You sink ten years of your life into your career and you feel stretched. At the end of the decade you look back and you say to yourself, “Well, that didn’t need to be so stressful,” and so that’s what you tell people entering the industry: chill out, work less, it’s going to be okay. Find work-life balance.
I feel a little bit irresponsible when I tell people that because it’s not really what I want to say.
I want to tell them I went through a deep depression and then was told I had been chronically depressed since childhood–25 years. I want to tell them I burned out a couple times. I want to tell them I’ve said things to people I deeply regret and acted poorly in times when it wasn’t called for because I was so stressed.
But then I want to tell them the most important, bittersweet, part: it all had to happen to become a better colleague. Some years I needed to work sixteen hours in a day week-after-week, or have my heart broken and try not to cry in meetings, or become involved in an abusive relationship, or fear for my safety in a foreign country, or build a product I didn’t care for.
All of that needed to happen at the time that it did, in the order that it did, and no one could have ever saved me from it with a few well-meaning phrases. While most of the events happened outside of work, it undoubtedly changed everything about me at work.
So, what do I think about seeking work-life balance? It likely won’t come in the controlled way you seek.
There’s a biological term we talk about often during our conditioning phase of competition called ‘homeostasis.’ It’s an unescapable rule of the body: it’s always attempting to find what’s optimal for you using your built-in regulatory mechanisms. If you eat less, it’ll make you hungry so you can eat again.
I bring this up because I can’t help but believe two things which are seemingly at odds:
The work hours I pulled off in my early 20s were balanced. I needed nothing else at the time. My career was my escape from an otherwise dull life and my body and mind responded by giving me the energy I needed to pull it off. When that was no longer the case, my body revolted to bring me back to normal. Always in balance.
When I look back, I’m looking back through my current context and so I say, “you don’t need to work so hard.” But that’s only because it would throw my life off-balance now… I have different priorities.
My point is: balance is a scale on your own open sea. No one else can tell which way the winds will blow or how rough it’ll be out there. You have to listen to your intuition and look out for yourself.
That’s what I really want to say.