THE ONLY BLACK GUY IN THE OFFICE

WFH Taught Me How to Live in the Moment

Being cooped up in the crib has forced me to learn (and unlearn) some major habits

It’s been three whole months — 12 weeks, 84 days, 2,016 hours, but who’s counting? — since the beginning of my pandemic-sanctioned home confinement. Being holed up in the crib with the exception of grocery store runs and skeptical fresh air strolls has led me to hella different levels of stir-crazy. There was the manic-exerciser stage. The fridge-abuser stage. The PhD-in-WebMD stage. The clean-so-much-it-makes-my-moms-proud stage. The fuck-it-I’ll-just-count-my-floor-tiles stage. And now, the radical-self-reflection stage.

My day job has become both an energy drain and a useful distraction from the uncertainty of the current world. But without the physical distraction of co-workers snapping me out of my thoughts, I’ve realized that I’m changing a lot more than I expected to.

Planning things right now comes with the full understanding that they’ll probably change, so why not be present and roll with whatever time brings?

For starters, I’ve ditched the habit of planning for the present, and started working on simply being present instead. I think a lot about where my head was in mid-March, when the pandemic shook the table hard enough to ground half of America’s workforce. My company nosedived into this whole mandated work-from-home scenario with the naive belief that it’d only be until the end of the month — and I drank a little bit of that Kool-Aid myself. I planned to work through the uncertainty and not focus too hard on the details, assuming that we’d be back in the office by April. I was still making my spring and summer plans, and plotting points on my professional goal list for the year. Two weeks crept by and company emails about return dates got vaguer. Once April rolled around and I was still joining conference calls from my couch, it hit me. Holy shit, nothing’s changed and I can’t do anything about it. I settled into a state of acceptance. Maybe this is just what it is. This is my life now.

In other words, the way I approached planning before wasn’t going to work through this. Now is the time to think about long-term shit, not just three-week plans. And planning things right now comes with the full understanding that they’ll probably change, so why not be present and roll with whatever time brings? At the very least, it’s keeping me on my toes.

Another thing that has dawned on me is how allergic I am to productivity when I’m comfortable. To my surprise, there is a downside to WFB — working from bed. It’s an internal battle I never imagined myself entering: how much comfort do I want to put into my daily 9-to-5 activities? The more time I spend in bed, the more lackadaisical the work becomes. My drive to see a deadline through fluctuates given my level of cozy at home. Things might stretch from “I need this done by Tuesday” to “Let’s just stretch it out towards Friday, in case something happens.” Hell, I’ve even found myself reconsidering deadlines based on how weird the weather is outside. It’s crazy how much a soft spot on the bed can tempt you.

Early on, I’d try to cut out distractions by trading my room for the living room, completely removing myself from the safest space within my safe space. But my roommate also works in the living room, so quick catch-ups easily turn into hours-long shit-talking sessions about our Lone Black Professional misadventures. Another productivity fail.

(Speaking of comfort, one time, I got too comfortable during a Zoom call, forgetting that my deactivated camera doesn’t completely conceal what’s happening on my end of the Wi-Fi connection. I quickly learned that nothing derails a project postmortem quite like the sound of a toilet flush.)

But I know it’s not just me. I’ve been sussing out the urgency of some of my teammates’ requests and time lines. Like, are we just putting this date here knowing good and well that we’re going to stretch it out? Or are we actually going to see this plan through? Is this a collective charade, a facade of productivity meant to mask the fact that we’re really in our beds in T-shirts and boxers?

Even though everyone is dragging a little, there’s a nagging fear that I’ll be the one caught slipping — but I force myself to pump the brakes. People higher up on the totem pole have shot out emails asking for grace on their end, so why should I be the one beating myself up about it? I’m getting better at checking myself during insecure moments like these.

Speaking of checking myself, the biggest mental hurdle I had to overcome was surrendering to the waiting game. At work, parts of my workload are totally dependent on peer feedback. There are times when I’ll send a draft out in the morning and not get a response until it’s damn near clock-out time. So the whole time I’m waiting, I’m either sitting on my hands or spreading out tinier tasks to pass the time.

When you’re extremely self-sufficient (at times to a fault), sometimes you have to be able to lean on peers with the expectations that A) they’ll help out, and B) they’ll do so in a time-efficient manner. It’s hard to relinquish that sense of control, especially now that there are screens and a million-and-one distractions between us, but I don’t want to be that “just checking in” guy. At my last job, I was constantly pinged and followed up with, so I’m used to frantic incoming messages. I eat those. But honestly, they should end with me. There’s no need to be the transmitter of professional trauma to a new workspace.

So despite all the Ls it feels like we’ve had to take at the hands of the pandemic, I’m choosing to interpret them a different way. They’re not outright losses; they’re personal lessons that I’ve been gifted with the time to learn. And hopefully, once we’re on the other side of this, I’ll be better because of them.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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