Work creates a structure in our lives. A steady job circumscribes our time. Instead of circadian rhythms, we adapt to corporate rhythms, rising with the echoes of old punch clocks and factory whistles, timing our commute to the tides of our Interstate rivulet. Even our yearly cycles have the imprint of our work environment: we choose our vacations to coincide or complement the company paid holidays. We are aware of end of quarters, deadlines, big contract completions—whatever the deliverable bottom line is for our line of work.
Then, we get “restructured” from the corporate life. We choose to move to freelance, and begin a creative career. Or we get a “Workforce Restructuring Action” letter and depart. In either case, all of our rhythms change. No need to rise to beat the traffic. Our job now is to find a client, build a business, or find another job. The Internet doesn’t have traffic jams, typically. All the usual borders and boundaries of daily, weekly, quarterly rhythms are gone. Friends and neighbors often assume you are available for anything anytime, instead of asking “is this a good time to …”
In talking with fellow non-employees, we all agree this disorientation is a developmental stage of the transition process. It is like having been a lobster, with a shell that moves us along (the corporation), and suddenly we need to grow a skeleton (our creative work flow). Where work dictated the flows and tides, we now do. And it takes a while.
I heard of a study where people were voluntarily kept in darkness for several months. Given food when they requested it, the participants could eat, sleep, exercise according to their own rhythms. And the results of this study showed that our natural biological rhythms were longer than 24 hours, when left to our own devices. We had a range of around a 26 to 28 hour natural body clock.
Likewise, upon becoming part of the restructured experiment, we non-employees need to find our cycles—but not in darkness or isolation. We find them against various and unfamiliar rhythms of companies, corporations, human resource folks, and now electronic bulletin boards and job boards, whose culture and cycles are foreign to us. And against the previously and still familiar schedules of our family and friends, with their expectations on our time.
The only ‘cure’ for this disorientation is to grow your own skeleton, to get very clear about what rhythms work for you. Exercise early AM or late PM? Make phone calls at 10 or 2? Write and send letters morning or afternoon?
The gift of this experiment is, when we again find ourselves surrounded by the cycles of a corporation, we’ll know what are our own best rhythms, and will work more effectively. We’ll remember, that is, until we become fully acculturated again in new company–our own business, or a new corporation. And forget.