I recently switched jobs, and that has had a domino effect in my personal life. My old job was the kind that many Americans have: one part office politics, two parts career ladder with a just a pinch of corporate propaganda. Each morning had a certain ritualistic element to it, greeting fellow sojourners and imbibing nasty coffee that you tolerated because hey, free coffee!
My new job is the opposite in so many ways. Being remote means, in theory, working from anywhere. In practice anywhere is often home. Sometimes it means a coffee shop or a friend's apartment in another town... but almost always it means a lot of alone time. I am not attending regular happy hours with office mates anymore, or sharing jokes on the way to the bathroom. Convenience and proximity meant lots of shared lunch hours before. Now I don't usually eat breakfast or lunch at all during the week.
A few things happened right off the bat. First, I spent a lot more time in my head. Then, I realized a few really important things that I want to share. Maybe some of these will resonate with you?
Realization #1: Environment Is Everything
One of the many problems with modern American politics is the menu of choices we get to pick from. In many respects, our political environment constrains our choices and does not offer alternatives that might appeal to the majority. I leave it for you to dwell on that and consider why that might be the case.
These constrained environments dominate most of our lives if we look carefully: the sorts of products sold in grocery stores, the tropes and archetypes in popular television programs, and the pervasiveness of plastics are some examples. Consider the implications of the following: grocery chains only selling local produce, mainstream television promoting holistic alternatives to pharmaceuticals as a first line of treatment for disease, and restaurants banning the use of plastic in to-go orders.
Perhaps those are choices you would support. The trouble is there are few if any effective avenues for you to drive adoption of those things and support them. In a similar way, in your standard American office you often don't get to choose your choices or get full visibility into what the consequences of those choices are. Many offices fail to provide employees with natural lighting, time and/or dedicated spaces for rest, healthy food options on-site, etc.
Working remotely, my environment is defined by my choices. If I work nonstop for 7-9 hours, I will feel like junk afterwards. So instead I try to take a 5-10 minute break at least once every 2-3 hours, and whenever possible I still take a lunch break and spend it outside. These are things I have had to learn to do for my own sake.
Whenever possible, we should create the environments we need to succeed. Appreciate and take seriously the responsibility you have to yourself and others to create healthy environments. When you are out of balance, try to identify the environments you put yourself in and how you can improve them for yourself.
Realization #2: Prioritize Real Relationships Over Work
When I left my last job, I realized that I had done a bad job for years cultivating real relationships with people. I had met basic social needs through interactions with coworkers primarily, because that fit the fabric of my daily work schedule. My work environment (by design) implicitly encouraged maximum participation in work, and I slowly prioritized it over real community in my personal life. This was a clear choice that I made... I just didn't realize I was making it!
This sounds like common sense, but the more workaholic prone personalities amongst us can really get trapped here. When you switch to a job where your number of daily, casual social interactions precipitously drops, you come to realize the consequences of failing to prioritize real relationships and fostering community outside of work.
The trouble is that real relationships with people require work. They require taking initiative and making an effort to plan things. People have their own lives, and if you don't work towards being a part of other people's lives, you just aren't going to have much of a social life. Given that you have a finite amount of willpower and energy in a given day, this means better budgeting... and that might mean that you need to stop giving work every bit of energy and focus you have on any given day.
Realization #3: Cultivate Hobbies
When I was in college, it seemed like everyone did a better job of cultivating hobbies. I was out in nature more, kayaking and riding my bike through the parks often. After taking a film theory course I became a budding movie buff, watching old films and documentaries almost daily. Now that I'm older it feels like most people my age have stopped doing these kinds of thing. I definitely stopped!
Instead, most people work to live and they live for the weekend. Then on the weekends, they drink to cope with their work weeks. (Others just play video games nonstop when they are not working, get high at every opportunity, or a combination of these things.)
Leaving aside the financial and health burdens of frequent alcohol consumption, there are some other, less obvious problems with failing to cultivate real hobbies instead. It makes it more difficult to have things in common with other people. It makes life less interesting. It makes you less interesting.
Develop hobbies folks. Make an intentional practice of them at least weekly, if not more often. If you are unsure where to start of what to make a hobby out of, pick things that help you also end up in the right environments and prioritizing real relationships. Examples include volunteering with a local shelter, reading books on a broad variety of topics, or getting plugged into church groups.
It can also be helpful to identify why you stopped investing in hobbies. Do you remember a time when that wasn't the case? What changed? How can you rekindle that? The most obvious thing for me has been prioritizing sleep more. Another obvious one is pushing myself to exercise as consistently as possible.
One things I want to make very clear is that this post is not meant to disparage any current or private employer I have had. It is meant to share some of the things I've been thinking through lately, and share some of the steps I am taking to change things in my own life. Hopefully you got something out of this!