“When You Coming Home, Dad, I Don’t Know When, But We’ll Get Together Then”

NOTE: This started out as an explanation to all three of my relatives who read this blog and profess – to my face anyway – to care, where I’ve been and why I haven’t posted a word in something like 45 days. Instead, it turned into a stream-of-consciousness ramble that takes forever to make the point (“I’m sorry, I was busy.”). Readers interested in the most economical reading experience can hit “Next” now.

Hi, my name is Jon and I’m a workaholic.

Actually, I must not have hit bottom yet because I truly don’t think of myself in those terms. Unfortunately, though, in recent weeks my wife, my kids, my neighbors, my clients and a good chunk of my friends have all found ways – big and small – to let me know that they have a slightly different impression:

“Do you think you’re ever going to eat dinner with us again?”

“Why do you guys leave your lights on all night long?”

“What happened to your exercise thing?”

“Did you really send that e-mail at 3:17 AM?”

“Are you ever going to post anything to the #$%*$@! blog that you said we should start?”

“Dad, why are bringing your laptop into the movie?”

OK, the last one is an exaggeration, but I admit that I have thought about it (“If I sit in the last row…”). And besides, I have done enough e-mail in the Southdale AMC via BlackBerry that I’m trying to convince my accountant that part of my ticket to Fantastic 4 (the midnight show) is a business expense.

I actually think I’m about as lazy a person as I know. I never met a nap I didn’t like and my favorite position is reclined. As my wife will attest, I can step over something on the stairs, ignore a burnt-out lightbulb or a load of laundry for weeks. My ideal day is modeled around those of my pets who seem to lounge about for about 20 hours out of every 24 and rouse themselves for food, play and to be petted. That works for me.

Unfortunately, my actions don’t always support my rhetoric or my wishes. Since starting my own business last year, my average work week has gone from about 45-50 to 65-75 ( I know there are people who claim to work 100-hour weeks, but I can’t quite see how it’s humanly possible). My favorite ironic moment each day usually arrives about 2:30 am in the morning when the infomercial for “start your own business over the Internet” runs and the 50-something guy stands in front of his lakefront house, speedboat, Jag and his teen squeeze Brandy (who must buy her outfits at “Strip n’ Shop”) says,

“The money’s great and I love the lifestyle.”

Right.

Of course, they never actually explain what it is my new Internet-based business would do (“buying and selling” is as close as they get) nor what my three easy payments of $49.98 get me besides a bunch of DVDs (probably with more infomercials on them) and a bunch of books with somebody’s”best secrets for making money” so who knows, maybe it can work. Maybe it’s a recruiting infomercial for drug dealers culled from the ranks of the currently unemployed. It cheers me to no end to realize that – based on the type of programming that runs in the small hours of the night – I’m part of a demographic that is unemployed, overweight, in debt, has tax problems and may be considering joining the military (I hear they just extended the maximum age for signing up to 42 so – if trends continue – my time may yet come).

Truthfully, starting a business is hard work as far as I can tell. Blessedly, I haven’t had to work too hard at finding work (one of the advantages of specializing in “bad shit” as we say in the business), but there’s a real short food chain in my organization and my ability to delegate consists mostly of leaving notes for myself (“Jon, I need you to do…”) that I find later and can curse at (“Doesn’t that asshole know I’m already working on…”). You also miss the ability to tap resources that you take for granted (one day, for example, I had to wrap a 30-page memo to a client (Go head, insert your favorite one-liner here) like a present because I had no rubber bands or paper clips (Insert next one-liner here; this sentence is a two-fer).

As a result of this and my near-pathological fear of saying, “No” to a client call (“What if the phone stops and it never rings again?”), I find that I’m mostly either working or – worse – thinking about working. I’ve started keeping a damned list (I apologize to all you anal-retentives I’ve teased over the years on this point; all your base are belong to us), I have two BlackBerries (insert third one-liner, preferably something about how your pair are bigger), I’m thinking of buying one of those car desks traveling salesmen use and I have a couch next to my desk that I sleep on more than sit on.

Apparently, though, I’m not alone. Many of us, it seems, are working longer hours, working away from the office, taking work on vacation, multitasking while driving, parenting, having sex. While I can’t find the link any more, CNN recently asserted that Americans on average work more than medieval peasants. In poking around the web for context related to this post I discovered the whole “Americans work more than…” debate is packed with politics with some seeing it as a sign of our myopic greed or our struggle under the heavy boot of big capitalism and others seeing it as an example of all-American values and ethics.

I choose not to politicize it. I like working, I like the money I earn for my family, I like the tax code that makes it easy for people to start businesses (and yes, buy gadgets). I like my clients. If, however, I should win the lottery, find I have a childless rich uncle (or a friend, hint, hint) or ever get a knock on the door from Ryan Seacrest (the Ed McMahon of the 21st century) and the folks at Publisher’s Clearinghouse, you’re welcome to pick my office clean because I won’t be back for it. I am not one of those guys who’d say, “I’ll probably just keep my job.” At this point, I think this is my best – my only – remaining argument that I’m not a workaholic.

I have some confidence on this point: The best thing I’ve ever done in my work life is the six months between NWA and Fleishman Hillard when I didn’t work. I could have done it for years. To those who say, “Nah, you’d be bored, you’d go crazy” I say, “Try me.”

And, just in case one of those longshots comes in, I’ll be somewhere along Hanalei Bay.

Austin

5 thoughts on ““When You Coming Home, Dad, I Don’t Know When, But We’ll Get Together Then”

  1. Quit your day job and just write, Austin. You made me laugh out loud on my screen porch in the dark at just before midnight twice. Stepping over things on the stairs, and Americans work more than medieval peasants. We are medieval peasants, and hedge fund managers are the ruthless barons. What the hell are hedge fund managers, anyway, and why am I paying a higher tax rate than they are?

    My wife’s career counselor partner said, when you start your own business, the first year you worry about money all the time, the second year you think the first year was just a fluke, and in the third year you begin to think this could actually work.

    Farm out some work, Jon. Say no to some. There’s lots of work out there. It comes back. I’ve blocked out weeks and then whole months for just being alive, and my clients have, bless them, stuck with me. Naps, friends, pets, dinner with other humans, writing for yourself and not just for a client — these are the things that matter waaaaay more than work. You didn’t leave corporate America so you could ignore your friends, family and couch, didja? I know you do crisis work, and we always think that’s the kind of work that keeps the planet spinning and if we don’t return a phone call Atlas will drop the damned globe. But lighten up, buddy. Get an informal partner to back yourself up. You gotta live.

    And you gotta keep me laughing on my porch at night. Out loud. When only the cats can hear. You owe it to me. That’s your job, man.

  2. jl says:

    Welcome back friend. Cancel the amber alert.

    I gotta say, starting your own business is vastly over-romanticized. Most entrepreneurs sugar coat the experience, and no one spins like spinners. Aren’t we the sh**? Look, we work in our footsy pajamas and can go for a run or a teacher conference during the day. Look at me, I’m not in a staff meeting or sensitivity training class. I don’t have to memorize anyone’s meaningless mission statement. Oh the freedom! And did I mention the footsy pajamas?

    We don’t often mention the overtime and sleepless nights wondering if the phone will ring or the email will bling again. The freedom to fail. I hate that freedom. In year six of my own little quixotic business, I say ‘no’ much more than I used to. But I worry no less. Everytime I say no, I convince myself that my latest selfish decision to preserve a bit of time for myself and my pro bono clients (term of endearment for “wife and kids”) will surely be my undoing.

    And eventually, it might be. Or if I err on the other side, it might be the undoing of my marriage, fatherhood or humanity. But the one truly cool thing about being on my own — the part that’s actually not BS — is that I get to decide. Not Wall Street. Not the CFO. I decide. And so do you Jon boy.

    For those who are or have been soloists, what are the best and worst parts?

  3. Dave Folkens says:

    Austin- classic stuff….I can say for sure that you can take months off and you’ll still have plenty of clients that call you. Take the time and enjoy it- you’ve already got the best titles in the world (Dad and Husband.)

    Best,
    Dave

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