Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Okay, Job Stress Is Gonna Kill Me. And Then What?

It's about time for New Year's resolutions, where we all take a principled stand about our lives and attempt to force ourselves to change how we go about things.

I'm nowhere close to being that put-together this year. If anything, I should make New Day resolutions each night just to see if I can make them stick for 24 hours. I'll work up to a yearly resolution someday when I grow up.

This year I have done nothing more controlled than ricochet through life like a pinball. I hurtle through one life event at a time; things happen, lights flash, and then there's more happening and flashing, and wow, I sure didn't figure that beeping noise, either! It all just kind of occurs, and then I react to it. Come to think of it, this is exactly the kind of planning skill that provided me with two children ("You're what? We're having a WHAT!?" Flash of light, loud noise).

To help myself remember the important things in my life, I keep lists: People to call, movies to watch, books to read, household chores to do. It's good to have lists to keep me organized, so that at the end of every weekend I can have a nice quiet moment to sit down and panic because I failed to even look at the list for the sixth week in a row. At this moment my list contains a bathroom cabinet to install (been there for years now), a toilet to repair (got all the parts in 2007), several bags of sensitive papers in my garage I really need to shred; and while I'm right there by the file cabinets, I have some filing to do - and I can't file that yet, I have to make a phone call about it first. Aw, screw it. The bags have sat there safely for the last 16 months, another week isn't gonna kill them. As for the rest of it, who's got the time?

Really, the most important thing to do with my precious free weekend time is to detox from my job (which, yes, truly is toxic). My job is actually two of the top-ten highest-stress occupations in the United States, contains ten of the top ten work stresses and eight of the top ten colleague irritations. In fact, here they are (courtesy of jobbankusa.com):

TOP TEN STRESSFUL PROFESSIONS: IT Medicine / Caring Profession; Engineering; Sales and Marketing; Education; Finance; Human Resources; Operations; Production; Clerical

TOP TEN WORK STRESSES: Workload; Feeling undervalued; Deadlines; Type of work people have to do; Having to take on other people’s work; Lack of job satisfaction; Lack of control over the working day; Having to work long hours; Frustration with the working environment; Targets

TOP TEN COLLEAGUE IRRITATIONS: Seeing others not pulling their weight; Managers changing their minds about what they want doing; Lack of support from managers; Pressure from managers; Feeling put-upon by managers; Interruptions by colleagues; Interruptions by managers; Bullying behavior by managers; Lack of support from colleagues; Bullying behavior by colleagues

To be fair, I also personally contribute to at least seven of the colleague irritations. But that's not the important thing here; the bottom line is that my job is more hazardous to my health than chain-smoking steroid-filled cigarettes while frying bacon naked. Job stress is causing my hair to fall out, my flab to expand, and my wife to hallucinate that I snore at night. In my calmer moments I gain the clarity to understand: my job is only trying to kill me so I don't reach retirement age and get all the pension income that used to be waiting for me before the greed of the financial industry whacked my 401k in half. Instead of my year-ending 401k (200.5k?) statement, my bank sent me a coupon for a cone upgrade at Baskin-Robbins (Plain to Sugar or Sugar to Waffle).

<deep, steadying breath. another one.>

So, relaxation from my usual Defcon Twelve is a vital part of my life's plan: the part that involves me living long enough to retire. Every weekend I feel like a kid on the first two days of summer vacation, and then at the end of my little vacation I find I have yet again failed to do anything on my to-do list (Hon, I'm sorry about the water filters - I really will get to them this weekend, I promise).

This is also how my End-of-Life Planning is going - important, forgotten every weekend, and a prime candidate for the New Year's Resolutions I'm not making.

In 2004 my mom passed away and bequeathed the rest of the family a small box of photographs and a big box of "Oh Crap, Where Did All These Bills Come From?!". After helping to clean up the financial mess (hint: no Bailout) I decided I really needed some Death Plans of my own. I'm not getting any younger or healthier, and I'm supposed to be an adult pinball now, so I'm supposed to be responsible enough to make some plans.

The wife and I do have an old, outdated Living Trust in the file cabinet. Every so often we say to ourselves that we should do something to update it, but it never feels quite as urgent as when another family member departs. After the amount of funeral planning and participation I've done in the last four years, I have begun to make a list of what I absolutely need to do before the unexpected occurs to me.

The most urgent question is: How can I ensure that my wife and children will be able to enjoy, even after my expiration date, the same level of near-poverty we maintain today? Each year during my benefits open-enrollment period I try to increase my Life Insurance to Super-Duper Level (the level at which my survivors are compensated with more money than I could actually earn in the next 50 years), and every year after enrollment closes I get a letter from the insurance carrier that says, in effect, "Hahahahahahahahaha - Good one, Pal! One order of the same Life Insurance, coming up!"

So the family isn't going to get a big payout. At the very least, I need to ensure that when I Zero Out The Tricorder my wife has access to all my passwords. I'd like to think it will take her a while to replace the action movies in our Netflix queue with chick flicks, but I would like her log in to our bank account and stop paying the gym the very day I die - that's when the likelihood of my working out decreases from Laughably Close to 100% Unlikely to Entirely Unlikely.

Then there are the purely practical arrangements that will come when I begin Eating The Grass By The Root:
· My corpse is getting torched, but what to do with my ashes? My current vote is to send the box to the IRS with my Social Security Number and a note that says, "Tax THIS!"
· Flowers are really, really expensive. If we're going to have flowers at my memorial service, can we please make them out of frosting so people can eat them afterward?
· If anybody has to read a passage from a poet, they are limited to selections by Silverstein or Seuss.
· Three words: Memorial Pie Fight!
· And I haven't quite worked out how to do this next thing yet, but I really need to give people some notice before I die, just as common courtesy so they're not caught all shocked and flat-footed. A week ought to do it. It'll give everybody time to take off work and make travel plans, and it'll give me a chance to clean my garage and return people's stuff I borrowed years ago, and have taken with me while moving from house to house to house.

Apart from the logistical needs and arrangements that happen, there are important things I can take care of starting right now:
· I need to start working on my Secret Death Papers, in which I reveal all kinds of untrue family secrets and some of the most horrifyingly offensive jokes I've ever told. If I'm really industrious, I'll make my will into a scavenger hunt and pretend there's a fortune at the end. Then again, probably everybody will know I have no fortune, so the prize will be a stuffed giraffe or something instead. Everyone would still participate though, because, hey - free giraffe! To increase the excitement we'll invite Geraldo and tell him I had a secret vault.
· I need to write my own obituary. The ones that were written for my parents were only some biographical details and a list of who got left behind. I need my obit to have a sense of adventure and mystery, detailing all the never-before-told details of my adventures in The Culture Wars (like the time I went into that Red State disguised only by a bandanna), maybe even quotes from Playboy mansion party-goers about how they'll really miss me.
· Ditto the Eulogy. The last thing I want is for some poor friend or family member to have to decide how honest to be about what a pain in the butt I was. I can write that myself right now. And Morgan Freeman can read it, because he's awesome and (unless something changes) will be able to get through it without choking up.

As this New Year comes around and I begin to earnestly write the wrong date on all my checks, I can state categorically (in a reassuring, avuncular manner) that I have no intention of using any of these plans straightaway. There are many more adventures to careen cluelessly through next year.

But on the off-chance that I do begin Writing In The Very, Very Passive Voice soon, then there are things I need to say to everybody I leave behind.

First and foremost: Honey, I have no idea how those magazines got in my dresser drawer. They were certainly not mine!