Several years ago when I worked on a college campus, I had the kind of schedule that revolved largely around students. I would regularly find myself still on campus following a meeting at 10 p.m., or coming in on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, I was a young professional, and didn’t think much about this schedule and the impact it had on my life – or my social life. I was doing what most student affairs administrators do, and it didn’t seem possible to ask the students to change their meetings to a time that was more convenient for me if they wanted me to be there. I was a little bit afraid the threat would be empty because they might be happier if I weren’t there.
I used to keep track of how many hours I worked each day in my calendar, and some days, I’m embarrassed to admit, the number 16 was circled. Often I would log 60-70 hours a week, and not even find it unusual. At a staff meeting one day I realized we were all unconsciously one-upping one another with how many hours we’d been on campus that week, and it was a serious wake-up call for me. “Are we really competing for who has the worst work-life balance,” I thought?
These days I have a much better work-life balance, and rarely work more than 40 hours a week. For the past several years, I have worked mostly from home as well, which allows for a good deal of flexibility. It is only in the past year that I have been back in an office, and there have been both pros and cons to adding that kind of structure back into my day. Con = commute time, which though short, seems like a waste when I could have been at my desk already for 45 minutes if I were home. Pro = being around other people and getting to interact throughout the day.
Even though my work-life balance with my job is better, it still hasn’t improved my social life a great deal because I’ve found plenty of other things to fill my time, including a part-time job as a river guide, a board position with a local nonprofit, a new career as a college speaker and a book deal that requires me to produce a book by a deadline that is inching ever closer. I distinguished recently how much I complain about being busy. Several years ago I told my boss I was overwhelmed, and he replied, “You’re always overwhelmed.” He was right. I live in this world of, “I have too much to do.”
This is what I’ve gotten present to lately. We ALL have too much to do, ALL the time. I’m not unique or special in that regard. That I allow it to overwhelm me is my issue, and I’m sure other people are sick to death of hearing about it. I know I am sick of saying it. So I have started telling people in my life they have permission to call me on it when they hear those words come out of my mouth. It’s just not interesting to share for the millionth time how busy I am.
The truth is I love my life, and I’m exhilarated by what I am up to in the world. I wouldn’t have it any other way! While I often think it would be great to have some more down time to take a walk, see a movie or read a book, I would be bored to tears sitting in front of a television or hanging out at home all the time. I know what I need to feel healthy and happy, and when I don’t give myself at least one weekend at home each month (as is the case for most of this fall), I know I will feel the consequences of that. I also know that if I push it too far, I will get sick (my body’s way of telling me “enough is enough, rest already.”).
The biggest potential negative of my hectic life is that I don’t always take time for dating. I tend to find time to be with friends, but not always for romance. This is a convenient excuse for why I’m 42 and still single, but it doesn’t bode well for having someone special if I don’t have any time to meet someone much less build a relationship. This is one reason for being intentional about leaving time in my schedule for what is really important to me, and actually scheduling those things first before the hours, days and weeks get filled with the uninspiring.
I also know when I have too much “down time,” I tend to waste more time. I finally had a weekend off after several weeks of travel and commitments, and I did next to nothing. I spent much of the weekend on the couch, and watched a lot of television. I also spent some time with friends and had some fun, caught up on a few chores around the house, and did some laundry. I think these sluggish weekends are necessary from time to time, but they aren’t particularly satisfying.
Having a lot to do helps me get more done, and keeps me on my toes. There have been times in my life when I spent a great deal of time at home, alone, reading, writing letters and being introspective, and now I tend much more toward being with friends, jetting around the country for work or fun, participating in programs and contributing to some amazing causes with my time and talents. This is much more satisfying, and if that means that busy is a permanent descriptor of my life, I’m ok with that.