The Myth of Work-Life Balance

I started freelancing back in December, falling into it rather than making a conscious decision to become my own boss. I’d been reluctant for a lot of reasons, mostly practical adulting reasons. But a big part of my hesitation stemmed from the one thing I didn’t want in my nest job: time sheets. After three years of agency life, justifying how I spent every hour of my workday, I was sick of the anxiety of maintaining billable hours, allocation, and utilization. If I never tracked another hour of my life, I would be too happy. And yet here I am, doing exactly that.

At first, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was kind of a rush, like gamifying my work day. Unlike with my salaried agency job, the hours I tracked actually meant something to me. The more I worked, the more I got paid. The problem is that the reverse is also true: if I’m not working, I’m not getting paid. Suddenly, anything that ate into my work hours became a tradeoff that literally cost me money. And the first thing on the chopping block was my writing.

Since a lot of the work I get bad to do is writing-related, it uses up the same kind of energy and brain power as working on my novel as this blog. Except that those last two don’t pay, at least for now. So for a while, I just stopped. I threw myself into work, thrilled at how much my time was worth. And then a funny thing happened. First, I got cranky. I started resenting my work and procrastinating the tasks I had to do without actually filling that time with things I wanted to do. Instead, I just dicked around online, reading emails, watching YouTube videos, and wondering why I was only billing two hours a day. Then, daydreams of my novel started nagging at me, begging me to come out and play.

That’s about when I gave in and started working on revisions. Not during the work day, but as a kind of reward for myself. Finish the work I needed to do, and I could have an hour at night or two hours on a weekend to write. If I was really productive one day, I allowed myself a full day off from work to write. And then, weirdly, I hit another wall. This time with my writing. I wanted to finish this draft by the end of May, which meant I needed to be writing close to a thousand words every day. Forget that I almost never write every day, even during NaNoWriMo. I’d swung too far in the other direction, treating my writing with the same anxiety and demand as my work, which totally took the joy out of it.

We always hear about work-life balance like it’s a matter of finding the right weight of each and sticking to that combination forever. But that’s a damn lie. The only constant in life is change, meaning your work load, motivation, personal life, hobbies, and other demands are in constant flux. And if, like me, your work isn’t a typical nine to five, the calculus of “balance” gets even more complex. So far, the only solution I’ve found is to practice forgiveness and determination. Forgiving myself for not getting it right every day and the determination to keep trying.

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