Self-improvement through seasonal work

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  • Have iPhone, Will Travel: commuters on the 2 train. Photo: susanjanegolding, via flickr

I have not had a job in 22 years.

That’s not to say I haven’t worked. My time was divided between shuttling my children around the Upper East Side for school as well as activities and doing freelance writing jobs. (I was an original member of New York’s gig economy.) My assignments were done at home, with the occasional attendance at on-site meetings, which could be considered more like drive-bys than working on premises.

With both kids in college now, I began to consider my re-entering the workplace. But since my writing life from a home office has served me well, I thought I’d look for a new challenge.

Enter an opportunity for seasonal (aka holiday) work at a high-end midtown store that would allow me to dip my toe in the full-time employment waters and try my hand in an industry that was new to me. So far, it has not only let me once again be known as a staffer, but has offered some forced self-improvement that I want to last well beyond my twelve-week stint.

1. Lorraine Unplugged

Have iPhone Will Travel has been my motto since I got my first circa 1995 (also the year I began contract work). Throughout my day, I looked at the screen constantly, checking my email, texts, Facebook, and Twitter as though national security depended on my being updated. Because no devices are allowed on the sales floors of my new company, and I can only check social media and email at lunch and on breaks, I realized that most of what I get is either junk, or a message that can wait at least a couple of hours to answer.

2. Water, Water Everywhere

I’ve been hearing since childhood: drink eight glasses of water a day. I have ignored that dictum for that same length of time, living a cactus-like existence. Now that I need stamina to stand most the day, sometimes in one place, drinking as much water as I can throughout the day keeps me alert and simply feeling better.

3. A Not So “Remote” Possibility

For decades, parents have been accused of using television as a babysitter. The adult version of that is stay-at-home mothers and/or freelancers using it as background, when home alone all day. Every now then, however, something would catch my ear and I’d sit and watch. I then started to have a program or two, for which I’d stop chores or assignments. I also tried to have at least one show per evening for my viewing pleasure, even if it was a Law & Order rerun. Now, when I come home from work, I’m more than a little beat. I don’t want to spend my few pre-bedtime hours with a glaring blue light in my face. If there’s something that really interests me, I watch it on demand at a more convenient time.

4. Efficiency Expert

When I made my own schedule, tomorrow was always another day for my to-do list. Now with only two days off, productive is my middle name.

5. Food: My BFF No More

As a home-based worker, I never snacked — I grazed. There was no candy/fruit bowl safe from my automatic grasp. I opened the fridge door so many times during the day, you would’ve thought the food was animated, and I was peeking in to say hi and make sure everyone was OK. Now that I’m working outside the home, I’m down to three squares a day and actually seeing — in small increments — the numbers on the scale going in a more positive direction.

6. “No Vacancy”

I read a quote once that said: “Writers have to convince people that they’re actually working when they’re staring out the window.” Yes, in order to compose, scribes sometimes have to let their minds wander. Sometimes it is fruitful. Other times, something triggers a recall of an unpleasant situation that results in renting space in my head to people I don’t even know anymore. In my current position, I need to be present and focused. Brain clutter is not an option.

7. I’m more interesting

I really don’t think I was a bore before, but my topics had gotten a little stale. Now with a new job to talk about, colleagues to describe, tales of customer escapades, and the goings-on in my company’s active neighborhood, when my family asks about my day, I tell them — ad nauseam.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back to Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie is in the works.

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