An Experiment in Not Caring

I haven’t posted in a while because work has been insanely stressful. Upon much reflection, I am convinced that for many of us with outsized work expectations, the problem is giving too much of a shit.

I’ve always struggled with two sides of myself – the side that is obsessed with conventional professional success and the side that thinks it’s all meaningless, so we might as well live how we want. For the past 16 (!?!) or so years, the first side has always won out. I have earned the prestigious degrees, won the prestigious jobs, joined the prestigious organizations, networked (or tried to – never got very good at this) with the prestigious people.

All it has brought me is an ever more prestigious misery.

The other night, as I lay in bed contemplating either running away or just finally ending it all, I had an epiphany. If all of this prestige hunting hasn’t brought me happiness, then perhaps it’s time to stop. Perhaps it’s time to finally let the other side of me take the wheel and see what she can do.

So, I’ve decided to begin the slow, painful process of learning not to care about stupid, meaningless shit anymore. And since the main source of stupid, meaningless shit for me is work, my first step is to stop caring about my job.

Beginning a few days ago, I’ve started pulling back from everything that isn’t 100% essential to being an “adequate” (read: Not stellar, but not shitty) employee. I canceled an appointment when I was sick and skipped a meeting that I knew was pointless. Those might seem like small things to many people, but for me, they are huge.

Even bigger, I’m slowly extracting myself from extra professional obligations that I took on but that are not necessary for my career. I’m dropping a book contract that I no longer want (I did not receive an advance, as is the norm for many academic publishers, so there are no damages to worry about). I’m quitting a position in a professional organization that takes up countless hours and gets me little more than a line on my CV.

Most importantly, I’m extracting myself from some major work drama that has literally been causing me to lose sleep. I have found that my position is unpopular and requires endless politicking to advocate for. Well, fuck it. If the majority of my colleagues want to go another direction, then who am I too keep fighting? Let them do what they want. Yes, I still think my position is the better, more ethical one. And I’m disheartened to see my best colleagues allowing themselves to be led by my worst. But they are all adults, and it’s not my business to keep pushing my agenda if no one wants it. So, let them have theirs. My new agenda is to sleep at night.

In the end, this is not my life. It’s just what I do for a paycheck. I’m not going to stop doing my regular job, being decent to people, or helping clients. I’m just going to stop everything else. No more extra tasks, no more pointless meetings, no more politics. If people get mad and want more, oh well.

We’ll see how it goes. Caring hasn’t worked out so well for me; let’s see what not caring has to offer.

Work is not “refreshing” just because I’m not a stay-at-home mom

The other day, I overheard my mother-in-law telling my husband, who is a stay-at-home dad, that it’s ok to hand the baby over to me as soon as I get in the door because I come home “refreshed” after working all day.


I have deep respect for stay-at-home moms and dads, and I truly believe it’s just as tough to do that job as to work a “regular” job. Still, I’m truly baffled by people who, in acknowledging that, start acting as though just because I now have a kid, regular work is somehow no longer work. When I was single and childless, no one ever acted like going to work was, secretly, actually a vacation. No one expected me to get home at the end of the day feeling energized from working my ass off for 8 or 9 hours.

Suddenly, though, since I’ve had a child, work is supposed to be my “downtime.” I’m expected to leave the office at the end of the day happier and more energetic than I ever did when it was literally my only responsibility besides brushing my teeth and doing laundry a respectable number of times per month.

I think the idea is that, because I don’t have to deal with a persnickety baby all day long, I’ll be more tolerant when I get home. And I think that’s partially true most days. Not having seen my son all day certainly makes me, on an ordinary evening, more tolerant than my husband of any baby moodiness that might strike, since my husband has had to deal with it all day. I only get to see my son a few hours a day during the week – I’m not going to waste them being annoyed.

Nonetheless, my job has not magically transformed into a magical fairyland of snuggles and relaxation just because I have a baby waiting at home for me. Nightmarish days are still nightmarish days. Last minute deadlines and petty vendettas from random colleauges don’t stop for birth announcements. If anything, my job is MORE stressful now because I’m trying to get the same amount of work done as always but in a more limited timeframe. No more evening and weekend work for me – if it needs to get done, it needs to get done before I’m home with my family.

So, yes, I’m happier than I thought possible to see my little bambino at the end of a long, hard workday. But, no, that day is not “refreshing” because I wasn’t hanging out with my kid and changing diapers and doing feedings all day instead. I am still as exhausted as I ever was when I walk through that door.

And that’s why my husband and I SHARE duties when I get home. He works hard all day and sometimes needs a break from being a stay-at-home dad. But I, too, work hard all day and need a break from being a working mom just as much. I am not “refreshed” after sitting through the latest 2 hour meeting figuring out how to deal with budget cuts or an incompetent, rude colleague. I’m stressed and exhausted and angry, and I try my damnedest to be over it before I pick up my little boy in the evening. Not because I’m refreshed, but because I’m his mom, and that’s just what we do.