By: Kristina Borza, Embody Wellness Company Holistic Health Coach
I am that overachiever. I went to an elite public high school in NYC. I graduated college with a 4.0 during the recession and hustled between internships and part-time work until a company finally gave me the break I needed. And then it happened. I landed a gig at a start-up with all the perks: unlimited vacation time, excellent benefits, company shares, cold brew coffee on tap, standing desks and the option to work remotely. I was making more money than I ever had before. This was as close as I’d come to “making it.”
Then came the catch. The Slack messages just as I was crawling into bed. The 3:00am e-mails. Waking up to calendar alerts for a slew of meetings I didn’t know I had. The constantly pivoting company “goals” and conversations about where I fit into them. The brutal layoffs of people who were smart and seemingly productive. The realization that my “unlimited” vacation time was tethered to me either working over my vacations or working so many hours before and after that truly “unplugging” was virtually impossible.
Prior to me taking this job I had pursued a passion project and become certified as a holistic health coach. So I knew all the things about self-care, balance, stress management. All of it. Yet I lied to myself for months about what my secular work was doing to me. I remained hypnotized by something elusive—the idea that it would get better or I would get “stronger” or I would be satisfied by “proving myself” in the start-up culture. In short, I told myself a lot of lies including
1. I’ll only work like this until…
The thing about taking a boost to your paycheck is the sudden rush of buying power. My husband and I made all the purchases: home office furniture, a new bedroom set and several overseas vacations. It felt great in the moment. It felt even better when credit card bills rolled in and we could pay them off in full without a second thought.
But exactly zero of these purchases were satisfying on a deeper level. Amazon packages and furniture deliveries were just the dopamine shot I needed after working until 1am to hit a deadline. So naturally I lined up a few more purchases I wanted to make: some expensive beauty products, a few more home improvements, one more luxurious vacation. So I needed those next few paychecks to pay those purchases off. And then I’d look for a job with more work-life balance. Eventually.
I was postponing my own life for things. And the “until” would never actually come. The until was my own decision to take back my time
2. Well, this is what it takes to make it!
Incredible drive is a staple of start-up culture and the “work hard, play hard” mentality is engraved deeply in the mind of my generation. My co-workers’ Instagram accounts were speckled with gorgeous vacation photos and fancy cocktails punctuated by long pauses between posts. Those long pauses are where the workaholism set in. What was put out into the world was the result and not the sacrifices that fueled them.
After a long week of 12 hour work days I was a mess. My stomach was in knots. I hadn’t worked out in weeks. I was snippy and irritable with my husband. I dreamed about Excel sheets and woke up anxious about deadlines. Is this what “making it” is supposed to look like? What do we do when “whatever it takes” is too much
3. I’ll make time later…
The turning point for me was a meeting with my manager. It was a performance review that morphed into a larger conversation about company culture. I was honest: I was burning out. I wasn’t sure how I could maintain my pace or if longevity in the company was even possible. The only thing I didn’t tell her outright was how deeply unhappy I was.
My manager told me she felt very much the same. She was concerned about how she could ever start a family and already knew that once she was ready to take that step in her life she would have to quit and find “more of a 9 to 5 at least.” But that would happen later. So she wasn’t going to worry about it right now.
Her later hung over me for days. I thought about the hours I had missed with my husband. How we couldn’t even watch a movie together because I was on my laptop half-listening/half-working while he ran something on Netflix. How I felt resentful when he would interrupt me while I was working from home and how I then felt resentful of the work I was doing from home. There was no later. These were hours of my life that were lost. My life right now. This life that would not happen later.
It took me a couple of months but I got out. I took a pay cut that felt hugely uncomfortable at the time. I decided to work four days a week in the wellness space—a total pivot from my very corporate background. I don’t have unlimited vacation or lots of office frills. But I’m home when I’m home. I work when I work. My purchases are mindful rather than fueled by a need for comfort. In short, I got my life—the real one—back. And I get to help others through my health coaching practice in the process.
The term “work-life balance” gives us the illusion that the two concepts are separate. They are not. Your work is your life. The hours are the hours. It is up to us to give them up meaningfully.