Like many American adults, I’ve made many of my friends at work. I will sometimes quip at these colleagues-turned-friends that what gives me the ability to blur professional and personal boundaries is the fact that mine are very clear.
That’s changing. And not just in my approach to work and friendships, but across other areas of my life as well. The way I think about outdoors and exercise has shifted, integrating more into my day-to-day life.
Well, it happened slowly and then suddenly. I recently saw my family for the first time since before the pandemic. My dad and his wife made the haul up to Alaska, and I was delighted to host them.
The only trick? I’d already exhausted my paid time off for this year. So, I needed to figure out how to balance work with their visit. I’m also training for a marathon, so I needed to throw that little detail in during their 10 days up here, too.
I think prior to or even during the pandemic, these circumstances would have exhausted and frustrated me. I fancy myself someone who thrives in clarity, and that means clearly being at work or clearly being on vacation and out of the office; that means hosting someone 100% or focusing entirely on my training plan.
Training for a marathon, after all, requires hours out pounding pavement, and that’s time away from my guests. Work requires hours at my desk, as much as I wish it didn’t.
But something’s been slowly building where my needs are more integrated. It has to do with increased presence, something I was semi-forced to develop while mostly trapped at home. I couldn’t leave the house or the state, so I delved deeper into my presence — it was the only way to “move” while not going anywhere.
Here are some vignettes of the blurrier boundaries combined with increased presence, and how it’s working:
I woke up at 5:30 one of the mornings my family was here, long before they got up. I poured and sipped my coffee, my normal routine, and then cracked my laptop open. I sat for an hour, writing — early morning is best for writing — until I lost focus. Then, instead of berating myself for having poor focus or trying to sit longer, I went outside and watered the garden. Afterward, I put in another hour of work, and then my family woke up. I shut down my laptop until later in the day.
I hopped a ride in my own car with my guests. They were heading to a glacier tour about 15 miles away from my house. At their take-off point, I took off too — in my running vest and running shoes. I ran all the way home while they did their tour. A two-fer! They got their excursion and I got my training run.
During another run to meet my folks, I thought a lot about work. Many times, this kind of rumination would frustrate me. Why was I spending my precious running time thinking about something I’m paid to do? But, this time I found it pleasant — I was reflecting on this and that meeting, letting my mind wander and play on this big question we were exploring, and thinking about the kinds of work and projects I might like to pursue, and how. I wondered if I’d somehow beat capitalism or if capitalism had infused itself all the way down into me, where I’d tricked myself into enjoying labor. But then, I decided not to care too much about that. After all, it is an amazing and privileged place to be to enjoying and expanding myself at the same time I’m earning a paycheck. If that takes place during a run, so be it.
I won’t sugarcoat the many terrible parts about the 18 months and the pandemic’s impact. But I appear to still be learning lessons and taking away something. The disparate parts of me that I used to try so hard to keep separate, to manage, are starting to braid together more.
Running with work with vacation with the outdoors with laptop time. I’m open to it.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.