Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fringe Hours and being choice-ful

You can't go anywhere in certain corners of the blog world these days without running into The Fringe Hours. After hearing the author, Jessica N. Turner, interviewed on a couple podcasts and blogs, I loaded it up on my Kindle and read it during a month's worth of metro trips. I don't know that it was as life-changing for me as the jacket promises - but it did get me thinking.

The basic principle is that women should take time for themselves - for hobbies and friends and rest - and we can do that by carving out and making better use of the "fringe hours" during our busy days. I definitely liked the reminder that you don't necessarily need a long stretch of time to make progress on a personal project, you just need to have the tools in place to take advantage of the little snippets of time you do have.

While Turner emphasizes that the message is for all women - and I do think the principles apply - I think the intended audience is a bit older (and a bit more religious) than me, and has about 2.5 more kids. So I skimmed the parts where she argues that taking time for yourself will help make you a better wife and mom. This book also recalled the chapter of Lean In about seeking a real partnership with your partner. On balance, I think I prefer Sheryl's approach - of creating relationships on an egalitarian foundation, rather than asking your partner for more help when you're starting to go crazy.

But, feeling a bit out-of-sync with what I imagine to be the book's core audience actually resulted in my major takeaway. I was intrigued by the book because I, like everyone else, feel busy. I love to read, but sometimes a week goes by where I realize I've barely cracked open my library book. Between working - almost always past quitting time - and happy hours and gardening and exercising and making cards and feeding myself and general household management, it's all I can do to get to bed by midnight. So I was hoping the book would help me figure out how to leave myself a little more space in what feel like packed days.

But the thing is, the woman she describes in the book is busy juggling the obligations of a career and a marriage and kids - and last I checked, I only had one of those three things. The only obligation I really have is to my work, and that's pretty much under control. So really, all my hours outside of the 9 to 5 (or more accurately, the 9 to 6:30) are fringe hours. I get to choose how I spend them. That's an incredible luxury that I won't always have. Almost all the things that leave me feeling so busy are things that I chose. So, reading the book has helped me reframe those activities as "fringe hours" - enjoyable, restful, good for the soul - rather than as obligations.

Turner emphasizes that you need to make sure the things you once enjoyed haven't become obligations. Or if they do (like if your sewing hobby turns into an Etsy business), you need to make sure you're not overloaded and you're still taking time for the things you do purely for enjoyment. So I get to reevaluate whether the things I fill my days with are still filling me up. (Something I've been thinking about a lot lately.)

It all comes down to choosing. At an alumnae spirituality retreat at my Catholic high school last year, a very wise nun told us to "be choice-ful," and that choosing and intentionality are spiritual practices. This book was another great reminder of that.

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