On being jobless

I’m ‘between jobs’ at the moment. By that I mean that I quit my last job because I didn’t like it, and I don’t yet know what my next job will be. This has been going on for almost two months now, and I’m managing to pay the bills in this ever-extending interim through a combination of seeing my few personal training clients, mowing my mum’s lawns and word processing her book which she wrote by hand, and working for my dad doing either fairly heavy manual labour or hours of mindless weeding in the garden.

With the money I make from doing this I pay my rent, power, phone and internet, put some petrol in my car and buy a bit of food. Not having any disposable income sure does simplify things: I’m financially limited by what I can do, but I do have plenty of time to think and reflect. I was talking to my brother on the phone a while ago and he was saying that his levels of stress and unhappiness with his job have risen in equal proportions alongside the increases in his salary.

Sure it’s great to have loads of money, but at what cost? What are all those dollars worth if your health or happiness or time or energy is overly compromised? I wonder if there is a critical point (which would be different for each person) at which the work/life balance is perfected. A point at which all the positive aspects of working – a feeling of contributing something of value, being part of a team or an expert in your field, having a sense of purpose, and being fairly remunerated for your time don’t detract from life outside of work – friends, family, hobbies, chores, and relaxation time.

If the work/life balance lies along a continuum, with the sweet spot somewhere in the middle, I think my brother would be pretty close to one end: he gets paid well doing something he loves, but, because of his position, can’t leave the job behind at the end of the day, to the point where it’s encroaching far too much into his personal life and compromising his happiness.

I, on the other hand, would sit at the opposite end of the continuum from my brother. I’ve got all the time in the world, but no money and no sense of purpose or direction. Work, to me, means physically travelling from home to my workplace, working with other people doing something I’m good at and enjoy and is beneficial or useful or helpful in some way, then when I’ve finished working I leave, mentally and physically, and do other stuff.

It’s the ‘doing something I’m good at and enjoy’ that’s the most important part for me. I could be working right now if my only criterion was ‘have a job’, but there are certain jobs that I’m simply not willing to do. Yeah that does make me a bit of a princess, but after all the study I’ve done, all the qualifications I hold, it would kill me inside to take a job at, say, a supermarket or a petrol station. I just can’t do it. Which brings me to where I am now: sitting on my bed in my onesie at 11:30 AM. I should be at work like all the other upstanding citizens of this country who work hard, pay their taxes, pay their bills, pay their mortgages, and pay for all the stuff they think they need.

To be honest, it is getting a bit depressing. I’m in a bit of a pickle because, on the one hand, I feel like I should be contributing more, doing more, being more, but on the other hand I really really really want to be doing something meaningful, that’s true to my values and makes me feel good about myself. So, yes, working too much can negatively affect your overall happiness, but so can working too little.

I wonder what the outcome of this will be. Will I crumble and take a hospo job even though I promised myself never again, or will I wait for something more meaningful?


What kind of car do you drive?

I like to liken my body to a sports car; a Lamborghini or a Ferrari perhaps. It’s aerodynamic, easy on the eye and performs well (most of the time), but it also requires a fair amount of maintenance and upkeep. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I do feel like the old Mitsubishi Delica van I used to have: the battery would almost go flat just starting the engine, and it was embarrassingly gutless on hills. The problem with that van was that it ran on the wrong fuel – LPG – but petrol or diesel probably would’ve been better.

For me to run like a sports car, it’s essential that I treat myself as if I am. I don’t work properly if I don’t give myself good fuel; it’s as simple as that. As an example, here’s my lunch from the other day. The salmon and mushrooms came from the supermarket, the avocado from a nearby orchard, and the miner’s lettuce from my front door. I love miner’s lettuce! It’s the super star of spring – fresh and sweet and juicy and crunchy all at once. And pretty too, I love the way the flowers grow up through the middle of the leaf. I’ve squeezed some lemon juice on top, freshly picked from my mum’s tree next door. I raid her garden on a regular basis and invariably return with an assortment of fresh greens.

I’m constantly experimenting with my diet, finding out what works well and what doesn’t. I know which types fuel make me feel like a shitty old van: wheat and sugar. I know if I eat these I’ll feel about as aerodynamic and energetic as a brick. I also know that sometimes I’ll feel like a brick even when I eat well. Those are the times to rest up and take it easy. And sometimes, occasionally, I can eat chocolate and ice cream and feel great. I don’t beat myself up about this either, I enjoy it for what it is: a treat. I guess even a sports car needs an ice cream every now and then.

What kind of car do you drive?

I salute the sun, then I roll my spine

I intend to live to a ripe old age without losing my mobility or my quality of life. Keeping my muscles supple is one of the ways I’ll do this; eating well, leading an active lifestyle, and having a positive outlook on life will also be contributing factors.

I took up yoga when I was 17. My mum taught a class (and still does) at Kimi Ora – a nearby health resort. Being the awesome mum that she is, she welcomed me to come join her class for free. I used to ride my bike over there (only about 12 kilometres but with a few good hills and one killer one at the end), attend the two hour yoga class, then do a good stint in the sauna, interspersed with plunges in the salt water pool. What a life! (I’d already have put the bike rack on Mum’s car so I didn’t have to bike home afterwards.)

When I first started with yoga some of my initial observations went along these lines: far out my wrists are weak, oh my god my hamstrings are tight, and my balance is pretty crap too. Yes, yoga is about stretching, but strength, endurance, balance, patience, and mental fortitude are all major components as well.

There are many different styles of yoga, with my preference being Iyengar. Iyengar yoga is all about precision. Each posture (or asana) is practised to perfection and the level of detail goes down to what your little toe is doing, where your tongue is sitting in your mouth, and where your eyes are looking, even when they’re closed. Being the perfectionist that I am, this style of yoga suits me just fine. As far as I know, B K S Iyengar, the fellow who developed this style of yoga, is still alive and still practises yoga daily, despite being in his 90s. This is a short clip of him here.

I’ve attended a great many yoga classes over the years and been exposed to a variety of teachers and teaching styles. Somewhere along the way I developed a short routine that I do daily. This is what it looks like, and this is another sequence that I also practise regularly. I haven’t attended a yoga class for ages – I have enough self-discipline to do it at home on my own quite happily. Plus it means that I get to do exactly what I want, when I want, and the way that I want. I know which muscles tend to get tight and how to stretch them.

Often, a feeling of tightness or discomfort in one area is due to the transference of tension from another part of the body. It’s all about self-awareness, or proprioception. Understanding the basics of anatomy and utilising some creative thinking and problem solving skills is also an advantage. Let me give you an example: quadratus lumborum is a muscle that originates from the back of your hip and attaches to your spine and bottom rib. It’s a deep lying muscle and can be hard to get to given that other muscles lie on top of it. A massage therapist I used to see explained that when a muscle tightens, it tends to do so towards the point of origin rather than towards the point of insertion, so if my quadratus muscle on the right tightens more than the one on the left, it’s expressed by a lifting up of the right hip, rather than a pulling down of the spine and rib.

Being right-handed, I have a natural tendency to use the right side of my body more, although I try to be as ambidextrous as possible. Given that I also drive a car, and my right leg is my accelerating and braking leg, I’m usually tighter on my right side. I’m guessing I’m not alone here.

Have you ever noticed that some people’s shoulders aren’t level? As in it looks like one shoulder is higher than the other. If quadratus is tighter on the right and lifting the right hip, the spine will curve slightly to compensate which will cause the right shoulder to drop and the left to rise. I once took my tramping pack back to the shop where I bought it because I was completely and utterly convinced that one strap was longer than the other. Turns out it was my back that was wonky, not the pack. I also spent years of my life putting a block of foam or rubber into my right shoe because I was certain that one of my legs was longer than the other. I now trust that my body was made right; it’s the way I use it that makes it feel unbalanced.

So, back to quadratus. I use my 3 kg dumb-bell to stretch it – sounds a bit weird right? Let me explain. I lie on my back with my knees bent. Keeping my upper back on the ground I lift my hips and place the dumb-bell under my lower back, between hips and ribs, where quatratus is located. I then relax onto the dumb-bell, keeping my hips off the floor. The pressure of my bodyweight on the ends of the dumb-bell hits my quadratus sweet spot perfectly. The muscle releases in increments that I can feel: some resistance then a release, more resistance, another release… This may sound like tortuous pain to you but it actually feels bloody good, and so much better than walking around for days if not weeks on end with niggling little aches and pains that you know you really should do something about but can’t be bothered/are too busy/don’t know how/think if you ignore it for long enough it’ll go away. Sound familiar?

Right, so I’ve found a way to stretch quadratus, but why is it tight in the first place? Yes it’s usually tighter on the right side, but both sides are tighter that I’d like them to be. For me, it’s my hamstrings. Life in general makes them tight, which restricts my range of movement, so instead of bending more at the hips and knees, and therefore engaging my quads, my lower back ends up doing more work than it should. So in this somewhat long-winded and convoluted example the problem is expressed in my lower back, but originates in my legs.

The moral of my story? If you’re lower back is sore, stretch your hamstrings.