with trying to make that desire a reality ever since. But since I learned about FIRE, I’ve realized I can make my best contribution outside of a 9-5, even if that 9-5 did ultimately end up being something senior year me would’ve been proud of.

I want to give back to my community, and one of the best ways to do that is through my time and energy: I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas for things I want to do and groups I want to volunteer with. But I just don’t have much of either time or energy right now. I barely have enough energy to make dinner some nights when I get home, let alone to do anything else.

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I’ve talked about why FI before. Reading about FIRE meaning freedom and the time and space and energy to do things that you want to do on your own terms makes sense on an intellectual level, but in a way that’s pretty abstract when you’re as far away from it as I am. But I’ve been forced to consider just how very short life is lately, and it’s brought all this into a new sense of immediacy. (I finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin a few weeks ago and the line “the days are long but the years are short” has stuck with me ever since.)

I sincerely love that some people love their jobs and could never conceive of leaving, but it’s taken me very little time to learn I am so not one of those people. When I get excited about something, I don’t tend to do things halfway, but at the moment it feels like my job is keeping me from jumping into things with both feet (which in some cases keeps me from jumping in at all).

There’s so much more I can do with my life, and I want to make sure I actually utilize the unknown finite amount of time I have instead of wasting it sitting at a desk all day doing things that don’t require me to use my brain. It seems oddly timely now that I’ve just caught up on all the past episodes of the Slow Home Podcast and some of the more recent ones were about writing your eulogy and finding your why. I don’t want to look back even five years from now and realize I never actually changed anything and am still in the same unsatisfying position.

So if you were to ask me why FIRE? This is exactly why.

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