With New Year’s Eve just passing us by, this little resolution seemed appropriate.
I call it Drawing the Line.
I remember taking my first and only trip (thus far) to Israel. I was told it would be a life-changing trip, and for many reasons that I can’t explain right now, it was, but the biggest impact the trip had on me was during the 13-hour flight back to New York.
I love New York. I have done a good amount of traveling, but I’ve always felt happy to come home to the greatest city in the world. Except this time.
Shortly after we took off, I realized I didn’t want to come home. I tried to shrug it off as a “Boohoo, my vacation is over” kind of thing, but it was more than that. I really truly didn’t want to come home.
I couldn’t sleep – something about a screaming baby two rows back – but no matter. I used the time to ponder my reluctance to return to New York. The answer came to me mid-flight: It was because I didn’t have a home to come home to.
My small catering business had grown into a bona fide company to be reckoned with. The phone was ringing off the hook. We were booked with events for 100 guests to 700 and often catered multiple weddings in a single weekend. I’d outgrown the warehouse kitchen in Long Island City that I’d shared with two other companies and built my own swank commercial kitchen in Lower Manhattan. There was much to be proud of, if I had the time to be proud.
My kitchen was a 12-block walk; just a quick stroll. But to save time, I answered my business phone calls and emails from my apartment. I had an answering machine next to my bed receive all the forwarded calls from the office.
In the morning, I would wake up, check my work emails for a few hours, and answer my work phone calls for another few hours. At about 2 in the afternoon, it would occur to me that my stomach was burning from hunger and that I was still in my underwear. So I’d down breakfast in two gulps, and then after having used up my entire morning and early afternoon working, I’d walk to work to meet clients and, you know, work.
Late at night, as I drifted off to sleep, I’d hear the voices of bar mitzvah and wedding inquiries chatting away from my answering machine.
I was getting fat and depressed, and my home was anything but my castle. It was just an outer office with a bed.
I decided on that 13-hour flight to change all that. After I got home, I disconnected the Internet from my home, unforwarded my office phone and reclaimed my apartment.
Mornings became my time to write, paint, stretch, think and have a proper breakfast that included this thing called chewing. The walk to work became a time to smell the air or a chance to cut through Tompkins Square Park and see the dogs playing in the dog run.
I had thought that all those calls and emails waiting for me when I arrived would mean I wouldn’t get out of work until late at night, but oddly, my day got shorter. Something about getting “me” time, focused my brain so that I was far more efficient at work!
At the end of the day, when I put the gate to my kitchen down, I left the phone calls, emails, proposals, bills and assorted mishegash at the office. No notebook in my bag, no calls to return later after dinner. DONE!
At night as I went to sleep, I was not lullabied by Mrs. Horowitz from Long Island’s voice shrilly demanding “a kiddie bar with real-looking cocktails, not just Shirley Temples!”
So that went OK … for a few years. Then my girlfriend asked that I install email in my apartment for personal things, like family or friends. So I did, promising myself that I would only check personal email while at home.
That lasted about two days.
I got an iPhone, promising myself that I would only check work emails in case of emergency. Yeah, that worked. … I knew I was in trouble when I caught myself two-finger typing a sample menu at midnight. Grilled flank steak, seasoned with insomnia, anyone?
When I was flying home from a trip recently, guess what else came back? You guessed it: That feeling of not wanting to come home.
I suppose I am a workaholic, or I’m a small business owner in one of the most expensive cities in the world, trying to keep up, or both.
So I’m counting days again, as they say in recovery programs; no work emails at home, reclaiming my mornings to do things like write my column. I’m also reclaiming the evenings I am not supervising events. I have a gym membership, and I damn well plan on using it!
Drawing a line between work and home gets pretty darn complicated when you are self-employed. Especially if you work from home. I am lucky enough to have another place to go. Not everyone does.
I have an entrepreneurial pal who holds his meetings in a nearby hotel lobby, a professor pal who does her computer work from a local café. There are ways.
I always banish work from the bedroom! Well, almost always. As I said, I’m counting days.
I am grateful for that flight back from Tel Aviv that taught me that home is where the heart is, but it’s up to us how we fill that heart.
Today I choose yoga (really bad yoga, but I get an A for effort) and writing to fill my heart.
I choose oatmeal and bananas with almond butter for breakfast and enough time to enjoy the sweet banana flavor.
It’s good to be home.