Newly Sharpened Pencils

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Such is the line from You've Got Mail, which sets Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on a movie's worth of identity discovery.

This being the day after Labor Day, it does seem like the leaves should take on an orange tinge, the temperatures (and this summer's choking humidity) should drop, fresh-pressed cider and warm cider donuts coated in crunchy cinnamon sugar should make an appearance on my table, and, yes, I should stock up on pens, pencils, high-quality notebooks, and loads of folders. I settled for checking out my options for a 2019 wall calendar online, instead.

September hasn't really been the beginning of something new to me for more years now than it was the start of something new. But the old feelings and fond memories are still there.  

And, in fact, this very day marks the start of my fourth year of self-employment. It's hard to believe I've made it through three whole years so far, increasing my income each lap around the sun, and have reached a point where I'm using words like "retainer" and "annual contract" when I talk to my most prolific clients about their plans for 2019.

This summer, I took a look at a possible full-time position that interested me because of the way it could have fit into some larger plans. And for the first time, I realized two things. I didn't have to take it or even apply for it, because I'm doing fine and have ideas for the future. And the salary and benefits package would have had to be stellar to replace both the flexibility and time I have available more often than not and the income I make, which covers the benefits I need. Needless to say, it was an eye-opener.

Flexibility and time have been in short supply this summer, with 60- and sometimes 70-hour weeks being the norm for the last couple of months. But the trade-off is that, when I'm hanging out in Acadia this fall or baking pies all day long on the day before Thanksgiving, my computer will be off and stowed away, my phone will be on silent, and I'll be sniffing balsam branches or eating a ramekin of baked pumpkin pie filling without a thought for things happening inside the little machines. 

In reality, this summer didn't shape up the way I wanted it to or the way I expected it to. And so, when I felt the hard press of burnout a month ago or so, I asked myself, "Who's the boss of me?" When I looked around and found no one nearby, I reminded myself, "I am! I'm the boss of me!"

That's when I started looking at Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, to reinforce money habits and to speed up the processes of replacing my car, funding a move, building a substantial savings buffer, and paying off my two debts (grad school loans). 

It's when I decided to switch to a paper planner that encourages organization around priorities before time, with the goal of making my day-to-day management of projects and commitments more intentional and more concrete. That, in turn, supports the setting of some kind of routine, which is something that can easily disappear when a person has no one else's schedule bumping alongside their own and no one watching them arrive and leave. 

It's when I reined in the "ice cream and Cheetos are the antidotes to stress" style of eating that just leads to feeling much, much worse. And when I began to schedule my days to include a good workout right before lunch any day I'm home for the appropriate window of time and the heavens have not opened. Both of which led to signing up for the string of 5K runs/walks that will take me from late September through the end of October. Slowly, ploddingly, but outdoors and moving. I've even determined exactly how far I have to go out and back on the local trail to get in 5K, and that has become my goal for routine exercise, whether walking, following C25K cues, or eventually running the whole way. (I put in nearly that distance just walking around the fairgrounds at a festival on Saturday. In flip-flops.)

So my fourth "fall" has begun, in the school sense, my new planner indicates. Unlike my fiscal quarters, which blindly follow the IRS, my planning quarters are now set up to echo seasonal activities. Fall spans Labor Day to Thanksgiving. Winter reaches from the first acceptable day for Christmas tunes through the end of Ayyam-i-Ha. Spring reaches from the first day of the Baha'i Fast through Memorial Day. And summer, as it should and always has, includes June, July, and August.

My pencils are sharp. My planner is ready. My running shoes are on. Here's to Year Four.