I had tea this week with a close friend, one of the most kind, competent, and generous people I know. Also one of the most ill. In the ideal world, she would just have one job: her own healing, but in this world, she has to handle finances, deal with a big home repair, consult with lawyers, and research her illness. She confessed, “I feel overwhelmed.”
I’m with you, sister, and I don’t have your excuse. When do we “cry uncle!!!” and admit that what we’re trying to do is undoable? It’s almost like every night a gremlin slips in and adds another job to our list of responsibilities. In a corporation, the HR department would call so many additions to a position “scope creep.” We call it life.
When do we say, “No can do,” and admit that our jobs have become un-doable?
I’ve watched this scope creep over the decades as each year “labor-saving devices” (and software) create more work we’re responsible for.
Adding new jobs to our “job”
When I was a teen, I received the advice given to many of us girls: “You can be a secretary and work your way up.” That was such BAD advice (no offense to secretaries). All it took was one summer job to convince me that I was a BAD secretary: too impatient, not detailed enough, and not accurate enough when I typed. My being a secretary was a formula for getting fired—not moving up.
Then, in 1984, I bought my first Macintosh computer (the 128 K!) and became the secretary of my own consulting practice. Almost instantly, my work expanded to include the following jobs: word processor, editor, proofer, layout specialist, and supplies manager. (These were still separate jobs in corporations.) I loved the freedom. But scope creep had begun.
Within a couple of years, I inherited another job: travel agent. Do you remember, if you’re not too young, when you could actually call a live person on something called a telephone, and ask them to book your flight from New York to Cleveland? Until one day you had to do it for yourself. What a freedom that was—to be able to spend two hours to ensure you were getting the cheapest fare from New York to Cleveland—if you ever wanted to visit Cleveland (I went to school near there). That so-called freedom required even more hours as the role of travel agent almost disappeared and an army of bots took over what the airlines used to call customer service.
I like to research things. But be careful what you wish for. Because now, I must play the role of an in-house research staff. Fast forward and today, I can’t even buy a toothbrush without spending an hour on the computer, reading all the possibly specious reviews.
My career as a do-it-yourself researcher has led to my becoming my own:
Doctor. This is a big one. A few years ago, doctors shifted from telling patients, “Here’s what you must do…” to asking them, “What would you like to do? Which option do you prefer?” This means that before my hard-to-get appointment—still with a real person—I must spend at least five exhausting hours on WebMD or the equivalent researching “extreme fatigue” and all the terrible diseases my symptoms might suggest.
Lay audiologist. Thank goodness we can now buy over-the-counter hearing aids. Except for the hours it takes to research which ones are best and then perform our own audiology exams. (Do I really need to hear people that badly?)
Vet tech. Dogs have an uncanny way of running into problems at the start of a four-day weekend. More research required: Did one of my joy-boys eat something toxic? Then, OMG – I discover that apple seeds are poisonous and the boys love eating apples and ???? Four days provide plenty of time to sit at the computer fretting rather than doing what people used to do on holidays: celebrate.
Some new jobs result from my natural curiosity and desire to build my practice.
(Aka they are my fault):
Bookkeeper/make-shift accountant. (Comes with the self-employed terrain.)
Graphic and website designer. Without any talent for this, whatsoever, I’m expected to design my own posters, announcements and website. Website maintenance, however, has become the modern version of purgatory. In five minutes I can descend from “I can make this small improvement” into “Help! They’ve upgraded the friggin’ software again!” As I cry out for “tech support,” I discover that job was also added to my role, even though I don’t qualify.
Fortunately, website purgatory is something you can buy your way out of with three “Hail Marys” and a lot of money.
Audio/(podcast) editor. I love creating podcasts. I do not enjoy spending six hours on the computer editing a podcast. At NPR, podcast hosts are backed up with at least a half dozen (or more) staff. What’s wrong with me?
Video editor. When people say cavalierly, “You need to do short videos for social media” I want to scream. “But, I’m not a millennial! None of this comes naturally to me.” Did I say I am also a “Social Media Specialist?
You can get a sense of why I’m overwhelmed. Of course, there’s more — like the roles related to making a living (writer/coach/occasional teacher), or maintaining a home (cook, cleaner, etc.).
And this year I became a book publisher!
It’s OK to be not OK
I wanted to tell my sick friend, “OF COURSE, you are overwhelmed. There’s NO WAY you can do all of this. It’s OK to cry uncle.” And I need someone to say the same to me.
Instead, I will probably ask Chat GPT, “How do I handle all the roles I am expected to handle in today’s Internet-infused environment without going crazy and feeling overwhelmed most of the time?”
Hopefully, the machine will know.