Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paper Curse

Sometimes I wish our roles were reversed. My husband John, as a photographer, goes from project to project with very little paperwork and if he had his way, would work without any. He does not care about Job Orders or Delivery Receipts, and does them only to comply, or perhaps just to avoid trouble with me.

But I am buried in paperwork, and many times feel that I am deprived of time to do great things (my excuse anyway) because of my responsibility to attend to the paperwork, whether in the office or at home, while John is free to pursue all his dreams.

My midlife crisis brought me tears and resentment towards my work and my role at home, which paralleled my responsibilities in the office. Why could I not be free of paperwork? Why must I manage and as a manager read reports – production reports, sales reports, financial reports, bank statements, collection summaries, accounts receivables and a thousand and one other reports? Why couldn’t I be the artist? The photographer? Why couldn’t I be the free spirit who can look at paperwork with disdain and declare without remorse – “I hate paperwork!”

They say to attain immortality, one needs to do any one or all of three things – plant a tree, give birth to a son or write a book. Unfortunately, at that time, not one way was available to me – not even planting a tree (our studio/home occupied our property from boundary to boundary, without an inch of ground for planting a tree). I had no talent or time to write a book, and the only writing I had time for was to prepare what I call my paper curse – office forms and reports as basis for managing office and household and for complying with government requirements.

In 1990 something, dying to break away from the daily office grind, I heeded the call of my soul to do art instead of accounting, and actually went to enroll in art classes at the College of Holy Spirit – a Catholic university for girls. My classmates were in their teens, and I was in my 40’s. They were curious about me – not only was I exempt from wearing the school uniform, but also my teachers seemed to favor me (I suppose it was because my teachers knew I was there because I wanted to, and not because I had to, like most of my young classmates). I arranged to have classes only once a week because I could not get away from the office as often as I wanted to.

But, as if fate was teasing or testing me, my most valued clients would insist on setting appointments on the Fridays that I was supposed to be in school. Reluctantly, I would miss classes to attend portfolio presentations, biddings, feasibility and/or preproduction meetings. And of course, get caught again in the paper work of preparing cost estimates and submitting quotations and project proposals.

I would have continued to resent my role at our company and wallowed in self-pity but I was fortunate enough to come across a book called “When Money Isn’t Enough.” The author listed the hierarchy of people at work. At the top of the list were people who truly enjoyed their jobs, and who would work even if they weren’t paid – sounds like John. Second to the top are those whose work afforded them what they enjoyed doing. I looked through the list, all the way to the bottom - those who hated their jobs and earned very little but could not leave because it was all they could do. I thought that I fitted the description of the second happiest – so maybe I was happy but just didn’t know it? My work earned for me enough money so I could enjoy all the things I loved – to travel, to splurge on books and stationary, to buy gifts for the family, and to occasionally have lunch or dinner with friends. For the first time since I turned 40, I stopped resenting my work. Me on second place? That’s not so bad, especially since I am living with the first placer.

Nowadays, while angst against my work is gone, my fight against paperwork is not over. I make a conscious effort to relax and not become too much of a control freak. I have to make sure I know when to stop working (five o’clock is when I put on my homebody hat, especially now that we have a home separate from the studio to go home to). I resist all temptation (and pressure) to do office work on weekends; I’ve learned to delegate work; I’m training somebody to eventually take my place (she loves designing and filling up forms!). Most importantly, I know that both the business and I would survive even while letting go of some office work.

Letting go. That’s what I need to find my freedom from the curse of paperwork.