Three Lessons on Work/Life Balance, from a career-centric 22-year-old woman; or, how to choose the best sorority for you!

Lesson One: I am a workaholic.

I have always been a bit of a workaholic.  My workaholism has been a bit insidious, though, because I rarely threw myself into the thing that was supposed to matter most: school/grades.  When my guidance counselor and mother looked at my transcripts, they saw a student who did not apply herself in the least; there’s no reason for a bright, curious, engaging personality to be such a mediocre student.

During this phenomenon, I’d convinced myself that maybe I just didn’t care that much about school, or that I wasn’t working that hard.  However, even then I knew I really was working my ass off!  After all, although I refused to sacrifice 8-10 hours of sleep per night for anything, my waking hours were filled with activity: school, sports, clubs, journalism, music, and active growth.  I recollect having very little downtime, and I was quite happy with that.

So, my first realization here is that, even then, I was a workaholic.  However, I tended to get my worst grades in my easiest classes, and best grades in the hardest.  (For example, a C in first semester Bio and As in almost all AP/Honors classes.)  

Lesson One-Point-Five: I now realize that I am unhappy and apathetic unless I’m being challenged, and that I respond to boring situations by being a stubborn hardass and refusing to engage the material.  Sure, responding to a lack of stimulation with apathy is a completely immature response; I’m fully aware of that.  At the same time, I still pull my weight if a boring situation involves other people, so this apathy really only hurts myself, and I’m quite alright with having a lackluster GPA, in the end.

The nice thing about growing up is that you have more choice in the activities, classes, and work you’ll engage.  Therefore, in college I always overloaded myself, usually taking 20+ units/quarter, in addition to working part-time and all-consuming extracurricular activities.  I continued this pattern upon graduating, briefly working two jobs until I burned out; I then took a one-month break and went back to just one job — one that usually involves 40-70 hour work weeks, depending on the season.

When I first went full-time at my current job, I was fine with working so much every week; I convinced myself that I was just biding my time until my friends graduated from college, and then I would have a social life.  In reality, the only things I had going on were work and my boyfriend.

My friends graduated from college and started moving back to the Bay Area, but now it was full-out summer/fall test prep season and I was working 70 hours a week, so I convinced myself I’d make time for “me” in a few months.  After all, I was just 21!  I had years and years to just hang out.

In the past six months, I’ve taken a bit of a stand.  My Fridays are now sacrosanct and I refuse to go into the office or teach or tutor anybody for anything (unless it’s the day before a test and someone’s really panicked, but even then I try to avoid it).  But what do I do on Fridays?  Well, I clean the house, or I cook, or I sit outside and read, or I sit inside and watch TV, and all the while I’m checking my work email about 25 times (probably underestimating).

On Thursday night, I stayed at the office for an extra two hours to sort through my inbox and answer all emails.  My idea was that if I was 100% sure I’d tied up all loose ends Thursday night, I could keep away from all work-related stuff until Monday morning.  The nice thing is that I totally CAN stay away from work until Monday!  The lame thing is, I’ve still checked my mail a million times, because I haven’t had anything better to do.

Lesson Two: Half-working from home is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s nice to not have to be in a pencil skirt and heels for 10 hours a day (instead, maybe just 4-5, when I’m out in the field), but the annoying thing about working from home is that there’s no boundaries unless you set them for yourself and stick to them.  I check my work email when I wake up and when I go to sleep, and 40 times in between.  I take phone calls at dinner, because if it’s just Nick and me anyway, it’s not that big of a deal, right?  I interrupt playing the clarinet because I’ve just remembered a teacher needs a substitute on July 22nd and run to call subs before I forget. 

Lesson Two-Point-Five: If I work from home, I need to create a strict workday for myself and not deviate from those days/hours.  Otherwise, I’ll never “leave the office.”  (This is especially true if, like I, you live in a small apartment, because your “work space” is often going to be mixed in with your “home space.”)

This past month, I’ve had a significant amount of downtime (basically two weeks in which I worked probably 20 hours total — thankfully, I’m salaried), and I had not been so bummed in a long time.  To put it simply, I don’t know how to not work.  Because I spent so much time building my career, always telling myself “I can deal with having a life later,” I hadn’t invested myself in creating a strong social net.  

I’ve made this type of mistake (not exactly the same situation, but close enough) a few times in my life.  The lesson I’ve learned basically boils down to the following…

Lesson Three: I need to take care of myself first.  If I invest in creating the right type of social life for myself, my career will work itself out.  If I invest all of myself in building a career, I’ll not only have a lackluster non-work-life, but resent my career, as well.

[The other time I learned this lesson, in a nutshell: I had an easy time picking sororities at Recruitment until Pref Night, when I couldn’t decide which sorority (of the last two) I liked best.  I spent three hours agonizing over the decision.  I characterized Sorority A as The Type of Women with Whom I’m Used to Working/Doing Extracurriculars and Sorority B as The Type of Women with Whom I Hang Out.  I pledged B, but when I look back on things, I would’ve been happier pledging A — in high school, I made my best friends in those leadership-type groups in which I was challenged and busy.  Although Sorority A intimidated me a bit more, in the long run, it would’ve been much better for my personal growth, because I know that with A, I would’ve gotten huge personal development, inspiration, AND life-long friends; with B, as much as I enjoyed the experience and found it worthwhile and productive, I “just” got friends.  To all the women out there looking to join a sorority: do it if you’re interested!  It’s awesome!  However, make sure you have a very strong sense of what you’re looking for in a house by the time you get to Pref Night.]

The silver lining here is that I’ve realized these work/life balance lessons at age 22 and not somewhere down the line.  Hopefully, when I’m older, I’ll still remember what a wise, kick-ass lady I was in my early twenties, and I’ll heed my own advice.


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