Balance, Schmalance!

Day15/365 - Frazzled

In a time and place when millions are out of work and others working for minimum wage with no paid sick or vacation days, balance is a joke. Long commutes add an hour to two to three to the workday.

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, is devoting this week to an interesting discussion of how and where — if at all — workers find a balance between their private life and the demands of their paid work. Says a Montreal mother of two:

I’m not sure the balance is actually working.

Two weeks ago I was wishing I’d get a cold, just a 24 hour virus, so I could get some forced rest. I knew if I just took a sick day I’d end up organizing the storage room. I got my wish on Tuesday. Full fever. Be careful what you ask for.

I know what she means. I ended up, in March 2007, on an IV in the hospital with pneumonia and a temperature of 104. It was painful, exhausting and terrifying; the spot on my lung was so large they thought it might be cancer.

I had been endlessly rewriting a major magazine story when I was asked to go out and cover a speech by Anita Hill for The New York Times, for whom I’ve been freelancing for 20 years. I had been sick for a week or so, and by then could barely hold my head up I was so ill, but needed the money, didn’t want to let down a long-time client — and went.

It took me a full month to regain my strength, napping for two hours to get enough energy to stay awake for the next two. Luckily, I have no kids or pets relying on me and I work from home.

Those three days forever changed my view on work, income and stress. I remain ambitious and want to retire. I live in a very costly part of the world so a lowered income is a problem.

But when I watch the endless stream of chest-thumpers on Facebook — I did this and I did this and I did this! — I sit back and stare at the sky.

I now, by choice, limit my work schedule and stay away from clients who will make me crazy with their insatiable demands, no matter what they pay. As a result, I make less money than I could, maybe than I should, certainly far less than my skills and experience would suggest.

But without my health, I have nothing.

How do you try to tame the demons of too little time and too many tasks?

Where and how do you make time for yourself to be quiet, calm down and re-charge?

12 thoughts on “Balance, Schmalance!

  1. this is an interesting point. Usually I push myself to the verge of a nervous breakdown, just the verge, then I retreat and dissapear for awhile. I should really rethink this strategy.

    1. Yeah, not your best option.

      It looks normal in your 20s and 30s, and might work when you still have tremendous physical stamina. The gift of getting a little older is realizing your energy and health is a precious resource that is not endlessly, quickly renewable. I don’t think it means slowing down but it does mean re-thinking when, where and why you speed up.

  2. Hey, great post. I think about this often. I approach the threshold of burnout every three or four months — not a sustainable lifestyle — but thus far it’s the only way I can fit everything in my day, occupied as it is by a 45+ hour a week job, family, freelancing, writing a book and other items.

    1. I have never done much freelance while holding down a FT job — for a while, in my mid-20s, nor written a book at the same time. I am not sure how you do it, except for foregoing sleep and social life. Neither of which I am willing to give up!

      I could work so much harder and double or triple my income and then…? Have more money but be so much more tired I am not sure how much I would enjoy it.

  3. We made the choice of sacrificing income to have me stay at home when we had children, then I got a part-time job with an NGO when they were at school, did heaps of volunteering, ferried the three children to sporting practice, matches, performances etc. One year I ‘forgot’ to join them up for their winter sports. The fact that there was not one complaint said a lot.

    I have a ‘driven’ personality and have to keep an eye on myself to make sure I don’t run myself into the ground thereby compromising my health and relationships with others. I have adopted a ‘she’ll be right mate’ approach to life. This can be taken to extremes and mean nothing gets done but as I naturally have an ambitious approach to life I think that I end up with a reasonably good mix in the end.

    I think the key to it all is that to get the best in life I will never earn the income that others do, so I will never own a home that keeps up with the general aspirations of our area. But it is a good way of sorting out real friends from those who want to be a friend to my possessions and image.

  4. Thanks for your story…This speaks to one of the issues I think driving some of the poor choices — peer pressure to “keep up” materially with neighbors. I agree that true friends love and value you for your choices, not the stuff you (slave to) own.

  5. Working out is the best break I can get these days. They have great childcare, I get an hour or two to myself and I can spend time after the workout reading a novel in the hot tub. It’s the main break I get so I try to workout as often as I can!

    Congrats to limiting your work schedule. Sometimes I feel like that’s the only way to stay sane!

    1. Good for you! I think women are heavily pressured to put everyone else’s needs first — and then end up exhausted and angry. Your plan is healthy for body and mind and soul….it sounds great.

      The challenge of limiting your work is pure economics — the less I do, the more it needs to pay. Which forces me to be more thoughtful when choosing work and more adept at selling a higher skill set for better pay instead of competing for lots more of bottom-dollar assignments. I am fortunate now to have an agent who is helping me sort through this as well.

  6. I came to the same conclusion that without health everything else changes and disintegrates. This is the stuff that nobody ever tells you, and when young, I wouldn’t have believed it. Everything was possible and it was easy to forget that good health is a blessing. It sometimes takes a blow to realise how fragile it can be, and the view from a hospital bed is deep in a different world that is far from normal. Balance sounds good.

    I think you must be in a good position to be able to produce less, higher quality work, and that it’s rewarded.
    Wishing you good health. Polly.

  7. I agree…we all think we’re totally invulnerable when young because, for most of us, we are! I had never been to an ER more than twice in my life before I was 40, let alone seeing so many doctors so often…It is annoying as hell but reminds us to pay attention.

    Work is never that easy, but it seems to keep showing up. I am at a point now that, if I don’t place a premium on my skills and credentials, no one else will. I raised my hourly rate by 50% last year and still get editing work at that fee — $150/hour.

  8. I still haven’t figured out the work/life balance thing – although I’m constantly lecturing my yoga students re. said ‘balance’. I write when I can, pray for publication, hope for success…but at the end of the day am carrying on my shoulders the “Curse of the Freelance Life”…it’s impossible to say ‘no’. What if no one asks again?

  9. I hear you, but I disagree — that’s what landed me in the hospital!

    I decided to find fewer, better (paying/treating) clients, even if it takes time (it does) and meant a hit to my income shorter term. I think it is extremely tempting, when freelance, to say yes to everything but I think it’s also worth trying to be strategic — set an income goal and figure out the minimum hours/clients necessary to achieve it. Then, add from there — as you choose.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s