How I learned the importance of work/life balance.

Hiking between a rock and a wild place, Ozark National Forest

Hiking between a rock and a wild place, Ozark National Forest

In 2016, I got mad. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when things began to really ramp up, but I can clearly identify a few pieces of debris that stick out in the eventful tornado that was 2016. For example, not knowing when or how to say no to yet another one of the freelance projects that was dominating the majority of my free time and mental capacity. Then there was totaling my car, and the subsequent addition of a car payment to my mounting bills. And then the new car being hit (twice, with varying damages) a couple months later. Or when my best friend got laid off from her job right after deciding not to renew her apartment lease, another friend separated from her husband, and a third got divorced. And none of that begins to touch the nightmare that was waking up on November 9th to find that the President-elect being nominated was somehow not just a bad, bad dream.

I remember reading the following January that 'Dumpster Fire' was the 'Word of the Year for 2016'. (Isn't it two words?) Eh... I did not disagree.

However, I also knew the dumpster fire was not going get put out all by itself.

Perhaps no amount of volunteer hours for noble causes could keep a bigoted sexual-predator out of the oval office, but damned if I wasn't going to try. Boy, I tried. I took on larger roles in the community organizations I worked with; stopped accepting freelance work so I could focus my energy on volunteer organizing; I wrote letters and made phone calls to congressmen and women; laced up boots and marched in streets; I barked at friends who complained about the state of affairs without getting involved, and I encouraged/compared notes with ones who were already setting and chasing goals.

Notes from my first volunteer orientation meeting. Yikes.

Notes from my first volunteer orientation meeting. Yikes.

I also really made a mess of things. I over-committed. My mother calls it "burning the candle at both ends"—this looked more like trying to slow the shrinking of said candle by twirling it like a baton, resulting in a faster-burning fanned-flame effect and wax just splattering all over the place—I overworked myself until I had no patience left for my teams or fellow volunteers, I was short with people I cared about, and when I did make time for them here and there I would often be so tired that I would take on the persona of a drunk sorority girl and abruptly either fall asleep or become hyper-emotional. I put on 15 pounds from consistently stress-eating takeout meals between meetings, almost never exercising, and really just neglected any semblance of self-care (with the exception of one impulsive and drastic haircut—think Britney Spears circa 2007).

Mid-planning session for my volunteer communications team.

Mid-planning session for my volunteer communications team.

On weekends, if by some act of God there was not a meeting scheduled until the afternoon, I was completely worthless in my personal life until the very last minute that I had to throw on a beanie/blazer/[something to feign the appearance of having it all together] and run out the door. I recall only two days where I shirked all after-work meetings and responsibilities, locked myself in my apartment and gave myself a night off (both occasions with a different friend and a healthy pour of sauvignon blanc—thank you, Josh and Alex).

It was constant. Churning and pushing and grinding. 

I took a breath. Went camping, drove through the middle of the country for six days. Went hiking. Played in a waterfall. Got out of range of cell service and wifi and the blue, glowing buzz of electronics.

My first morning at Grand Canyon National Park.

Then, like no time had passed, I was right back. Churning and pushing and grinding.

Finally it hit me. It was 1:30AM on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, the night before my 4:30AM flight to the west coast for a friend's wedding, and I had only just hung up with the founder of the organization for which I was currently designing a website. Suddenly, I realized, I was actively choosing this. Sure, it would really inconvenience some folks if I were to drop everything and start living like I was a half a decade ago with barely any responsibility to anyone other than myself, but I could do it, and furthermore the planet would keep spinning and circling the sun if I spent a little more energy taking care of myself, and a little less trying to stifle fires elsewhere.

I finished packing for the early morning flight, flopped into bed, and locked eyes on my ceiling. I was the only single person invited to this wedding on the opposite side the country, and suddenly it occurred to me that I actually hadn't even been on a date since... one, two, three... SEVEN months ago?! What else had I been putting off? What else was falling through the cracks, what was I sacrificing? And what was to be gained, aside from the gaping bags that had moved in beneath each of my eyes? I didn't find answers before coasting into sleep, but new and important gears had been set in motion.

Maybe working doesn't always have to result in being overworked. Duh. How very obvious it seems now.

I began to think, I'd bet that if I put half the effort I put into external initiatives into myself and my own work (my personal art, my portfolio, updating my resume, my health, dating, exercise... even cleaning or crafting) I would be downright crushing it. I mean, with that amount of effort… CRUSHING IT! People are simply better at their work when they're better at themselves. I know this.

So that's my new priority, getting me all fixed up and sorted out.

Rest and relaxation hammock setup at Ancarrow's Landing in RVA.

Rest and relaxation hammock setup at Ancarrow's Landing in RVA.

And so far, I am crushing it.


The Caveat:

All of that being said, 2017 hasn't been a wash. (Well, maybe it has... but I mean it hasn't been for me, personally. Wait, did you not realize we were just going to be talking about me? This is a blog, you know.) Remember back when I said the thing about the dumpster fire wouldn't put itself out? Well, my fight-or-flight response said JUST RUN THE F*** OUT OF THE COUNTRY! But my wallet said something more to the effect of, "noooooooo, no, nope." Besides, there's so much work left to be done here. So at the very least, I decided I'd be doing things a bit differently. 2017 was going to net positive, and I was going to make sure of that. 

In order to overcome some obstacles that appeared increasingly foreign to me I needed to make an effort to stretch my mind and stay on my toes. Somehow, between answering emails and meetings that ran long I managed to form a new habit: I challenged myself to try something totally new (to me) about once a week, and if I wasn't going to actively seeking something out that week—see above about being utterly over-committed—I was at least taking note of the personal growth I was gaining from these new opportunities, in hopes of fully embracing the projects to which I was already committed.

It was actually the easiest, funnest and most interesting thing I did this year.

Stay tuned... next up is a list of 52(+) things totally new to me that I’ve done in the last year(+).