I am so happy right now because so many people are willing to share their deepest thoughts with me and you guys! Here is yet another guest blog from a community member who was inspired to express herself. Her name is KC and she is one of the bravest, hard-working and compassionate people I know. I hope you like it! Leave me your tips for creating optimal work-life balance in the comments.
I’ll begin by telling you a story of how I finally came to realize I need to find a “work-life” balance. I have so much to say on this subject that I may end up writing follow-up pieces, but here goes my attempt at a concise and clear piece!
All my life, I’ve been ahead academically. However, I’ve always struggled with anxiety, shyness, and insecurity. To compensate, I worked really hard at the one thing I knew I was good at, and put all my self-worth in this one basket. I also tried very hard to be nice and accommodating with everyone I met, to make up for my perceived lack of any other redeeming quality. I had a hard time dating, as I felt that I had nothing to offer anyone and therefore barely tried to convey my interest or availability in anyone I liked.
This perfectionist tendency served me well through a large portion of my life, though I was never fully comfortable and always felt like I could be working harder, or if I could just relax and be normal I’d be happier, but I managed. I had a major problem setting boundaries both professionally and personally, but I was “fine”.
In March of 2014, I had just suffered from a traumatic family crisis, I was interviewing for medical school, finishing up papers from my recently finished grad degree, and working a high-stress job in a specialized communications agency. This is when everything came to a head and became too much for me to handle, and I was able to handle none of it. I bombed my interview, crashed and burned at work, barely managed to support my family, and put the bare minimum to help get those papers out the door. I had trouble focusing, I was too anxious to eat (dropping 30 pounds within 2 months), and had moments where I couldn’t get out of bed because I had, no joke, incorrectly placed brackets in regards to a brand name in a technical document at work and thought I was a failure at life, a terrible person, and would get fired shortly and let down everyone who ever knew me. I thought I was a fraud, and on one night almost ripped my Master’s degree in half and threw it out the window. I needed help.
Fast forward to now – about 2.5 years later. I am much more confident, I am in a loving relationship, and I’ve been able to set clear boundaries at my new job. I am able to have interests outside of work and I feel better about what I can offer those around me. How did I get here? Work-life balance. I’m going to summarize some key steps I have taken to get here. I’m not saying this will work for everyone, nor saying my journey is complete. But if this can help anyone in any way, I will share nonetheless.
- Realizing my limits. I’ve always dreamed that I’d be capable of “great things” and imagined myself as, for example, a high-flying oncologist, working a bazillion hours a week while managing to cook, workout, and travel. I’ve always taken every opportunity to move up as quickly as possible so that I can achieve this so-called “greatness” sooner. I took a promotion at work last year, which I was not ready for but didn’t realize it at the time, and it led to a second breakdown that was almost as bad as the one 2.5 years ago. I’ve come to realize that while I am intellectually capable of certain things, I may not be able to handle it emotionally and have to find greatness in other ways. I’m not saying I’m giving up on my dreams, but realizing that I need to reshape them to fit my intellect, personality, and anxiety disorder.
- Setting boundaries. I’ve never been one to set boundaries, until very recently. In grad school, I used to stay at the lab until all hours of the night, often pulling 16 hour days. I thought this was necessary to achieve the most out of the experience. On one memorable occasion, I was there so late that I realized it was not possible to go home and make it back on time for my 9 am meeting with my supervisor that I slept on two desk chairs put together. That was comfy (not). At my first job in a professional setting, I carried through this grad school mentality and worked crazy hours. I often worked more than I think people knew but billed less time as I thought that I was inferior and needed more time, and should have got things done in less time. In both cases, I tried to hide the amount of time I spent working, and in this sense, I think I set unrealistic expectations for others and they just assumed I could handle a lot because I never complained. At my current job, I only do the number of hours I am paid for. If I cannot finish my work within those hours, I’ve learned to teach myself that it is because there is too much work and it is not my fault and that I will get it done next week. And you know what? No one has died, no one has complained (yet), and I’ve still gotten compliments on my work. I think I am actually more productive in those shorter hours, as I have time outside of work to cook, clean, workout , and spend time with my boyfriend, family, friends and cats (J). I am a more balanced person and bring a more calm and rational approach to my work rather than a stressed and frantic one. \I even see a personal trainer now twice a week BEFORE work at 7:30, when I used to be frantically rushing to work for 10 am because I had slept in because I had been up either super late working or stressing about work.
- Find a support system. I could write a whole other post on this topic. It is so important to find who of your friends and family are understanding of your situation. I’ve learned who I can talk to about my anxiety, and who will just make it worse, even if well-meaning. I have found an amazing partner who listens to me ramble about hypothetical situations and helps equally at home with cooking and cleaning. (Download the Chorma app, it is a life-saver). I think there is something to this feng-shui thing as having time to clean and organize makes me feel a lot better about myself. And finally, I can not understate the importance of therapy. Shortly after my incident in 2014, I started seeing a therapist. I still see her about once every 2 weeks, give or take. I think that I will see her for a long time, as while I feel immensely more stable now, I feel it is more of a sustaining measure and will help identify any issues before they snowball and become a crisis. I love having someone who I pay to listen to me (haha!), but seriously it is great not only having an objective third-party but someone who has the psychological training to explain to you why you might be feeling a certain way and slowly help you identify patterns in your thinking and behaviour. One of my pet peeves is that people think going to a therapy session will make me feel automatically better – while it is cathartic to let loose, and maybe even cry, in a safe space- how I see therapy for me is a slow evolution in my thinking. We as humans are so resistant to change, it is part of our nature. We cannot beat ourselves up for not magically being better overnight but understand it is a slow process to getting better habits at communicating, or better at incorporating regular exercise into your routine, or eating better, or setting boundaries in your personal or professional life. You can decide to change, but the decision itself won’t trigger this miraculous transformation overnight. It is a long, and sometimes painful process, but remind yourself that every time you feel that you are failing. You should take solace in the fact you are trying to improve yourself and keep on trucking. Love you all!