Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Myth of Work/Life Balance

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Pictured: Mon Cahier planner + 'Leigh' card holder from Moorea Seal

A few years ago, when I was working as a copy writer at ModCloth, a coworker of mine shared something that changed my entire perspective on the idea of “work/life balance”. Up until that point, I had been on a never-ending quest to strike the perfect balance between my home and work life. After a soul-crushing stint as a visual merchandiser at American Apparel, and then working multiple jobs at a time between 2010 and 2011 (at one point I had four, plus a volunteer position), I wanted my life back. I wanted to find balance. But somehow, it continued to elude me. In my brain I pictured scales, like the scales of freakin' justice, always a little off balance. Things began to feel slightly more even when I made the move to Pittsburgh in 2011, trading in the three jobs I was working at the time for the myth of the 9 to 5. Suddenly, with just one schedule to contend with, I felt like I had time again. I even gave a few talks on the subject of finding work/life balance. Except there was one glaring problem: in my heart, I still felt as though I was constantly running myself ragged. Turns out, when you write for a living, and you write for your blog, and you take photos for a living, and you take photos for your blog, it’s really, really easy to suddenly find yourself completely burned out and exhausted, with no balance in sight. And something tells me the same rings true for every. other. job. out there.

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So, back to Molly, my coworker at ModCloth. At some point she gave a sort of mini talk (I think? Could have just been her talking over her computer at me...) on the myth of work/life balance. And it completely shifted the way I approached these things in my life. To paraphrase (and probably butcher): “There is no balance, there is only fit.”

“There is no balance, there is only fit.”

The idea being, that you fit your work and your life together. You fit the things you care about into your life because you care about them, while being conscious of the fact that work often overlaps. That work part, it's best to accept it and move on. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces often aren’t symmetrical. They’re funny looking and oddly shaped. One piece extends into another and vice versa. This was a radical shift in the way I visualized my time (if you can't tell by now, I'm a visual person), and I’m so thankful to have learned this before moving to Philly for my next job. Because, despite the fact that I had this new depth of knowledge to draw from, I was still shit at putting it to practice. Because while fit is important, boundaries are as well.

So, where is all this coming from? Last month, Jen asked for tips on how I manage work/life/self care. And I have to say, my knee jerk answer would be, “very, very carefully."

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The truth is, in my early days at FP, I ran myself just as ragged. A new job with new demands and lessons learned from my time at MC swimming through my head meant that I was often up well past midnight working, answering emails, and fretting over all that had to be done. I have a tendency to let past failures haunt me, which means I push myself hard to prove to myself that I can. But one look at photos of myself from that time and it’s easy to see just how exhausted I’d become. The bags under my eyes were darker than ever, and I was puffy from lack of sleep and eating things I normally steer clear from. I’m not sure when the turning point came, but at a certain point I had to loosen the reigns a little or else I was going to fall right off the (figurative) cliff. It was baby steps at first – turning my email notifications on my phone to vibrate, rather than a bell. Not checking email after 11 pm. Making time at the gym a priority again. And finally, admitting to myself that I had to cut back on the number of times per week I was posting on this blog. The changes were subtle at first, but over a year later, it's made an enormous difference in my quality of life. 

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Now, I realize things vary from person to person and job to job. but over time I've continued to shift and adjust my time and how I use it. Work is (obviously) still a huge and very important part of my life (I think that's pretty obvious), but I've been slowly learning how to make time for what's important to me and to make time for myself.

A few more things that have helped me strike some sort of equilibrium (notice how I'm not using the word balance)...

Email notifications went from vibrate to none at all because I’ve completely removed email from my phone. A brazen move for sure, and to be clear, I can still check it on the internet browser on my phone (and I do, at specific times), but I no longer have those unread messages staring me in the face and new message dings keeping me up at all hours. I’m thankful to have an amazing editor and coworkers who don’t shy away from texting  if something is urgent. This has, by far, made the largest difference in my stress levels. While I understand having your email on your phone is a necessity for some people, if you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself if it’s really, truly necessary and try taking a break from it for awhile, even just a few days.

If I have to work on the weekend, I get up early and get it out of the way first thing. I write best in the early morning anyway, and getting it out of the way means I don't have to think about for the remainder of Saturday and Sunday.

Conversely, sometimes it's just worth it to stay late at the office on a Friday night to get it out of the way and just get it done.

I am conscious about making time for myself. Rather than pushing aside the things that make me feel human -- reading, baking, getting outside, painting my nails -- I have to constantly remind myself to just do it. To slow down and breathe and make times for the things outside of blogging and work and blogging for work.

Not everything has to be a blog post. I picked up an art book recently, the cover emblazoned with the phrase "Today is a blog post waiting to be written" and I use it as a sort of anti-mantra. In the constant search for content for work, it's very, very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of constantly taking photos and constantly thinking of copy. I intentionally leave my camera at home sometimes and often go light on social media, especially after work and on the weekends. Life is there, live it.

How about you? How do you find time in your life to do everything you do?

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April Onebane said...

Hi Julie! I attended your TXSC talk in Austin a few years ago where you talked about this. Glad to hear you are still at practice with it. I'm feeling extremely overwhelmed trying to "balance" a 9-5 job, my blog, my vintage online shop, a new relationship and spending time with my friends and family. Today in particular it feels even more amplified than normal. Thank you for posting this. I think I've read it at just the right moment :)

Brittany PG said...

Thank you for posting this. I am a Ph.D.student/teaching assistant which means I don't have a normal schedule. One of my goals this year is to simply make "healthier" decisions, which means healthier decisions with my time too. At the end of last semester, I slept for three days. I realized I could not let my body do that again.

melissa said...

thank you for sharing this. "there is no balance, there is only fit"... epiphany! seriously! thank you! <3

BeYindi said...

oh yeah defently that made me rearrange my schedule and put more time for myself

Johnson said...

I cherish what youve got to say and the way you say it.
keith Mcevoy

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