The first part of my Friday therapy session had to do with my inability to hand over what I had written about an old and painful experience for E. to read. Once we decided together to give that topic a little more time to ripen, we moved on to something less touchy but very important to my future: the re-making of my job.

Some of you might remember that I’m partway through a three-month leave of absence from my job. I have worked for a number of years conducting research in the field of education, and I’m one of the more senior people in my organization. Over time, the pace has just become ever faster. By this summer, I was working every day, coming home and eating dinner, and the working until bedtime. I would sleep and do laundry on Saturdays and work on Sundays. I never did anything social, never exercised. I had eliminated so many other things from my life. I barely had time for the therapy I needed, even though I was in the midst of the longest, deepest depression I’d experienced in 20 years. Finally, I told our chief program officer that I loved the work and didn’t want to quit, but I would have to if I couldn’t take an extended leave and then come back to a job that was more sustainable. I was very lucky; she didn’t want me to quit, agreed to the leave, and said we could talk about restructuring the job.

What hasn’t happened yet is the conversation about restructuring the job upon my return. She has invited me to meet her for drinks to talk this over, but I haven’t responded; I don’t yet know what I want to ask for. I’m only just recently feeling enough better that I can start to think about this. And so it was the second topic that I carried to my session with E. How can I keep the work I find meaningful but eliminate what feels unimportant? I like mentoring junior staff and think I’m good at it. I don’t have a lot of patience for bureaucratic budget meetings (though I’m good at building realistic budgets). I love writing*, even proposals and technical reports, but I need some quiet time during the day so I don’t have to do it at night when I am tired. I love leading research teams on large projects. I like being out in the field, working with clients. E. and I tried to take apart the different pieces of my job and evaluate each. Right now I am trying very hard not to worry about whether a) other managers at my level will feel resentful if I walk away from some of the thankless managerial tasks b) I have to take a pay cut. The question is simply: what will make me love going to work and still leave me time for other pieces of my life? And I’ll just need to be brave enough to face whatever displeasure and salary and status adjustment go along with being true to myself and my needs.

Ultimately E. said to me: Imagine you were only allowed to work three more years (for whatever reason). What would you want to do with those years? She also recommended I take a look at the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg MaKeown. Simply reading a preview of it online makes it clear to me that getting my job and career under control will be one more opportunity to build my skills in setting boundaries.

I’ve always found it hard to set boundaries. As a child, I never learned that I was entitled to have my own sense of what was right, nor that I could make choices based on my preference, whether or not others like those choices. Some of the more unappealing examples of this showed up in emotionally and sexually abusive situations where I did not protect or defend myself. It seems that now is the time to consider boundary issues in my professional life. I feel like it shouldn’t be all that hard, but it is. At the same time, it’s all part of my recovery work. It’s all part of creating the life I want to live.

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*Note: I love writing, even technical reports, but if I had money I could live off, I would really like to write a novel. That, however, is probably never going to happen.