Life’s Too Short to Fold Your Underwear

I once came across a library book called Life’s Too Short to Fold Your Underwear.  I remember how the title appealed to me, and caused me to pull it from the shelf for a closer look.  Much to my surprise, it wasn’t a self-help book — it was a collection of personal memoirs by the author, Patricia Lorenz.

If I read any of the articles inside, I have since forgotten them.  I have not, however, forgotten the title.  It was just true enough and just cute enough to be clever, and it consequently became a tiny wrinkle in my brain that I’ll never forget.

Of course, the real reason I remember it is because it comes to mind every time I do laundry.  “Life’s too short to fold your underwear,” I’ll say, shoving a fistful of boxer shorts into my top dresser drawer.

Over the years, it hasn’t held much more meaning than that.  It was a silly thing I recited to make me feel less guilty about doing something lazy.  But it made sense:  Nobody sees my messy underwear drawer but me, so why even bother?

Recently, something happened that caused me to take it at more than just face value.

Within the past month I started a new job.  It was a relief when I was hired, because I had been looking for a “decent” job at “decent” pay for nearly six months.  As I found out, doing this in the economically depressed state of Michigan is quite difficult, despite my skills and experience.

Without getting too descriptive, I can sum up my job in one sentence:  I’m responsible for nearly 3000 TVs across the nation, all of which play nothing but commercials.

Now, before anyone starts making assumptions or thinks I’m exaggerating (remember, I don’t want to elaborate with description) — Yes, 3000 is accurate.  No, I’m not solely responsible.  This doesn’t change the fact that every evening and weekend since I started, my voice mailbox has been bombarded with complaints about how “Our TVs aren’t working.”

Sometimes I think “I didn’t sign up for this.”  The position described to me during my two interviews doesn’t really resemble the position I’m working — which wouldn’t necessarily bother me, except…

…I was told this was “basically a 9 to 5 job.”  My hours have been closer to 8:30 to 7:00 every day, and the kicker is that my position is exempt from overtime.

Consequently, my new job steals my energy.  I feel like I’ve had no time to write blog entries about my awesome Chicago trip, about how my digital camera broke, or how some of our friends got married this past weekend.

It’s bizarre because before I started my new job, I would lie awake at night worrying about how I didn’t have anything to write about because all I was doing was looking for work.  I felt frustrated and uncreative because I had plenty of time to write, but I wasn’t doing things worth writing about.

Now that I have a day job, I lie awake at night worrying about how I don’t have time to write anymore.  I feel frustrated and lost because although I have things I want to write about, I have less time to dedicate to writing.  Ironically, if I wasn’t complaining about it this very moment, I could be writing about any of those things — and yet I’m still satisfied because I’m taking the time to write something.

But I digress… I want to talk about what happened recently that helped me realize the meaning behind the title of that book.

I started working again, and it’s been eating up my time this month.  Some of our friends got married on Saturday (Congratulations Keara and Adrian!!!), and we had a blast dancing the night away at the reception.  Cassie and I didn’t get home until 2 in the morning, so when we woke up Sunday afternoon, we had to hurry to get things done before the workweek began, namely: grocery shopping, and laundry.

Per usual, I shoved a fistful of boxer shorts into my top dresser drawer and said “Life’s too short to fold your underw—”

I stopped because I experienced a moment of enlightenment.  Somehow, I was able to recognize the real meaning behind what I had been saying every laundry day for the last three years that I had never pieced together before:

Life’s too short to spend it doing shit that doesn’t matter.

Somehow, I’ve managed to take a step backwards.  Once again I’m working a job that leaves me unfulfilled simply because I feel as though what I’m investing my time into each day isn’t worth a damn in the grand scheme of the world.  I’ve come full circle and reinvented myself as a slightly different member of the Working Dead.

So that’s that.  It’s clear that I can’t settle for what I’ve got going for me right now.  Moving forward, I need to ask myself the question:  What’s the next step?

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17 Responses to “Life’s Too Short to Fold Your Underwear”

#1 Dora on 26, Aug, 2008 at 3:42 am

Hmmm. I was sort of waiting for you to get to this. You have indeed come full circle.

I am certainly not critizising though.

Next step: Pick up your search again and try to find a better job? Accept a job requirement less of your specified skills (and therefore, earning less money), having just enough to get by, but giving you more time and energy to write? e.g. Take up waiting tables, some other office admin. part-time job, etc?

#2 Paul on 26, Aug, 2008 at 9:00 am

I hate to sound like a cynic, but welcome to the real world. I’ve been following your quest for several months now and I’ve been cheering from the sidelines, hoping you’d find that dream job that you love and that leaves you fulfilled and satisfied. But the reality is most of us will never experience that. We work in jobs that we tolerate so we can pay the bills, and then try to fill our free time with more fulfilling things. That’s all.
We’d all love to have that one job that we can’t wait to go to every morning that makes us feel like we’re contributing something to the world and growing personally, but reality is usually quite different. Whenever I lament my career situation in such a fashion I remember the Priest’s quote from the movie Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch-diggers too.”
Still, I’m going to keep cheering for you because it would be great and inspiring to see someone escape.

#3 Matt R. on 26, Aug, 2008 at 11:02 am

You should never have to “settle” for anything. Do what you love and love what you do or move on. The world will be a better place for it. Sounds like you already understand that, but now it’s just a matter of finding a good way to take action.

I say do something CRAZY like get a job in a circus, or join the peace corps, or something that will totally rock your world and change your perspective on things. You may find a new hidden passion that you didn’t know you had….and you’ll have plenty to write about in the mean time!

#4 Matt R. @ on 26, Aug, 2008 at 11:48 am

I sent this comment once already, but it didn’t look like it made it through so I appologize if this ends up being a repeat.

I believe that it’s never a good idea to “settle” for anything in life. I really believe that if you pursue your passions and are pasisonate about your pursuits, everything else will fall into place.

I say you do something CRAZY like join the circus or volunteer for the peace corps…something that will totally rock your world and change your perspective on things. Who knows, you may find a passion that’s been hiding away in you all these years!

#5 AntonioCS on 26, Aug, 2008 at 11:57 am

I think the next step is suicide.
Let’s face it. You tried, you failed and you went begging to your old life.
So.. in conclusion…

“Next Step: Front side of a moving bus!!”

#6 Li on 26, Aug, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Don’t beat yourself up too badly over the job situation.

#7 WereBear on 26, Aug, 2008 at 5:13 pm

It only seems like you’ve gone full circle. The fact is, you aren’t the same person you were when you started. And that’s something.

As a writer who has had to have a day job for quite a while, I can tell you two things:

*Everything is grist for writing. Everything. So no matter what you are doing, it can be of use in your art, as well as your life.

*When time is short, the writing gets shorter. I was once at a point where I had only a half hour or forty five minutes out of the day to write. But I used it, every day. Every day. Elmore Leonard, one of my favorite writers, started out by using his lunch hour. Every day. And he worked up from there.

Because being a writer isn’t what you get paid to do, especially at first. A writer is who you are. Only the act of NOT WRITING changes that. Not what you get paid, and not how much time you have to do it in.

Off and on I’ve written novels that got me agents and praise from editors. But there was never, yet, the right combination to get me published. But I discovered what you already have: the Internet means we don’t need them.

What has changed my writing life is the switch to non-fiction. I took an area I knew a lot about, that people like reading about, and started in. I wrote a book, but publishing was the same old treadmill. So I started a blog, and got readers. Now I’m about to launch an exclusive product.

I’ve still got the same old day job problem. But now I’m published, I have readers, I’m an Internet Entrepreneur. I don’t know where it will take me.

But I love the ride.

Click on my link, under WereBear, to see how it’s going.

#8 Alan on 26, Aug, 2008 at 5:14 pm

It’s too easy for people to read their own failures in the last paragraph of this blog. You make it sound as if you are back to square one when you are not. You should change it if you don’t want to hear a chorus of “welcome to the real world.”

I interpret your question at the end, the other way, as assessing your options. Your “realization” shows that your current methodology, i.e. looking for a job with your current skill set, is not working. But it doesn’t imply that you are in any way stuck there.

To avoid the negative implication of your blog, you should answer the question of what is the next step or at least point in what direction you are heading. If you don’t know, focus more on what you learned through the whole process. Life is a journey, but you make it sound like you have no options. The problem is that you have too many options and you are limiting yourself.

#9 Li on 26, Aug, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Whoops, and here’s the rest of my comment. Would it be possible to find subsistence-level work that would let you pay the bills, while leaving time open to pursue what you really want to do? I recently took a commercial maintenance gig that frees up my mental energy and my daylight hours. I also moved in with a roommate to cut down on costs. Sure, I have to watch my dollars pretty closely, but I have no customers to address day in and day out, no office politics, no dress code, just hours of time alone every evening while I’m working. I use that time to brainstorm/outline/compose essays, either mentally or via digital recorder. I can also listen to audio books or podcasts to feed my brain. My eventual goal is creative self-subsistence, which this work definitely does not provide, but does facilitate.

Best of luck as you figure out the next step in your journey.

#10 story on 26, Aug, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Hey old friend,

We’ve had this conversation before, but once more: I love my job. I love the kids I teach. I love my co-workers. But, man, when I get home – especially these first few weeks – I feel like crap. I’m tired. I don’t want to read or write or exercise (or wash dishes or do laundry, which, really, are more pressing most of the time). But I can tolerate this and go back every day because I feel good about the work I’m doing and because I’ve made the choice to make it as good as it can be.

And I am saying this with the full knowledge of my own hypocrisy as I had my own mini-breakdown tonight: the only way I’ll feel better is if I do the things I’m too tired to do. If I write and exercise and do my gosh darn dishes.

#11 Lauren on 27, Aug, 2008 at 7:18 am

I think your next step is just to keep your eyes open. I mean… it can’t hurt right? And you won’t find your next job or inspiration if you’re not looking.

I also recommend going back to school for something… a masters degree maybe? I mean, I spent all my money trying to finish mine ASAP, but you can take your time and see if it helps you to get inspired, meet new people, find out about new careers. It helped me in that way. I wouldn’t have the jobs I have now if it weren’t for some lucky happenings with my masters program.

#12 Kate on 27, Aug, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Hi Shaun,

It’s me the med student again. I’m sad that you are so unsatisfied with your life but I agree with some of the other commentators here that writing isn’t really a day job. I read somewhere that around only 200 or so writers in the nation are able to financially support themselves purely through their writing.

When I was a teenager I wanted to be a writer too but after going through the entire agent/publisher/small publisher routine 5x (for five novels), I’ve slowly come to see that I wouldn’t really want a job where the income is so unstable. So now I’m working to become a doctor/scientist during the day and I write on free weekends or late at night. I still produce about 1-2 books a year. It’s true that it’s not easy but I think if you want something badly enough, eventually you’ll get it.

My routine isn’t easy and frankly in high school I always believed that being a writer was a fun and cushy job where I got to sleep late, travel a lot and meet lots of fans. Now, I get up at 6 in the morning, study for med school, then I go to the lab and do research until around 7-8pm. After that, when I get home around 10 or so, then I write. I try to write about 1,000-4,000 words a day. I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ve written about 6 novels but I’ve never had a single novel published. The best I’ve had was an editor who told me that she liked my book but it was too long and she had to reluctantly reject it.

But I’m in the process of writing another one right now. They say that people who never succeed but keep trying anyway are idiots, but everyone has the right to be an idiot sometimes. Whenever I get yet another rejection letter or I feel too tired to go on, I think back to a boy I knew in high school who once told me that he couldn’t go into entertainment because Asian writers/actors/artists have no place in mainstream America. It’s not about forgoing the little things in life like folding underwear to concentrate on the bigger picture; rather, I think it’s about finding an obsession. Find something you simply have to do no matter how many times anyone else tells you “no.”

There’s a quote by Martin Tupper that I have on my wall. It says: He who does not tire, tires adversity.


#13 Shane on 27, Aug, 2008 at 2:12 pm

I have been saying this for years! Although it is almost impossible not to get sucked into fretting over little things, I have often wondered why we all do so many things that don’t really matter. Social pressure?

As for the job thing… I wonder if people are starting to re-evaluate our society. I think the real issue is that over the last century the amount of people who are self employed has dropped. 100 years ago, iirc, 805 of Americans were self employed farmers. Did they all enjoy farming? I doubt that was their life’s dream – but their hard work benefitted THEIR lives 100%. Today you can possibly get ahead by working hard, but often you do not. Ultimately, your boss (lets say, the person who owns the business you work for) is usually working no harder than you are, yet is reaping much more of the reward. Why? It all comes down to ownership.

Anyway, I think people are generally happy even if doing some monotonous if their hard work is directly benefitting their life OR they are doing something they absolutely love. This part everyone understands, but I think people have forgotten that years ago most Americans were really self employed, and happier, yet it was impossible that they were all doing something they loved…

#14 Barbara James on 27, Aug, 2008 at 4:40 pm

No doubt about it, you can write. I’m guessing you took the day job because you required the income? I mean, no one would take a day job because they felt guilty doing what they loved, yes? And if you require the income, do the job until you don’t. And when you no longer require the income, you can experience the bliss of walking out of the door and into the sunlight once again.

#15 Alex Williams on 28, Aug, 2008 at 1:44 am

Hi Shaun,

I’ve been following your blog and find it amusing because i’m in the exact same situation as you.

Although instead of hearing “my TV’s don’t work”, I hear “my printers don’t work”… same shit, different pile.

I realized something recently though, it’s that i’ve been underestimating myself way too much. There’s no point in going back to the same old boring job just because you can. Why not look for something that is a few steps ahead of your current skill level? Some companies might be willing to take a chance in training you to be at the level they’re looking for. The only way to find out is to try.

In my first “real” IT job, I had no clue what I was doing. I was hired as a programmer but I was not a programmer… not even close! They wanted to train me for the position. I was learning and being challenged every day for 6 months and I can honestly say they were the best 6 months of my working career.

Right now you’re probably way too skilled to be supporting “3000 TV’s”… I think you should try to find a more challenging job, in the same field, but doing something that requires you to step out of your comfort zone and push your own limits.

Good luck!

#16 Björn on 15, Sep, 2008 at 9:01 am

As other comments say, don’t beat yourself up over the new job. Sure, life is short, but life also has to be maintained. A body needs to eat and have some shelter. There is no shame in working to make ends meet. Don’t give up working towards your breakthrough, but unfortunately it really is a struggle to break free. It is not only a matter of attitude, there are real constraints in life that have to be overcome.

I wish you luck with finding a more fulfilling occupation asap, meanwhile, make the most of it. You’ll never now, one day you might write a novel about the experiences you had in that particular job.

#17 Neeraj Pahuja on 21, Sep, 2008 at 11:54 am

Hi dude… i like your post. Its good that u’ve figured out that u need to take out time for urself to do things which u like to do.. like blogging… because work can never be satisfying enough. Hope u get a job that meets ur requirement. Best wishes

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