"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement." -Alice Koller
Grinding It Out
One of the young men on my virtual team sent me the quote above and said it reminded him of me. I read it and smiled. I know that I am evolving, particularly when someone’s perspective of me is such a bold and peaceful statement. Years ago, this would not have been the case. The quote that one might have sent me would have had a lot more to do with feeling frenzied and overscheduled. I was the one who would have been a finalist for the “staying at work the latest each night” award. The one who was dashing out to meet friends for a late dinner or event and then sleeping too little and doing it all over again the next day.
And Then Life Happens
Thankfully, I had a serious shift in my perspective on how I work and what the work means to me. Nearly eight years ago, I was working in a very understaffed, busy public state college as the Director of International Programs. I drove more than 120 miles round trip each day simply TO work. I often worked until 7 pm and certainly checked my email from home, including weekends. I took calls after hours and during vacations. That was my life. I thought it was how everyone worked in our field – selflessly, tirelessly and with 110% commitment. And then I got sick. Really sick. Ironically, I got sick from work, where I had been exposed to toxic levels of mold. I was essentially poisoned, slowly, at work while sitting at a desk in a college office. The levels of toxic mold caused extremely painful symptoms that ranged from migraines, rashes, joint pain, weight gain, swelling, shortness of breath, memory loss and extreme fatigue. But I kept working. I had bills to pay. And let’s face it – at the time I thought “who else could do MY job” as I was the only one who was apparently talented enough to get it right. I reread that ridiculous statement now and think how incredibly egotistical it is. What made me so special? Ultimately, we are all replaceable, at least in terms of employment.
This unexpected and horrific illness required a shift in my approach to not only work, but my life. I eventually became so sick at work that I resigned, on Doctor’s orders, because I could barely function. I spent weeks in bed, having a hard time lifting my head off the pillow because of the extreme fatigue and pain. Eventually, with a lot of “alternative” healing approaches and patience, I was able to get out of bed and begin to live (somewhat) again. In an effort to maintain the improvements that my healers facilitated, I became very thoughtful about how I was going to live (and work) from that point forward. It was going to be done with a completely different approach – one that didn’t equate time with quality of work. I took the healers’ approach to the mind/body connection and applied it to my work too.
What Yoga Can Teach Us About Our Work
This translated into a much more effective and peaceful approach, not only in my work but in my daily living. Each day, I start with some self-awareness exercise. It may be a bit of stretching, a little body work such as hoe downs to drain lymph and to work on cognitive processing, or a bit of meditation to clear my mind and increase focus. At home, I will pull out my hot pink yoga mat and use a free video on Hulu to help me focus on breathing and being in the moment. (This 3 part series is one of my “go to” videos.)
During the week I take time to do yoga at the YWCA. It is one of the most important ways for me to connect with my breath and to ease my mind. It also does wonders for my physical body – improving not only my flexibility and breathing, but also my digestion. Unlike the videos online, it provides me with a community of people who are sharing a space to unwind, yet where they can push themselves. There is always a calm energy in our class, one that unlike most workplace environments, quietly sends messages of love and support to people in the airy room. There is no competition. There is no need to “stay late” to do the work. The work unfolds in that shared space while the benefits of it last for hours and sometimes days. And in that sometimes crowded room, amongst other yoga devotees, I feel at peace. I am there to be. To challenge myself and find my breath. To not worry about who is in the room and how I’m “doing” or what I’m “achieving” or who has shown up or if there is a substitute teacher, but rather - as Alice Koller says – to be aware of “the fullness of my own presence rather than the absence of others.”
Finding Peace and Moving Forward
I have been working from home these past few years and I am now very accustomed to the fullness of solitude. Years ago, having a home office would have felt especially lonely and isolating. But when I take the time to simply be, to stop and breathe, to participate in yoga, to elevate my self-awareness, I feel very full. Full of peace and gratitude at times, to the point of bursting. Much more so than working in a corporate office with hundreds of people around me. I’ve finally learned the art of simply being and it is a lesson that I seem to be effectively sharing with my virtual team at my company, Melibee Global. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the word “be” is part of the name. It very much reflects my journey to mindfulness.
Missy Gluckmann is the founder of Melibee Global, an online international education resource and education portal. She takes thrill in crossing borders and cultures, always aiming to know others, herself, and the world a little better. Hiking, traveling, yoga, connecting with people, cooking, and laughing heartily are just a few of the things that remind Missy to live in the moment…and appreciate it. You can connect with her on Twitter @MelibeeGlobalel, LinkedIn, and Facebook.