I’m a fairly philosophical person. By that I mean, I think a lot, about abstract topics. Sometimes they’re broad: science, math, religion, politics (ok, probably not politics). More often, though, they’re about things closer to my daily life: relationships, business, money, success, work-life balance. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the TED talks, I’ve perused the blog entries, I’ve considered the Medium articles, I’ve attended the conference sessions. At this point, I’ve heard and conversed and mused and pondered enough that I feel like I could give these talks or write these blog articles myself (and sometimes I do). I know all the right platitudes, formulas, and best practices, and which order to recite them in. I’ve given people great advice. If words were the only measure of achievement, I’d be super successful!
And yet I find myself here at 6pm on a Sunday night, having spent the day dragging blog posts out of myself that I’d thought I was enthusiastic about producing, after a week of struggling to get started on projects that are actually fun and exciting, looking at a partially completed to do list. And I feel simultaneously dejected at how few items were checked off, and annoyed that there were any items to begin with (it’s the weekend, after all!) I desperately want to work out and don’t want to move. I am yearning to make more progress on my projects and repulsed by the thought of a single more stroke on a keyboard. I can see where I want to be and what I need to do to get there, and the last thing I want to do is… anything.
And that’s the struggle. It’s like having the desire to run a marathon, but trying to do so through a pool of molasses. When does it make sense to keep pushing through, doing something you know you want to do and desire to complete, and at what point do you give in to the forces pushing against you to stop? It’s not really an issue of work-life balance, or burnout, or any of those other issues that often plague people in our industry. It’s an issue of conflicting messages: inside ourselves, in the advice we get, the books we read, the reassurances we seek.
On the one hand: keep pushing! Hard work is called work for a reason, it’s not supposed to be easy. Successful people don’t give up, they’re the ones who don’t quit when everyone else does, effort now pays off in the long run. Better your career, improve your skills, practice 10,000 hours to be an expert. Take on passion projects, get involved, help teach, volunteer, make the world a better place.
On the other hand: listen to your body/mind/psyche! Relax, take breaks, take it easy, take it slow, reconnect with what your body and mind need. Don’t burn the candle at both ends. Live life, go see what’s out there, get away from the computer, no one ever dies wishing they had worked more. See your friends, see your family, take time to connect with others, get to know your inner self, meditate, disconnect.
Really, it all comes down to this: Savor the good things in life to their fullest, but also practice restraint and stop eating so much unhealthy food. Work long and hard to be successful, but take frequent breaks and also see your friends and family and keep your workspace clean. You need a passion project after your long day at work but also make sure to have clean countertops and enjoy locally sourced meals at home with close friends, when you’re not visiting cute new restaurants in your hometown and experiencing what the city has to offer. Unless you’re traveling around the country, because it’s important to see the world outside of your comfort zone. Spontaneity is the spice of life. It’s important to establish routines at home and work to give your life context and structure, and then break out of them because life is flexible and rigidity is awful. But time blocking is the most productive because it imposes a schedule on you, though you should spread out your work tasks based on when you feel most productive. Work out at night for sure, except you should definitely work out in the morning. Dress up for your day even when you work at home, but don’t spend so much time on shallow pursuits. Keep your nose to the grindstone but also take naps and learn how to make dinner from scratch. It’s most important to establish trusting and reliable relationships with your clients, but it’s most important to feel close with friends, but it’s most important to let your family know how special they are to you, but it’s most important to connect with your partner, but it’s most important to really know yourself. But don’t be self-absorbed, and stop posting so much on social media, unless it’s to share information with potential clients and connect with friends and family around the country who really miss you and want to know you’re doing ok.
Somehow at the end, staring at a half-finished to-do list on a Sunday night, I don’t even know how to quantify what it is I have done this weekend. I’m not sure if writing three blog posts, not working out even though I wanted to, doing a bunch of laundry, not getting WordCamp things done, going out on a date, watching TV in the evening propped up on too many pillows due to back pain, NOT having a major burst of productivity that betters my chosen skillset, and occasionally stealing kisses from my significant other while thinking deeply about my course of action for the next week counts as productivity, or laziness. Success, or failure? Maybe it’s both.
And maybe… it’s neither.