A Re-kindled Appreciation for Part-time Work

A few weeks ago, the law firm where I work hired another person to exclusively file appeals for case managers, the same position as me. “Don’t worry,” my boss said cheerfully, “you will still be busy.” She was right. Social Security goes through busy periods where it seems like we are inundated with denial letters for a time and then things slow down. This summer has been a busy time and even with this new person filing appeals, my schedule was booked two weeks out. But then unexpectedly on July 6, my cohort needed to be transferred to another department and was no longer able to file appeals. This person’s schedule for the upcoming week was booked solid. I could hear desperation in my boss’s voice when she asked if I would like to get extra hours next week. I didn’t really want the extra hours, especially in mid summer, as my vision for the upcoming week was to be spending Tuesday and Thursday reading a braille book on the porch swing, or swimming in the wonderful outdoor swimming pool at the gym my parents and I belong to. But my conscience would have been nagging me had I not helped out, and it never hurts to build up some good karma, as you never know when you might need someone to help you someday. So I told my boss I would come in Tuesday and Thursday the following week to cover this person’s appeals. I am glad I did this good deed, and I confess I liked the larger paycheck too. But after that week, I have a re-kindled appreciation for how blessed I am to be able to work part-time. As I left for the weekend on July 6, I realized that my Friday the 13th bad luck had come a week early, but Friday the 13th itself, I remembered and appreciated anew, the euphoria I felt back on February 17, 2017 when I chose to go part-time.

If there is one thing I have learned since 2012, it is that work-life balance is critical. In 2012 after graduating with my Bachelor’s degree from Carroll University, I thought that time at home with no school year or job start date on the horizon would be the most awesome thing in the world. And for a few months when I was having migraines all the time and frequent doctor appointments where I was ultimately diagnosed with Celiac Disease, it was. I needed time to recover without any stress, and Mom pointed out that an employer would not have been happy with me needing to take so much time off for doctor appointments so soon after being hired. But by mid October, I was starting to feel restless and by the summer of 2013, I was so restless I was beginning to lose my mind. I felt as though I existed, but wasn’t really alive. Some of this time was spent productively sharpening daily living skills I never had time to practice when I was busy with school such as doing dishes and laundry, but mostly, I felt as though I was breathing, eating, and keeping myself entertained by reading, watching TV, posting silly stuff on Facebook and taking walks, but my life didn’t really have a purpose. When I started working full-time, I was on top of the world at first. My days now had a purpose to them, helping people get approved for Social Security disability. I was getting a steady paycheck so I didn’t have to ask permission to use Mom or Dad’s credit card, and I was making new friends with wonderful coworkers. During these years of waiting, I knew I should have cherished the quiet lunches with Mom, but I was getting tired of the mundane conversations about something I had read, or Mom’s accomplishments around the house that morning. (That year, she devoted a lot of time to house projects like re-painting rooms and cleaning out the basement.) So it was refreshing to get a job and expand my world, meeting new people and hearing about their lives and their children. But after working full-time for almost two years in a job that gave me tremendous anxiety, I started longing for better work-life balance. With my normal part-time schedule, I have found that perfect balance. Although I love my family, I enjoy breaking away from them and heading off to work Monday, Wednesday and Friday to contribute to the larger world, earn money and enjoy fellowship with my coworkers in the break room. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I enjoy sleeping in, going to bible study during the school year, writing, reading a book on the porch swing, swimming, making soup in the slow cooker, and quiet lunches at home with Mom and sometimes Dad if he does not have to make any sales calls and is close to home.

I have heard wise, life-long Christians say there are no coincidences, and I knew what they meant and came to believe it myself on February 19, 2017. There could not have been a more perfect sermon that weekend in church to celebrate the freedom I felt after choosing to work part-time. The sermon was based on a chapter from the book of Joshua when Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River into the promise land. The pastor explained that the Jordan is a deep, fierce river, so it took tremendous faith for the Israelites to trust that God would lead them safely across it, but they needed to take this risk in order to take new ground, enter the promise land and experience the richer life God had planned for them. The pastor then explained how this lesson can be applied to our own lives. If God is calling us to make a change in our lives that may seem risky such as starting a new career or moving to a new place, we should trust God just like the Israelites did and take the risk because He is calling us to take new ground and experience an even richer life than we had before.

And then two weeks ago on July 15, the Sunday after doing my good deed at work, the sermon was given by a guest speaker named Walter Harvey. Walter Harvey is the pastor of an urban church in the Sherman Park neighborhood which made national news about two years ago when the shooting of an African-American man by a police officer sparked riots. Walter Harvey’s church was actively involved in cleaning up after the riots, and helping the community heal. Walter Harvey is also working on initiatives to help bring people out of poverty and to encourage people to go into urban ministry. But Walter Harvey did not spend the entire sermon time just touting these initiatives. He did a beautiful job applying these initiatives to the larger context of God’s vision for His church. He likened the church to a bus, and this bus included visionary people, relational people, ministry-minded people and administrative people. Everyone was important but everyone needed to focus on their unique role. The visionaries needed to drive the bus because they would stay laser-focused on where the bus should be going. Ministry-minded people are important, but if they drove the bus, everyone would be kept so busy that the bus would never fulfill its vision. Relational people are important but if they drive the bus, the bus will be stopping at McDonald’s all the time because relational people like to keep everyone happy. The administrative people work closely with the visionary supporting the visionary’s ambition but letting them know when the money and resources aren’t available yet to fully realize the visionary’s ambition. After this sermon on the car ride home, Mom and I had a lot of fun discussing how this applied to our family. I see myself as a visionary, with crazy, sometimes overly ambitious, unrealistic ideas always in my head. Mom is ministry-minded and relational, always keeping busy and trying to keep everyone happy, while Dad is the administrative person keeping the wild ambitions of myself and sometimes Mom, in check. But what really struck a chord with me was when in leading up to the sbus metaphor, the pastor stated that we need to have a vision, something that fills us with passion because without this vision, we lose hope. That’s when I remembered anew the biggest reason for my euphoria the weekend of February 17-19, 2017. After working full-time for almost two years, I was starting to lose hope. I understood first-hand what adults meant when they said they felt trapped in their job. People said I could go back to school or take online classes, but after work, I was too drained for that. I thought about volunteering with Audio & Braille Literacy enhancement again because I enjoyed that internship so much, or volunteering with Just Between Us magazine, a magazine published out of the basement of our church and distributed to women in Christian ministry all over the world because I longed to be in the Journalism field again and felt I would enjoy supporting this magazine. But these volunteer opportunities were only available on week days. I thought about quitting my job altogether, but knew this would be foolish now that I needed to pay for health insurance. Since I have a disability, I knew I would qualify for government assistance or state health insurance once my savings ran out, but I didn’t want to depend on state assistance, or endure the demoralizing process of applying for jobs and proving myself capable to a new employer. And although having a lot of money has never been my life goal, I had come to like having my own money that I could spend on something frivolous now and then without having to get permission from anyone. The thought of having to go backwards in life and get permission from Mom and Dad again if I wanted to treat myself was also demoralizing. So with a feeling of defeat, I had almost resigned myself to joining the ranks of adults living in the could’ve, would’ve should’ve done things differently, but now it’s too late camp, a camp I had sworn to myself as a child I would never join. But as I sat at my desk on February 17, 2017 pondering my practically empty appeal schedule the upcoming week, it occurred to me that it wasn’t too late. If the boss let me work part-time, I could continue earning enough money to pay health insurance, still have a little bit of spending money to enjoy, and have the time and energy to pursue other dreams. On February 19 as I listened to the sermon encouraging us to take new ground, I didn’t yet know what my future would look like, but I knew that on Friday I had taken a risk so that I could take new ground, and the fact that two days later I still felt giddy with a sense of relief, peace and hope confirmed I had made the right decision. After working part-time almost a year and a half now, I haven’t made any major moves yet such as going back to school or starting my own business. I haven’t even signed up to volunteer anywhere. This is partly due to the fact that shortly after going part-time, there were some challenges such as my seizure, Mom’s shoulder surgery, and my grandma needing extra assistance after her car accident requiring Mom to go to Indiana frequently. Given these challenges, I thought it would be wise not to commit to anything new, especially anything that required my parents to drive me around. But I also felt like I was just so burnt out that I just needed to take a step back and rest, at least for the summer. In 2012/2013, I complained a little about spending part of my day on dishes and laundry, not because these skills weren’t important to learn—I knew they were—but I wanted to find my higher purpose in life first, as in the job that would eventually allow me to live on my own first, and then with my eyes on a specific prize, I would feel more motivated to get comfortable handling dishes and laundry on my own. But last summer, I actually enjoyed doing dishes and laundry not only because I was helping Mom who physically couldn’t do these things for a couple months after her surgery, but also because after the anxiety of being a case manager, I truly appreciated the contentment that can come from mundane, tedious chores. Case management required the full attention of my mind and on many days sapped my soul, but while loading and unloading dishes or folding laundry, I could let my mind wander, or sing along to a favorite album while I worked which revitalized my soul. For this reason, I also came to enjoy chopping vegetables and making soup in the crock-pot. In the fall, I joined choir once again and offered to host a bible study group for young adults on Monday nights, and through this group I have made wonderful friends. This year, my goal is to make good on my promise to do more earthly good and add one hour of volunteering a week as a braille mentor for a blind child, something I am uniquely qualified for but have been apprehensive about stepping into because I don’t have a lot of experience with kids. As for a larger vision for my life, my experience studying with my Jehovah’s Witness friends and the amazing book I read about the restoration have inspired ideas on the “why” for my life, which I will talk about in a post in the near future, but I don’t know the “what” of this vision, as in what kind of career or business this vision could lead to. But what I do know is that the week before Walter Harvey’s sermon when I tasted what it is like to work full-time again, there was no time for thinking about visions. It seemed like I came home, ate dinner, fell asleep on the couch, went to bed and then it was time to go back to work again. I wasn’t depressed that week because I knew it was just one week and I was doing a good deed for my coworkers, but Walter Harvey reminded me why I could not go back to working full-time every week, at least not in this job which is not my calling. My choice to work part-time was about far more than just having time for bible study, swimming or making soup in the slow cooker, although I enjoy those things. My choice to work part-time was about creating a work-life balance that restored hope simply by restoring calm to my life because when you feel like for five days in a row all you have time for is work, and getting ready for the next day of work, there is no time to even think about what the higher purpose for your life might be. And when the “what” for my life is revealed, by working part-time, I will have the time and energy to pursue it.

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