A few weeks ago was “Back to The Future Day” — that day in BTTF II that Marty and Doc had to get to, 30 years in the future (from 1985 to 2015). They had to travel to this date, in order to find how terribly wrong things had gone in the past. It occurred to me that I should do the same. Time to get back to my future, after things had gone terribly wrong.
You may already know this, but about 2-1/2 years ago, I retired from a project management job, for all the right reasons. But you can take the girl out of the job, but you can’t take the job out of the girl. Once a project manager, always a project manager.
I spent the next 18 months trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. I thought I was a fairly self-aware person and proved it by buying an excellent book about retiring, making lists where they weren’t needed, and printing out blank calendars to fill. I muddled mostly happily through those months, wondering why I wasn’t drinking less and running more like I surely thought I would after retiring. I also wasn’t reading more or taking long, luxurious soaks in the tub.
I also found out that some of my few retired friends didn’t have me high on their list of people to spend time with after all. And that some of the people I was hoping to spend time with weren’t planners at all. (I mean, how can you not be a planner?) I also spent too much time worrying about my health insurance premiums and money, in general. Such is the curse of a practical Capricorn, I guess.
Anyway, in April, I had an opportunity to return to my old job for 9 months, to manage a project that seemed straightforward, at the outset. Truth be told, I missed some of my co-workers, like the troops you were in the trenches with in WWII, except without the cigarettes. OK, I’m a stress junkie. I admit it.
So I went back to work, armed with good health insurance, a steady income, and a promise to myself to continue my healthy eating, run three times a week, and finally achieve an ideal work-life balance. I can do this!
I wrote a couple of blogs about this godforsaken project and our client. But I wasn’t writing much; my weekly blogging turned to monthly. I worked an intense 50-60 hours a week for months; harder than ever before in my life. Then, I’d come home to my thoroughly-retired husband and dogs, to drink, eat whatever could be prepared in two minutes or less, and collapse. And then wake up at 3:00 am to think about work and drink lots of espresso. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But back to me, of course.
Day after day, week after week. Tomorrow would be better, we said, and it never was. My co-workers stopped asking how things were going; inviting us to the local brew pub for cocktails was a better alternative. My jaw throbbed for the first time, 24×7.
Then there was that fateful Thursday, when I had some typically tough deadlines to meet. No worse than any other day; but somehow it was. I stayed late, screaming in the office, out of sheer frustration. By the time I got to my car, I was shaking uncontrollably.
I considered my professional options. Was my logical next step to become an air traffic controller or a hostage negotiator?
I was completely out of my head. Somehow I made it home. I walked into the house and Gary looked at me like he had seen a ghost. And he had.
“Go take your blood pressure!” he yelled. “No,” I said, quietly. It was off the charts; I didn’t need a thing to squish my arm to tell me that. But it was time to go for an Academy Award; I had to act like things were kind of okay, otherwise, well, something awful was going to happen. Something I would need the health insurance for. And maybe even a pre-paid cremation plan.
Instead, I opted for something unusual: I made a real dinner. Fresh Thai eggplant from the overgrown garden found its way into Thai Green Curry Chicken. I drank cold chardonnay while I cooked and let the chopping and stirring replace the screaming and power-swearing going on in my head.
As we finished our food, Gary played the Apocalypse Card, as married people occasionally do: “You’re done. You can’t do this anymore. Go in tomorrow and quit, otherwise I’m doing it for you.”
And, so, I did. It was tough to quit since I knew it was going to make some people’s lives temporarily worse. But three weeks later, after throwing my mouse against the wall twice, I walked out the door. While the project might never get better, at least the new people had more fuel in their tanks, and maybe that would get them through until the end.
I spent the first week mostly trying to stay awake. I had no idea how exhausted I was. I even napped…and I hadn’t been drinking at lunch. I had repetitive work nightmares, involving thousand-line spreadsheets, screaming clients, and sudden team resignations. As much as I love my home office, I just couldn’t sit in front of my computer for more than five minutes at a time.
A few days later, on Back To The Future Day, I was finally awake enough to meet a happily-retired friend for a few hours of retail therapy combined with a couple of Happy Hour martinis. I drove home, and then, for no particular reason, I decided to watch the Back To The Future trilogy. There I found a young and hotheaded Michael J. Fox, a prematurely grey and brilliantly manic Christopher Lloyd, and very understanding dogs (Copernicus and Einstein). I settled in for a harmless evening of lightning, mechanical issues with a very special Delorean, and countless utterings of “Great Scott!”
Alright, alright, alright, I know they’re corny by today’s hipster standards, but hey, they actually held up pretty well. I felt badly for poor Jennifer (leaving her on the porch like that) and Einstein (what a trooper), but otherwise, it still left me craving a hover board and realizing, as science fiction writers have known FOREVER, that messing around with time travel is a BAD IDEA.
Sometime near the end of BTTF Part III, I saw the connection between my project management gig and time travel. Indeed, I had left retirement to go back to my past, never realizing that by doing so, I would inevitably change my future. But, alas, I had.
I had now made it harder to feel good by my upcoming milestone birthday in January (don’t ask). I have added untold stress to at least four other peoples’ work lives, by leaving when I did. I have to start retirement all over again, but as a different, more “damaged” person this time. And now I need to relearn what it’s like to be in my own head.
Now, a month after re-retiring, it took just one intense moment of frustration (for reasons I won’t bore you with) to bring all of the searing jaw pain back. I guess these last six months of stress are still lying just under the surface of my consciousness, like the effects of my next ten Costco European-style butter cookies.
But today, I am sitting in our truck camper in the little town of Orofino, Idaho, on the banks of the Clearwater River, surrounded by magnificent fall leaves, crisp air, and RVs full of steelhead fishermen. It’s all so easy for them. They know what they want: To spend their days fishing for steelhead and their evenings discussing their days with their fellow fish-heads.
As for me, I have decided to hang back by myself, to see if it’s possible to be in my own head for just one day.
Instead of my fly rod, I have the afore-mentioned mega-tin of Costco holiday butter cookies, espresso, and more alcohol than I could possibly drink. But I also have my running gear and my laptop. I am just curious to see if I can do something worthwhile today, like pound away on the keyboard without melting down. Can I write and run today…instead of eating too many cookies with a glass of wine for lunch?
Yes: At long last, I am going for a miserable, pathetic, slow run on this beautiful fall afternoon.
And then I’ll come back, re-read this blog entry, and see if I can make it decent enough to publish.
And tomorrow, I’ll try again. Perhaps I just need to make myself into my new project.
At least I’ll now have the time to keep up with the presidential campaign nonsense and those scientists who claim that drinking tequila can help you lose weight.
“Don’t time travel into the past, roaming through the nuances as if they can change. Don’t bookmark pages you’ve already read.” (James Altucher)
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.