Work Life Balance is NOT a Myth… It’s Just Hard

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Categories:  Work Commentary
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I was raised by musicians, teachers, artists, cooks, and craftsmen/women. From the day I was old enough to understand it, I was taught that I should find a career doing what I love, even if it didn’t make me rich. I’ve valued that advice every day of my adult life.

But I fucked it up.

Burn Out

I have a job I love doing. I love coding and designing. I love UI/UX design, stylesheets, templates, content management systems, and building tools that make other people’s lives/jobs easier. When I wake up in the morning on a weekday, I don’t dread going into work and do it anyway. I dread putting on pants, but I do it anyway.

The Creative Process

I love it too much sometimes. Sometimes I start a pet project and don’t leave the office until the automatic lights start switching off. Sometimes I work from home (no pants, woo!) and don’t stop until 2am. I don’t like to leave things unfinished. I really enjoy learning new techniques and technologies.

When I calculated it out, I realized that I was working roughly 60-70 hours per week for 2013, and probably 2012 too. This is somewhat ‘normal’ for Silicon Valley developer culture, but it was taking its toll on me. I lost my patience with difficult co-workers. I took shortcuts in my work to hit aggressive deadlines. I gave up on doing other things I enjoyed because I couldn’t find enough time in the day to do them anymore.

The WORK half of my work life balance was demolishing the LIFE half. I was working my ass off, and it made me start to hate it.

And No One Even Noticed

The worst part of it was when my reviews came in. I had strong marks across the board, but I was passed over for awards. I was never given the raises I felt I deserved for all my hard work. I became resentful of people who did receive awards and promotions, and I even lashed out once or twice because of that resentment.

engineers

And how would they notice? I was sitting alone in a dark office, or at home alone in my gym shorts when I was doing all this work. Sure, they would walk out of the office at 5pm and see me sitting there with my headphones on coding away, but for all they knew I was leaving at 5:15.

I didn’t realize this until after I started forcing myself to stop working after 40-44 hours. I didn’t give myself time to <cliche>stop and smell the roses</cliche> until recently.

Working to Live, Not Living to Work

Since I started limiting myself to only 4 hours of overtime max, I’ve been a better worker. I’ve set more reasonable expectations. I’ve completed projects I can be proud of. I’ve had more time to learn new things more completely, and stop cutting corners.

Dilbert : Work Life Balance

Even better, I’ve become a better husband and friend. I’m not always working. I’m not checking my email on my phone at dinner. I have more energy when I spend quality time with my wife and our friends. I have more time to take up hobbies like model building and Dagorhir.

I’m healthier too. I’ve actually exercised a bit this year! I have cut down my anxiety attack frequency from weekly to monthly and it’s still declining. My therapist has even noticed the difference.

And my paychecks haven’t decreased. My boss isn’t pissed at me for not working myself to death. Co-workers seem to enjoy working with me more than before. Everything is better.

Two Months In

It’s only been 2 months so far, but I’ve learned a couple things already.

I realized that the unrealistic expectations I was put under were self-imposed. My boss has the philosophy of “Push them until they cry, then pull back a little” but she had no way of knowing how hard I was pushing myself. I’m the one who tells her “I can get this done by Friday.” I’m the one that says “Sure, I can redo the whole blog theme in a month.”

Life is an Adventure

I learned that for each project it only took me an extra hour or so to stop doing things fast, and start doing them right. I’ve already learned more JavaScript, CSS, PHP, Drupal, and WordPress tricks in the last two months than I did in all of 2013. My code is far more efficient, and my layouts are much prettier.

I was reminded that I was raised to love my work. The day I wake up dreading walking into the office is the day I should work on work life balance again. Though my salary might not yet be the number I want it to be, my life is pretty good. Dividing that number by 40 instead of 70 helps vastly, too.

I’m Sorry

Since generally the only people who read this blog know me personally: I’m sorry for the times when I was stressed out and took it out on you. I’m sorry for the times I’ve flaked on plans with you because I was too tired or too busy. I’m sorry making you worry about me. Thanks for sticking with me through it.

Dog is Pissed
Even SooCoo has suffered at my hands.

I’m excited to see what else I can figure out in 2014. I have a 3 week vacation coming up for my honeymoon, so I’ll finally get to put a dent in the 30-something vacation days I’ve built up. I know that my work life balance isn’t perfect yet, because I still go over my limit sometimes. <cliche>This will be a marathon, and not a sprint.</cliche>

I know I’m not alone in struggling with this. Have you guys had similar experiences?

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