I'm not tired. For the first time in as many years as I can remember, I'm not tired. I can't complain of being exhausted, overwhelmed or overworked. I can't say, as I did for many years, that I feel tired. What I can say, at the end of the day, as I prepare for bed having washed and brushed and scrubbed and polished, is that I feel sated, that I've lived a full day. But what does that mean?
Every year at this time, Jews gather around the Passover table and tell the tale we've been telling for centuries -- the tale of freedom from slavery. This year, my husband gave a gorgeous preamble to our feast and asked that we each take a few moments to consider the story as metaphor, and to think about what it is that enslaves us. For me, the answer is always the same -- fear. But this year, I pushed hard to be more articulate about my fears in the effort to conquer them. And what I thought about was this: for the past twenty-five years I lived with a routine.
And by routine I don't mean to imply a job that was boring or rote. For twenty-five years, I've been an executive in the movie business. What I loved about my job was the variety at the very heart of it -- every day was different, every movie presented a new challenge. And as a studio executive, stability was also at the heart of my day: I had an office to go to, staff meetings to attend, bosses to inform. By my twenty-fifth year, I was wearing down. I can't guess how many times I complained of being exhausted. And I'm sure no one noticed because I'm sure they were complaining too. We, those of us who've been running on the corporate wheel for many years, become inured to the wretched tune of exhaustion. And at a certain point, we may not even articulate it -- it may just be the one thing that defines and binds us. "I've had such a hard week," "I'm beat," "I'm a wreck," "I can't believe how exhausting this day/week/month/year has been." It's almost as common a response to "How are you?" as "Fine" used to be.
Then, a few months ago, I left that routine and for the first time in twenty-five years, I find myself without a corporate net, without a traditional job. More importantly, I find myself without a routine.
So what do you do when you wake up on the morning of the first day of your new life without an official job? What do you do when you don't have bosses to report to, staff meetings to attend, and boxes to tick? What do you do when the artifice of the security of routine is revealed? Here's what I did. I got out of bed anyway. I worked out -- maybe I took a little longer with my morning routine, a few extra minutes on the elliptical, sipped a more leisurely cup of tea, read a full newspaper rather than just the headlines. And then I got busy. I started reading books I had wanted to read for months. And in those books I found inspiration -- to read more, ask more questions, switch on my snoozing brain and let it start to rev at a more creative speed. I started generating my own ideas, starting writing and researching and germinating those little seeds. Maybe they sprout, maybe they don't. But whatever the result, it will be because of MY energy, MY input, MY efforts. I spent more time with my husband; listening to his desires and talking about ways we could partner in the future so that our marriage encompassed our whole selves and not just our exhausted, post workday selves. I spent more time connecting with my step kids, my friends, some writers and directors I hope to work with. And I noticed something. When I run into people -- friends I've known for a long time or acquaintances through work, they all said the same thing: "You look so relaxed!" And the truth is, they were right. I was more relaxed. More than relaxed, I was happy.
Now, this is not to suggest that my freedom doesn't come with its fair share of anxiety -- fear I'll never work again, fear I won't be able to earn a living, fear I'll fall off the movie business map and die poor and in obscurity. Of course these fantasies race through my brain on a fairly regular basis. But what prevails is the pulsing sensation of vibrancy fed by the freedom to read, write, think, walk and connect with interesting people. And what I want to hold on to, whether I decide to continue on my own as an independent producer or whether I dive back into a job, is this feeling of vibrancy. I want to make sure that I take away from this experience a true understanding of what time is spent on real creativity and what time is frittered away in unnecessary meetings. And I want to make sure to carve out time that is meant just for my brain -- just for reading something that may have NOTHING at all to do with a project or the movie business but is something I want to read. It may spawn a new idea. It may not. But it will enrich my life. And that's what's been missing.
Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending Tina Brown's WOMEN IN THE WORLD conference in New York. Had I been still in my corporate routine, I would have refused the invitation. "Too busy" would have been my reply. And I would have missed out on a series of inspirational speakers and wonderful connections. When a new acquaintance would ask what I do, I would say, "I'm in a transitional phase" with great hesitation. Yet the statement was always received with excitement and led to conversations about the importance of transition, the importance of taking the time to get to know yourself again and get to know those closest to you, and mostly the concept of MAKING time -- that making time leads to regeneration of spirit, energy, motivation. I realized that this time of renewal is leading to some of the most interesting and exciting opportunities of my career. These are, by far, the most exciting days of my life. They are also, of course, the most terrifying. This is what it feels like to fly without a net.
So here's where I come out: living every day to its fullest doesn't have to mean cramming three days worth of life into a one day bag. It doesn't have to mean living the most extraordinary, action-packed, blisteringly important day of your life. It just means a full day -- a day on which you loved your best, lived your best, fought your best, ate your best. Some of those days are riddled with disappointment -- a project that fizzles out, a schedule frustrated by traffic or other unforeseen wrenches, a little rejection, a few steps forward and a few more back. And some days it's hard to get out of bed, hard to imagine another day without routine. And those are also the days that are just as likely to turn with a surprise phone call or unexpected opportunity. My experience of transition is terrifying and exciting. Transition is forcing me to change. I can say I am more open, more humble, more scared and more motivated. But mostly I can say that what I'm not is tired. You don't have to quit your job or get fired to re-examine your priorities. And you shouldn't have to go through a major transition to figure out ways to renew, rejuvenate and reclaim your life. Just fight for a little bit of space for yourself to not be tired.
Lynn Harris Leshem recently left Warner Bros. where she served the past decade as Executive Vice President, Production. She has been in the entertainment industry for twenty-five years and is finally not tired.