The Art of Floundering

September 21, 2011

in career, life changes, working

Since I came back from vacation two weeks ago, I’ve been completely overwhelmed.

New Zealand seemed to wave a wand that centered me in this zone of nature and respect for something bigger than myself. I basked in being without the Internet and around more animals than people. I loved not thinking about work.

I came back and reality smacked me like a drag queen that got her weave ripped out.

It’s like this after one returns from vacation, I know. But the way I roll, it seems the better the trip, the worse the aftermath. I came back to new assignments and increased pressure from current ones. This, at the stripped-down core, is great. It means more money, maybe a little more prestige and a chance to further flex my creative muscles.

But I haven’t necessarily been stepping up to the challenge. Or rather, I have, and I’ve been floundering completely.

Each and every day, I click on a new email in my inbox telling me something I did wrong, something I could do better or something I need to do more of. Despite trying to get it right, I’m not. In the midst of it all, a few irons in the fire are smoldering to ash as people fail to return my emails. I’ve worked a few 12-hour days and risen with the sun to try to get ahead. I haven’t gone for a jog in weeks and I work through most of my meals.

I’m complaining, in a way. But in the other way, I’m not. Because I see how necessary this floundering has been for me.

At first, the extra work and stress threatened to send me into an old place where I freak out and don’t handle anything because I’m overwhelmed and aggravated and think it’s all unfair. But after a few days of grumbling, I did something sort of remarkable for me: I accepted the chaos.

I stopped worrying about the emails from editors each morning, because I knew they’d probably be there and all I could do was try to meet whatever request was in them. Instead of being angry over having to tweak the way I did something, I threw myself into the learning process. Instead of throwing my laptop out of my second-story window, I hugged it.

Well, not really, but in my mind.

These last two weeks have been a lesson in the balance of working hard and being kind to myself. I’ve learned to push myself beyond what I thought capable and ask for help when I need it. I realized my work still involves a give and go, even though its virtual, and that mistakes and questions and challenges to the status quo are allowed.

I’ve learned that my work life and career are imperfect, just like me. And in that imperfection, there lies a chance to recreate myself and raise the bar. I’ve embraced this, the art of floundering.

8 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. iliana

    Dear Lauren, why does this sound so familiar… Because I have been treading waters too in the last six months, thinking I have been giving my best, and that the lack of desired outcome is ‘unfair’. It all started with loosing my job because ‘you will never be able to fit in this team’ ( quoting my boss ). So I decided to prove that I can and I will. But I did not get anywhere – despite how hard I swam against the current, I was falling behind and behind until recently I realized – one can squeeze only that much out of a lemon. I had to accept my limitations and the ‘chaos’ ( as you fondly call it ). While I have not sorted myself out yet, I am trying to keep the balance, i.e. afloat . And I started to look for new way of solving old problems. Because that’s often a way to unleash creativity and write some of your best pieces. Good luck with the editors, keep the balance and looking forward to your next post! ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’ (N. Mandela)

    1. Lauren Post author

      Your words are inspiring. It can feel awful when your best isn’t good enough, but I think it often means, like your boss said, that the fit isn’t right, not that you’re necessarily lacking something. Good luck sitting with the uncertainty — I hope it only produces good things for you.

  2. Heather

    I will never forget something one of my grad school professors said in class one day — “growth is a painful process.” Grad school hurt A LOT.

    I know we haven’t talked much since my first month but I think about and pray for you.

    “Just keep swimming” and take care of yourself.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thank you so much Heather — I appreciate your kind words. I think of you also and am proud of all you’re doing for yourself since you went home.

  3. Laurence

    “And in that imperfection, there lies a chance to recreate myself and raise the bar. I’ve embraced this, the art of floundering.” These are beautiful words. Hear hear!

    If you know what you’re worth, you have to get what you’re worth 🙂

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks so much Laurence! I truly believe in the idea that you have to almost break yourself down and meander a bit to rebuild yourself and get to a better place — hence the title of my blog!


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