My mom taught me this one. It’s a strategy for maintaining borders around your personal energy amidst a universe that’s constantly seeking to engage that energy. And yes, I’m making it sound much more deep than it is. Bear with me, it’s really simple, and it was while talking to my mom about my first job out of college that I learned it.
As an employee, you probably have a certain number of sick days and vacation days allocated to you each year. Perhaps they are in a single pot, called personal days. Whatever. The point is, your job carries benefits and one of those benefits is that you can be absent from work for x number of days with pay.
You wake up one morning with a strong urge to go fishing, to paint, to cook, to sit on your ass and watch squirrels — I don’t know, it’s your urge, not mine. So what do you do? For the majority of us, I suspect you do what I did on my first job back in 1995: search your brain for a valid excuse as to why you can’t be at work that day. You’re sick. Your car won’t start. Your kid’s sick. The cable guy is coming today with a possible service window of 8am-5pm, I can go on.
Excuse selected, you then you hope like hell for your employer’s voice mail, strike the perfect tone in your voice (usually accompanied by discrete coughing and clearing of the throat, especially if it’s a sick day you’re after) and say: “I can’t make it in to work today because . . . .”
And in that little word “because” you’ve lost a tiny bit of your freedom.
The truth is, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. It simply isn’t required.
Going to work, staying home, or inhabiting a park bench watching squirrels is your choice. There are consequences to your choice and there are contractual and moral obligations to consider, but you’re an adult, and justifying your actions (whether your employer would be in support of them or not) erodes your liberty. Make your choice, stand accountable for the consequences.
I am not by any means advocating for the lazy among us. I am not saying call in sick every day. The exercising of liberty requires a very adult owning of the consequences of our choices and of our responsibilities within the context of community. I must be aware that when I miss a day of work my co-workers may have to pick up the slack, I may fall behind in meeting a deadline, I may not get to lend my energy and ideas to a key project, and I definitely will have one less personal day I can take in that calendar year.
My point is that your voice mail message, spoken clearly and plainly, need only say: “I will not be at work today.”
Think of the energy you’ve just saved yourself. The space around you should feel lighter.
And for those of you, like me now, who are stay-at-home-parents, with no sick days or vacation days to rely on, or for those of you, also like me, who only get paid when you show up, this baby step can still be employed to great success. Too stressed to attend PTA? Let’s practice: “I will not be at the meeting tonight.”