Five Things I Learned while Working from Home

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Lessons from Shelter-In-Place

 

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

One of the benefits of my job is that I work from home one day a week, and have been doing so for just over seven years. It’s a wonderful perk. If I ever chose to move to a different job, I’d want to be sure I retained this same benefit as it goes a long way toward my mental health.

As a confirmed introvert, working from home on Friday allows me to get my job done while having a little break from my very extroverted team of peers (all of whom I adore, in measured doses).

So when word came down from my leadership that we are to work from home for the foreseeable future, I though “pfft, no problem, I’m already a pro at this.”

On Day One, I approached my now shelter-in-place working from home days exactly as I approached every work from home Friday, and that was my first mistake.

Since I believe in growing from my mistakes, here are five things I have learned and want to share from the first week of working from home every day:

#1 You must have boundaries 

When working from home just one day a week, the boundaries between work life and home life were never an issue. I’d get up a little later than usual, make the short commute down the hall, and do my job. Since the end of Friday is also the end of the work week, at 5:00pm I’d log off and enjoy my weekend time.

Now that work from home is every day, it’s too easy at 9:45pm to think “oh, you know, I could just dash off that email to my boss that I forgot to do earlier” or when I’m obsessing over the current news at 3:30 in the morning, “I could take one more look at that PowerPoint draft.”

To be honest, it’s very likely that I have used “putting in extra work” as a way to deal with my anxiety over the current events. It feels like I am doing something about it, but I’m not. It’s an avoidance and over time will wear me out when right now I need to find ways to stay strong.

In short: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.

#2 You must have boundaries

Since my husband is now my coworker five days a week, and since my husband is my absolute favorite person in the world, I find myself wanting to spend time with him as we usually do after work or on the weekends.

This means sitting together, drinking coffee, talking over all the things on our minds, including but not limited to: how cute our cat is, our thoughts on movie, television, or literary characters, what to have for dinner, and most importantly whether or not feeding peanuts to the crows and bluejays in the backyard will cause them to protect us, as a fierce corvid army, when the zombies rise…you know, normal couple stuff.

But if we spend too much time in our usual weekend pattern, then I am not getting work done. Then again, if I spend too much time doing work (see #1 above) then I’m not spending needed time with my husband.

Once again: Boundaries must exist between work life and home life.


Photo by Yann Allegre on Unsplash

 

#3 You must have boundaries

As part of my job I support a team of technical people who are dispersed across the country, so I am very used to using video conferencing daily, whether at home or not. When this new stay at home edict came down, I was already set up on the app, had a good camera to use, and a speaker for sound.

Not so for my peers. For the most part using videoconferencing is new for them, and I find myself giving mini tutorials on every meeting we have.

Our IT department is now conducting four one-hour long trainings a day on how to use the videoconferencing service, but my peers seem loathe to take a course. “Too busy,” they say. So instead they are relying on me to help them. In every meeting.

This is not sustainable. I love to help people but I can’t get sucked into this vortex. Instead of jumping in there when they have troubles, am now sitting on my hands when someone says, “I can’t figure out how to share this document” or “Why can’t I see everyone?”

If they ask me directly, I will help, but if they are just muttering and fumbling I stay quiet because the best way to learn is to do it for yourself. The user interface isn’t really that hard, it just takes a little time to get comfortable with it.

The one exception: The times when a participant has both their phone and laptop dialed in which produces that horrible ping back and forth that escalates into a high teeth grinding sound. The audio equivalent of standing between two mirrors. I cannot restrain myself from jumping in to sternly say “Phone or Laptop, not both, mute one!”


By Elsamuko from Kiel, Germany — inf, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40716759

 

#4 You must have boundaries

At any break at work, I find myself looking at the latest headlines. On every call my peers want to talk about the headlines. In the kitchen while making lunch my husband and I talk about the latest headlines, “So, did you hear that…”

All of this fuels my anxiety and managing this is a big factor in my ability to stay safe and sane, and to be an active, productive employee.

Many years ago I took a meditation class and the instructor told us: “You don’t have to watch, read, or seek out the current headline news. If there is something you need to know, it will find you.”

It has been almost 20 years since I first heard this gentle guidance and it is more true today than it ever has been.

#5 You must have boundaries

On Friday work from home days, I tend to dress pretty comfortably. Yoga pants with a not terrible shirt. Fluffy socks and slippers. Loose but comfy (okay, ratty) sweater.

This is fine once a week, as Friday is the most causal day at work by far, but this is not sustainable for me five days a week. It is really true that clothes impact how you speak, how you hold yourself, how you feel. Clothes matter.

Now, I’m not saying put on a three piece suit and hard shoes every day, but at least wear the kind of “business casual” clothes you might wear to the office. Get up, take a shower, comb your hair, put on some work clothes, maybe light makeup if that’s your thing, and present yourself well. You’ll get your mind right to sit down and do some work.

Then when the work day is done, by all means, jettison yourself right back into those comfy home clothes. You’ve earned it.

We have no idea how long this current stay at home edict is going to last. so it is important to build good boundaries now to help stay sane over time.

And just because you work from home, don’t neglect washing your hands!

Hey, you: Stay safe and stay productive!

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

 

Love in the Time of Covid-19

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It’s not all toilet paper and hand sanitizer, you know.

 

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Today I reluctantly rose from bed, put some mismatched clothes on my body and headed out. The roads were unusually empty. Stopping at my neighborhood grocery store, I parked and hopped out of the driver’s seat.

Behind me I heard, “Hey! Is anyone coming?”

Assuming this was not directed at me, I leaned into my car to grab my wallet and heard again, more insistently this time, “HEY! Is anyone coming?”

Realizing this was in fact directed at me, I whipped around to see a man in a very new and very shiny cherry red Mustang. He pointed as if to show me that he couldn’t see around the large Amazon delivery van that was parked next to him, and was wary of backing out in the tightly packed parking lot.

“Oh sorry,” I said, and turned to look, the morning sun blinding me as I did.

Shielding my eyes and with a pirate’s squint I said, “Yeah, it’s okay, come on back.” I stood there waving my hand and muttering encouragement while he maneuvered his pretty vehicle through the obstacles. “Yep, keep coming. Yep, you’re good.”

Finally, the driver straightened out the wheel and put it in drive. While pulling away he yelled out the window, “Thank you! I love you!” revved the engine, and was gone.

I stood there for a minute with a perplexed look on my face.

Then laughed.

Then went inside the store. Chicken salad was my goal.

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash

The encounter and the sentiment stuck with me. I could easily write it off as a funny but odd human moment often found in city living. One of those “See, people aren’t so bad” kind of thoughts.

Inside the store, I walked down the toilet paper aisle (the most express way to the deli counter) and saw boxes stacked up. I saw my fellow citizens wearing face masks. I sneezed into my elbow.

While washing my hands for the umpteenth time today, I realized that a funny brief moment of human compassion had all the more resonance today. Right now.

It’s easy to separate: me vs them, you vs me, us against them all, but times of crises have a funny way of bringing people closer.

We’re all in this together. We’re on the same team. It’s us against a virus. We’re all scared. We’re all uncertain. We all just want to have a nice day.

And so this shouted “I love you” from a stranger was about the nicest start to an otherwise beautiful early-Spring day.

I did not shout anything back in that moment, so stunned was I by the declaration, but you know what Red Mustang Driver? I love you too.

Love, love, love. Maybe the Beatles had it right? Love is all you need.

But just in case, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, get some sleep, stay hydrated, and wear your seatbelt.

For when all of this is over and you are mad because I root for the wrong team, vote for the wrong person, or say the wrong thing, just know that I’ll still love you in my own Red Mustang kind of way.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there

On Un-inspiration

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And My Own Fallacy of Un-motivation


Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

The last time I wrote a story on the Medium platform (and this blog) was February 1, and that was something I had written before, reworked, and published. I’m very proud of it.

My last brand new work on Medium (and this blog) was January 28.

I have lost followers, views, and dolla dolla bills, ya’ll. I used to be a top writer in Photography. No longer.

I feel guilty. I chastise myself for my lack of focus. I complain that I have no motivation. I say that I’m waiting for The Muse, but she’s reluctant.

I have a familiar Greek chorus singing songs of “you suck” rolling loud, bumping the bass, in my brain.

So what really happened?

I got uninspired. It happens. I would not call what this is writer’s block. I can and do write. Honestly, I just got a little uninspired about writing on Medium. It isn’t fatal, I’m still here, but after letting my momentum lapse, I have some work to do. Or maybe, you know, not.

I needed to take a hard look at myself as it pertains to my own use of Medium. None of this is Medium’s fault, the platform and its algorithms roll on with our without me. No, this is just some good personal introspection. Needed. Necessary.

I’ve lived long enough on this planet to know a few things about myself. I will never live long enough to know everything and I can’t seem to stop repeating the same mistakes, but I do try. I amuse and surprise myself almost daily. May I always be a source of comedy to my own mind.

Here is the lesson that I learned about myself again. And again. And again: Numbers, stats, measurements…they make me crazy. I’m not talking some ha-ha-ha isn’t that funny, I look at my stats, count my steps, weigh myself, SO darn much kind-of-cute crazy.

No, I mean that obsession with measurements of all kinds can make me slip off my carefully balanced nut. I know this about myself and still fall down a hole far too often.

That stats page on Medium? Oooh, yeah, that is a long cool cigarette to smoker trying to quit.

Partner Program earnings? Just one drag won’t hurt.

There are so many well-meaning and helpful writers on Medium with tens of thousands of followers who will describe the large amounts of dollars they make each month and how you can too. How if you aren’t publishing every day what are you even doing here. How they are a top writer in 82 different topics, and are you even trying?

This seeps into the folds of my brain like black mold and grows if I leave it unchecked. Turns out I must carefully curate what I let in and what I leave behind.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


I love writing. I have been seriously writing for the better part of 20 years and less seriously all of my life. I work hard at it. It matters. It is who I am.

Writing on Medium would seem a perfect fit, wouldn’t it? And it is. But I was starting to make myself crazy. I was going nuts looking at stats, chastising myself for not having more views, wondering how to get more reads, bemoaning every story that was not curated and hating myself for not being better, faster, more, more, more.

The inner voice told me I must suck as a writer if I can’t even make $50 a month (my best month is $18 and I am super proud of that).

In the same timeframe that I have been riddled with guilt and convinced I lacked both inspiration and motivation, I have had three short stories published in respectable literary journals. OneTwo. Three (will be published tomorrow).

I competed in a short story contest and worked my ass off on a story I am incredibly proud of in a genre (sci-fi) that is a challenge for me. I turned that story out like a boss.

I created a beautiful photograph that took second place in my photo club’s monthly contest (the theme was reflection/symmetry) and had it published in a newsletter with a reach of about 5,000 people. That publication returned to me such amazing feedback and compliments, I rode on a cloud of good words for days.

When people say that to make it on Medium “you have to do the work,” I am in complete agreement. So when I chastise myself for not “doing the work” here I realize I have for damn sure been doing the work, just somewhere else.

I have to give myself a little credit, even when that credit is a little less measurable than pretty crooked numbers on a clean crisp stats page.

As artists, we judge each other, but we judge ourselves the hardest. I am humbled, once again, by just how mean and dark my own brain can be.

Today I’m here. I am a writer. I’m putting down words. I am saying what is on my heart. I might get two views (from my two family members also on this platform — hi!) or I might get 100. I might get curated. I might not.

I am going to try to ignore the reads and percentages and pennies and just write for the joy of letting words flow from my brain to my fingers to this electronic form.

I wrote something today, and I am proud of these 700+ words. They are all mine and they are beautiful.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.

Stream of Self-Consciousness

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A Modern Fable

 

Photo by Alex Parkes on Unsplash

That moment when you are sitting at stoplight as a pedestrian crosses with the light in front of your headlights and you notice that the early morning sun is giving this gentleman a solid backlighting. As he strolls directly in front of your view, you notice that the hairs that extend well past his nostrils are beautifully set to glowing by the golden California sun rising in the east.

And you think to yourself, “Oh wow. That’s…well that’s something.” And you laugh alone in your car because why not. You can sing in there so why can’t you cackle like a dyspeptic hen in there?

As you turn the corner and head into the parking garage you think to yourself. “Don’t laugh, sparky. There but for the grace of a nose hair trimmer go I.”

So then you surreptitiously check both barrels of your own breathing device to see if the protective filtering is tidy and in place.

And you realize that, you know, you could use a little trim yourself.

So you sit in the car facing east and while the morning light of a California sunrise floods in through the windshield and you use the scissors from your small Swiss Army Knife to give a quick clip, just enough to let your sanity rest during the day that lies ahead. Because no one should have to worry all day long about the nostril streamers that suddenly seem to grow with less control than they once did.

And when finished, you feel both satisfied and mildly crazy and kind of blind because why didn’t you notice a trim was in order when you looked at your tired face in the mirror this morning?

But alas, you did not. Then you vow to take care of this problem more fully later tonight. And you should probably put on your reading glasses and give the eyebrows a check too because I bet those are out of control.

And then you get out of your car and walk into the office and enter this crazy day in a crazy way with crazy hair growing in crazy places.

Did you ever have a day like that? Yeah, um, me neither.

Because this is just a fable. Or a morality tale. Or a work of fiction…right?

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.

A Moment Matters

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And So Does Kindness


 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

It’s morning and I’m waking up rough after some really painful dental work. I’m running late for work but I’m trying to stay calm and just get there.

I’m traversing a road that is something of an unofficial border. On one side is a series of slightly rough neighborhoods where gentrification is coming hard and fast. And painfully.

The other side is the “good” side of the road (scare quotes used intentionally). Gentrification has already arrived to this side of the road, for both better and for worse.

I stop at a red light at a major intersection. I am first in line and there is a long line of cars behind me.

“Who Can It Be Now,” plays from the oldies station on my radio. A popular song from my high school years is now an oldie. Don’t get me started.

I tap my thumb on the steering wheel and hum along when to my left, a local denizen, a gentleman who has seen better days, enters the crosswalk taking something of a slanting route over the white lines.

In his hand he’s carrying an open tall boy and holding it close to his chest. He’s smiling, though his face and his skin looks like he’s seen some things.

I am alternately like “right on!” because why not beer at almost nine in in the morning? Then “oooh, damn” because beer at nine in the morning possibly means chasing a few demons somewhere around nine o’clock the night before.

But I don’t know this guy’s story, so I don’t judge.

As he ambles amiably in front of the grill of my very old and very tired car in the center lane, in the right lane an oblivious driver in a black Mercedes whips right into the crosswalk, intent on turning right and doing it right now, and damn near hits the guy.

Our beer drinking friend pulls up short, steps back and slightly bows, waving the Mercedes along. It pulls out in a huff, if I can attribute huffiness to a car.

Then the man in the crosswalk turns to me and smiles a lopsided smile and waves. I do what any decent member of the human race should do, I wave back. I briefly entertain a “I should not have done that” thought because I have learned through enough years living near and in big cities that sometimes it’s just better not to engage.

But I was wrong for thinking that. As I wave, he smiles a little wider, peers around the corner of my car to be sure the coast is clear, then makes his way safely to the other side of the road.

My light turns green and I drive on, thinking about the guy, this city where I now live, the ever growing division between rich and poor, and the implications of gentrification. I also think about how delicious the lemon scone sitting in the passenger seat is going to be when I get to work and gobble it up.

I get to the place of my employment, find a parking spot, quick yank the parking break and start my day. Something about the man with the tall boy sticks with me and I can’t quite figure out why.

One thing I know for sure is that I have to write about it, to capture the fleeting moment and memorialize it for myself as much as for anyone else.

And so I have.

This item first appeared on Medium, find more of my work @karenfayeth over there.

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