Thursday, August 12, 2010

How to Navigate Work/Life Balance & Your Quarterlife Crisis

Upon graduating from college, I spent the next 6 years or so being a workaholic. I love working and I always wanted to pay my dues and have a solid foundation early in my career. Around the 4 or 5 year mark, I found myself very tired and uneasy. The long hours without a vacation and without any balance were finally taking its toll and it’s no wonder why.

This isn’t taking into consideration that I had worked since the age of 12 first as a babysitter throughout the school year and summer jobs as a waitress at the age of 14. However, by the time I was 16 I was teaching ESL to doctors, scientists, and children along with my last years of high school doing internships as a journalist or summers as a local TV broadcaster. I was always challenging myself and had been in professional settings at a fairly young age. This obviously paid off in terms of poise, self esteem, and understanding corporate culture. I was always working with people two or three times my age where I had to hold my own. I was very often the youngest person and the only person my age or even close to my age. By my mid-twenties this all work, no play began catching up to me.

At the height of my workaholism, I was working 16 or more hours a day. I ate all meals at my desk in about 15 minutes. I only went home to sleep and shower. All my housework was done by paying others. I worked weekends. I could barely call in sick and was too busy to go on vacation. When I was so stressed I needed a break, I could only call my best friend at the oddest hours. I was so exhausted I spent all my free time sleeping and maybe reading because that was as much as I could handle.

When I started to realize my life was literally passing me by and all of my days were looking the same, I started to make small changes to make myself happier. So many questions went through my mind. Is this all there is to life? Just working? And then I die? Is this all it will be day in and day out? I started to go out even if it meant leaving work at 11pm and being out for a couple of hours and barely getting enough sleep. After a few weeks of this, my body gave out. So then I had to think about what to do to change things. The more I thought about it, as much as I loved my job, I realized I need a new one that provided work life balance. So I quit my job.

I spent the next four months resting, soul-searching, temping here and there and took a 2 week vacation. It took me the entire four months to unwind and finally feel normal. I had a better idea of what I wanted out of my next job. It did take me a couple of years to finally land where I wanted to be since I first realized I needed to make a change.

Here are things to keep in mind as you transition.

1) Be patient with yourself. Cultivate a strong mind and emotional attitude as you go on this new journey. Sleep well, exercise, eat healthy, and get the support of your friends and family.

2) Know what you like and dislike about your job and life. Know yourself well. Take personality tests to figure out the best careers for you. Read The Power of Story by Jim Loehr. Write a list of 3-5 items of what you must have in a job and will not accept. (For example - a long commute, working more than X amount of hours, etc.) The rest should be open to compromise.

3) Plan small steps to get to where you want to go. Some of them might include taking new or refresher courses, doing informational interviews, networking, and volunteering.

4) Have a huge savings account to get you through your transition period. Many people take the first job offered to them because they have no money.

5) When you succeed in making your transition know what you want to do with your newfound free time. Maybe you want to take art classes, date, make new friends, or take more weekend trips. Learn to purse your personal goals as well as your professional ones.

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