Happiness takes effort and planning

by Sandy L on June 29, 2011

This was my revelation today.   I have been trying to figure out what has made me so happy lately and in a nutshell, it’s because I’m making a little extra time to plan my life a little better. 

Just over a year ago, I took a new sales job covering NY. Since I live in MA, this means that anytime I travel to customers, I pretty much have to stay overnight somewhere.  It’s often 1-2 times/week.  In the beginning, it was nuts. I was always drained and tired.  My husband also travels and it often felt like we were two ships passing in the night only to update the other of what needs doing in the house before we parted ways again.   It was not ideal, but I enjoyed this job much more than the last one, so we tried as best as we could to make it work. Plus, I was and am very grateful that we are both employed.

However, I wonder, since my schedule hasn’t changed, why has my attitude gotten loads better? I feel MUCH more relaxed.  The answer came to me today while I was having dinner.   I had the most amazing scallop tostada at a place called Rick’s on Main.  It was one of those meals where I know  the next time I’m back in town, I will go there and get the exact same meal.  I also noticed that my bartender knew many of his regular customers by name and was just a great guy. It was a really pleasant experience all around and gave me a flavor of what the best of Buffalo has to offer.  Life is good.

Just over a week ago, I was in this same area but my day was quite different.  The last time I was in town, I rolled in about 9:30 pm, I couldn’t find a vacant hotel near my customer, and  started progressively lowering my standards  until I eventually ended up finding an opening at a microtel for $49/night.  The hotel supposedly had high speed Internet which was a requirement as I had work due to my boss that evening.  After I checked in,  I learned it wasn’t working. It was too late to go to starbucks, and my room was just like something out of a bad movie.   It was tiny, dingy and when I turned on the one fluorescent strip light above the bed, it never quite came on.  It just buzzed and flickered but never quite got to a point where I had a continuous stream of light. I checked for bedbugs, shut off the light and tried to go to sleep as fast as possible so that morning would come and I could get the hell out of there.

Despite a decent travel budget, most of the time my experiences were more like the latter than the former.  I end up stopping at a freeway rest stop for a soggy yet stale sandwhich and end up at a no name hotel way too late at night.  That is not ideal for a happy existence.

Maximizing Me Time

Happiness is my garden

Today I realized that the reason I have become much more content and happy with my life is because I’m no longer driving til midnight and getting stuck in middle of the night construction traffic.  I’m spending a few minutes looking at restaurant reviews so I eat at someplace decent vs some greasy spoon that makes me feel sick afterwards. I take a little time in the morning to work out, even if it’s just 20 minutes. I’ve also rediscovered reading.  I’m buying books again.  If I feel like it’s too much, I now have enough projects cooking that I can spend a week working from home and not feel guilty that I’m neglecting my job because I can do more over the phone.  Life is back in balance again.

Now when I travel, it’s me time.  It’s time to take a break from the kids and focus on things that are good for my body and soul.  I toss aside the Catholic guilt of being away from my family and feel confident that my children are in the capable hands of my husband and that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  He never makes me feel guilty about leaving. It was 100% self imposed.   Hell, I even got a pedicure a few weeks ago because my feet looked more like hoofs than something that were sandal worthy. Up until now, I’ve gotten 3 in my life (my wedding, and when I was pregnant with each of my kids and couldn’t reach my feet).  I have hours of alone time when I travel and rather than being lonely and feeling sorry for myself, I embrace it.   Who knew I missed reading so much, but I really did.

What I’ve learned:

  • Everyone needs a little me time and you shouldn’t feel guilty by having it.  I’m a very social person, so I was in denial about this fact until quite recently.
  • Our crazy schedules are often self imposed.  I have a lot more control over my schedule than I let myself realize. I think we all do.   Even if you have an insane high stress job, you still can look for another one.  There are always options.
  • Insane schedules are not sustainable-  Many people have the capacity to move mountains when the going gets tough.   However, you can’t do that for your entire life.  You’ll either get divorced, drop dead of a heart attack or burn out. Working smarter is key.  Doing fewer high impact projects yields better results than running around like a headless chicken.  One of my former CEO’s used to run for an hour every day at 11am. If a CEO of a fortune 100 company can make some me time for himself, what’s your excuse?
  • Try to look at the positives of your situation and exploit them.  If you travel, take a little time to take in the local sights and sounds. If you don’t, take advantage of the great feeling of community that planting roots can bring.  If your kids have left the nest, think about your new found freedom.  It’s so easy to dwell on what you don’t have vs looking at the positives instead. 
  • Take a few extra minutes to plan.   I used to be one of those people who had every weekend for the entire summer booked months in advance.  That was too restrictive.  Flying by the seat of your pants isn’t good either. Take a look at your life and see if you could eliminate some of your stress by either adding some wiggle room or organizing yourself a little better. For me, I’m always flip flopping between the two extremes. When travelling, sponteneaty is good, but too much of it will get you stuck in a flea bag motel.  Plan some of the big things, but leave some room to explore or change plans as you see fit.

For me, being organized brings a sense of calm to life, so I really do like knowing having everything in it’s place.   When I hear a story about someone stressing about late fees on bills, misplacing something  or waiting too long to take care of personal matters and now it’s a big crisis, I think to myself:  All this chaos in your life is self imposed. You think Murphy is following you around and wreaking havoc in your life but he’s really not.  You are Murphy.  The sooner you realize that what needs to change is you, the better. Nothing feels more depressing than thinking the world is scheming against you.   At least when you realize you are Murphy, it’s something you can control and change for the better.

I know some of you are wondering what would Babci say.  In this case, I think I’m the one who may have taught her a lesson.  Babci’s had a lot of crappy things happen to her in her life and she has dwelled on a lot of them.  When she brings up something horrible that happened 30-60 years ago, I just tell her “why are you talking about something that happened 50 years ago? Who cares. You’re life’s been great for decades. Let it go. ”   There is no need to let something continue to upset you that’s long in your past.  Yes, you had a crappy husband, but he’s been dead for 24 years. It’s ancient history.  I’d like to think I’ve had a bit of a positive effect on her in that regard because she is much jollier now than she’s ever been.  With regards to planning, babci is very much a fly by the seat of your pants type of gal.

What do you lean towards, over-planning or under-planning?  Could you use a little adjustment?

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos June 29, 2011 at 7:22 AM

As one of my mentors is fond of saying, you’ll never be on your deathbed and say “You know, I wish I’d spent more time at work”. Hard to disagree that happiness lies in the proper amount of balance, me-time, and family time. And, glad to see you’re posting again.

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Amanda L Grossman June 29, 2011 at 5:00 PM

That is a good one!

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:01 PM

101 – sadly, posting less is part of what I need to do to restore balance, but it’s glad to know I’m missed. I still like blogging but can’t be at it all the time.

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Jacq June 29, 2011 at 9:36 AM

I used to be an uber-planner and now fly seat of the pants a lot. I’m much happier when I live more intentionally and have a balance of both strategies. A big downside for me in the last year has been my oldest son needing to use my car in the evenings which has trapped me at home a lot (very spread out bedroom community). Of course I could use my bike but… bike + -40C doesn’t seem to work together that well. :-)

My dad does that same complaining about people who have been dead for 50 years that I’ve never even met. I think a big part of it is that there’s not enough new experiences happening for him. But he doesn’t seem to even talk about any of the things that have happened in the near past so maybe that’s just something that commonly happens as you age. The nice thing about spending lots of time with older people is that they not only teach us how to live, but also how we *don’t* want to be – now the challenge is remembering that in 40 years…

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Jacq – I don’t know if I could be that sharing with my car. Do you think that people’s memories are more vibrant from their youth when the hormones and emotions were much more intense? My husband thinks my bad memory is the secret to our happy marriage.

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Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter June 29, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Thanks for such an encouraging post. It was very timely for me. I have been feeling less happy and more overwhelmed lately. I feel like I have lost control of what’s important. It’s amazing how much a little planning can go.

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Miss Prairie – it’s weird, but I didn’t really do anything very deliberate but as I look back in hindsight, it’s all very clear to me that it was my lack of planning that caused much of my chaos.

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Crystal June 29, 2011 at 12:55 PM

I know my 15-16 hours-of-work-a-day schedule isn’t sustainable, but I also know it’s temporary which makes it doable. Me time for me right now is blogging and work is blogging. But in 2-3 months, I will have a life again. I love blogging, but I also do not want to risk burn out.

I am so glad you feel more balanced and happy! It really does help to plan just enough to cover your important bases. :-)

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Crystal – you can do it. I burned the candle at both ends for years in college. It’s just not healthy to make it a lifestyle forever. Periods of insanity are doable for most people but it’s the down time after that allows you to do it all over again when you need to. I think you’re doing great and you know your limits.

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Crystal June 30, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Thank you for all of the support. I actually feel physically sleepy more often than exhausted or anything like that right now. It is actually kind of exhilarating to be so busy!

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Squirrelers June 29, 2011 at 2:18 PM

Given that we’re blessed with one life to live, we might as well enjoy it. Why make it all about stress and multitasking? I’m just now having a paradigm shift…some might call it an early mid-life crisis, but I digress:)

Anyway, we ought to laugh everyday, get a good night sleep, excercise, eat well, and just get the most of each day. By planning things out, and including time for relaxation and decompression, our overall quality of life can be vastly improved over the pedal to the metal 60 hour work weeks that aren’t sustainable long-term for those wanting a balanced life!

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Squirreler – can’t wait for your midlife crisis post. I way underestimated the importance of decompression. Usually it takes an illness to get me to slow down.

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retirebyforty June 29, 2011 at 3:23 PM

A little planning goes a long way. It’s worth spending a bit of time to plan things out so you’re not flying blind later. I think I need structures in my life. Flying by the seat of my pant doesn’t work for me. It’s good to hear you are feeling more happy now. The world needs more happy people. ;)

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:11 PM

RB40 – I was not sad, just feeling a little too much chaos.

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Amanda L Grossman June 29, 2011 at 5:01 PM

Congratulations on finding your new balance! We have been renovating for two months (our master bathroom and the small bathroom downstairs), but it has lightened up tremendously in the last two weeks. I’ve had time to get a manicure and pedicure, which I haven’t done since we got married 1.5 years ago (I usually get them twice a year). I also finally got my hair cut (haven’t done for six months), I am finding much more time to read books, more time for writing, and I am cooking some new dishes I’ve been dying to try. It is amazing to get back time–it feels so good!

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:12 PM

Amanda – totally know how that feels. We have had a series of fixer upper houses and it can be all consuming if you let it. I’m generally not big on pampering, but it was definitely a welcome treat this time around. Once in a while is nice.

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Linda June 29, 2011 at 6:56 PM

Work will control me if I let it, and I do have to let it take over my life at times. I let it happen because I figure it’s balancing out those times that I need to spend more time on me. Still, I’m not getting any good return on energy from work lately. Time to do something about that!

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Sandy L June 29, 2011 at 8:16 PM

Linda – I always say that work has flexible hours. You can work as many hours as you want as long as it’s over 40. The work/life balance thing requires constant vigilance.

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Nicole June 29, 2011 at 9:01 PM

Great post! We’re generally good on the planning, but don’t mind changing plans if something interesting happens along the way. (A chance meeting with a food truck we’d heard about rather than the restaurant we were on our way to.) Yelp and tripadvisor are wonderful wonderful things. They make life a lot easier.

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Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:02 AM

Nicole – that is the best way. Yelp was a great help during our last vacation. Haven’t used trip advisor much. I’ll have to check it out.

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Laura June 30, 2011 at 12:17 AM

I’m so pleased to hear that you’ve found some balance, it’s something that I never managed to do in my previous job.
I was always very organised with travelling for work etc, but that in itself caused further problems as any changes to my laid out plans made me even more stressed….sometimes, depending on your job, it’s better to walk away and work somewhere else.

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Sandy L June 30, 2011 at 6:05 AM

Laura – You’re right, I did have one job like that. Balance was not possible. Life is full of changes. Some that are planned and expected and some that are unexpected and we need to give ourselves periods of adjustment. This last round of new job, extra kid took longer than I thought to adjust to.

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Suba June 30, 2011 at 1:13 PM

Glad you found your balance. A little planning goes a long way. I try to plan everything but something even that gets overwhelming. So I just take a day off unplanned. I still stress about fixing any problem that comes up in job as soon as possible. My mentor at job keeps saying – the problem will still be there tomorrow morning for you to attend, if it fixed itself overnight, I am sure you don’t miss it. I can’t follow that advice yet, but I wish I could. That would make it a lot more easier.

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Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 1:37 AM

Suba – your mentor reminds me of one of my first bosses. He said “never postpone your vacation for a work thing”. He told me that no matter how important you think you are, the company will still be standing if you’re absent for a while. So very true.

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Sandy @ Journey To Our Home June 30, 2011 at 7:41 PM

I kinda wish that I traveled for work. I need a little more me time- it seems like my ‘me’ time is stolen when I’m in class 4 hours once a week. Yeah, what a laugh for me time- being in a classroom of strangers listening to a boring lecture.
Hubby on the other hand, gets his ‘me’ time on those nights as well. I still pick up the kids and I drop them off at my mom/sisters for the entire evening. We even spend the night with them so Hubby doesn’t seem them from about 7 am on Tuesday morning, until 5 pm Wednesday night.
I want a day like that for me. :-)

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Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 1:41 AM

Sandy – yeah, me time is good. I forgot how much I missed going to the bathroom without someone wanting to barge in on me. I have some friends who each have one “me” night a week without the kids. It’s worked pretty well for them and their sanity.

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Super Frugalette June 30, 2011 at 11:41 PM

I traveled for six months. I think it is so much easier when you are married and there is food in the frig when you come home and someone has opened the mail, etc. I was single when I did it.

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Sandy L July 1, 2011 at 1:43 AM

Super Frugalette – I’ve done travel jobs for so long that I don’t know if I could go back to an office environment. You get used to the lifestyle, married or not.

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MoneyCone July 1, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Such a lovely post! I wish everyone found their ‘gardens’!

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Molly On Money July 2, 2011 at 9:56 AM

I see other Mom’s not taking advantage of that alone time (why are we wired to feel guilty about a few minutes without screaming kids?!). Sure you could say that being in the car driving for work is not optimal ‘alone time’ but it’s a creative way to do it.

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