On one of my first jobs, I worked as a marketer, PR chick, event planner all rolled into one. I remember putting in all that I had and then some into the job.
I was pulling ridiculous hours that I hardly saw the sun on weekdays; 13 – 14 hours at the office about 3 – 4 times a week on business-as-usual days. But when event season came, which was really generally every other week, I would be leaving the office at 6pm with my heels to the venue and immediately continue work at the event until 11pm to 3am.
I was constantly thinking about work, while in the shower, while out with friends, while on dates with the then-boyfriend-now-husband. ‘Can I get the magazine to give us a two-pager feature?’, ‘Did I remember to get the samples back for the next shoot’, ‘Is the ad submission deadline for Tatler tomorrow or next week’, ‘Has the printer confirmed our order for the three hundred invitation cards’, ‘Will the supplier remember to bring the par can lights?’, ‘Did I send out the event workflow to everyone?’. I was a machine missing an off switch.
Thinking back, the whole experience gave me a lot of anxiety even when I didn’t realize it at the time. My heart would pound so loud and my breath would involuntarily quicken whenever I think about work. I also remember being forced by friends to take a 4-day holiday. Just 4 days away from technology; no email, no phone signal. I thought my head was going to explode worrying over what was happening to my inbox the whole time.
I would also often have terrifying work nightmares that it would keep me awake at night. My sleep deprived state of mind was exhausting me not just mentally, but emotionally and physically as well and it was giving me so much anxiety that I needed a sleep app to sing me lullabies and white noise just so I could rest.
Not any part of the above is an exaggeration. I know it sounds overwhelming and yes, I can confirm that it definitely was, but here’s the kicker; I absolutely loved it. I loved the energy, the valuable experiences, the crazy steep learning curve, the amazing opportunities. I loved how great I was at my job and how my colleagues had the same drive and together we were an unstoppable powerhouse. It was an incredible few years and until today, I owe a large chunk of my professional principles and work ethics to that job and the mentors I had.
So there, I was a workaholic and oh how I wore my workaholism badge with utmost pride and honor. I unfairly and ignorantly scoffed at those who went home on time or had to take hours off work to tend to a sick child (now that I'm a mom myself, I apologize to all parents! Never again!). All I wanted to do was prove myself to be worthy of my first awesome job. So, I pushed myself so hard, rode on the proverbial high of my achievements for as long as I could, but alas, eventually and inevitably, I fell off the edge. All semblance of balance slowly but surely, disappeared out the window. And there I was, before I was even 30, I was burned out. I knew it would eventually happen but when it actually did, it still caught me by surprise. It seemed like just overnight, I lost my touch, and the passion for what I was doing just withered away and this stopped me in my tracks, forcing me to evaluate my life and not just make a career shift but a mindset shift as well.
Now, slightly older, after mulling my earlier years over, I have discovered that my workaholic tendencies were really self-perpetuated. Yes, I had to earn my wings but I did not have to go to the extent of almost killing myself every single day in the process.
Thankfully, professionally and personally, I do feel that I am at a much better place now and am actively working on practicing work life balance. Here are some of the things which I have learned along the way;
1. You can still continue be an achiever without burning the midnight oil every single day. Maximize the dedicated 8 hours of your day on work and save the emergency after hours for fires that need to be put out. Believe me you’ll need it.
2. My productivity level has increased because I am now refreshed and holistically happy as I get to spend the balance of most of my evenings and nights with my beautiful 2 year-old daughter and my loving husband.
3. Loving what you do professionally does not mean that you would need to always compromise your personal time. Just practice good time management, you can leave on time and hit the gym/cook for your family/play with your cats. Go ahead guys, do you.
4. Good daily rest gives me better clarity and allows better focus and this results in the best quality deliverables.
5. You really only have ‘Three 8s’ so why not use them wisely: 8 hours for work + 8 hours for family and yourself + 8 hours for sleep.
6. You need not sell your soul nor stomp all over your personal life to climb the career ladder. Do it smart and do it right. Don’t steamroll your life all the way to the top.
Lastly and most importantly, success comes at a price, there’s no question about it. But, how you pay that price is up to you.
"When you’re gone would you rather have your gravestone say, ‘He never missed a meeting?" Or one that said, ‘He was a great father.’" — Steve Blank