The conscious effort that is ‘living’
I was inspired to write this post after reading Philip Bloom’s recent post on finding the right work/life balance, which by the way I think anyone dealing with a busy work schedule should read, not just people in film or freelancers. I found it quite worrying that I was able to relate to every single paragraph in that post despite the fact that I don’t even work full-time yet. Philip’s life is probably a hundred times more eventful than mine but the piece really struck a chord with me. It opened my eyes on the realities of life, what truly matters and the importance of taking the time to actually ‘live’ – a conscious effort not enough of us make.
Just like everyone else on this planet, most of the things I have done in life is the direct result of a deliberate and conscious effort and originate from my pro-active approach to life in general. Career-wise, I seem to be good at maintaining a steady stream of work especially as a stay-at-home freelancer, if work doesn’t come straight away I tend to just create it, whether it is paid or unpaid. And so I find myself constantly busy doing something – If I’m not translating a 10-page manuscript for a client on the other side of the world, I’ll be writing a script for one of my own films; If I’m not recording French voiceovers for a TV programme, I’ll be glued to the computer casting for another film project… These things may have brought me happiness over the past few years and may bring me success at some point in the future. And how I love my different work activities! But then when I think of all the other little things that perhaps I have neglected in order to make room for professional satisfaction, the things for which I did not demonstrate that same level of drive, enthusiasm and pro-activity, I feel quite ashamed of myself.
In recent times, it hit me quite brutally that there were important areas of my life that I had put aside to focus on the more superficial things, and quite selfishly so. At the time, you think you have it under control, you think you are doing the right thing, making those all important sacrifices successful people keep going on about. But then you realise it’s not always worth it, especially when there are other human beings involved. You realise that if you don’t put enough effort towards maintaining human relationships and friendships, you will lose them. It’s as simple as that.
I once confided in a friend about the fact that I was struggling to find the right balance between work and personal life. And the practical advice she gave me seemed so evident at the time that I became mad at myself for not putting it all into practice before. But as I tried to do that, even more work came my way, more doors opened, more opportunities surfaced… Until things kind of spiraled out of control and some days I found myself emailing actors their shooting schedules at two o’clock in the morning while my husband waited [im]patiently upstairs, reading scripts while in the bath, doing translation work while having dinner, or texting co-workers while helping my 5 year-old son finish his homework… It was just unacceptable. Not to mention friends… Do I still have any? You know it’s becoming an issue when you are having to miss your close friends’ birthdays because of ‘work’.
I took the words of my husband for granted when he told me that he believed I would only start taking this work/balance thing seriously the day it starts affecting my health. Sadly, he had a point, except when that day did arrive, it didn’t faze me either. I continued to work through my extreme fatigue and occasional headaches… Whilst forcing myself (and everyone around me) to believe that I was doing this for the experience, for fulfillment, for future success, and that one day, my loved ones will benefit greatly from it and our lives would be even better than they are now. And maybe I was. But what’s a life without human interaction?
This is why I decided to make more of a conscious effort to be loving towards those around me, and not just with words, but with actions. I decided to make a conscious decision to start caring more about the things that really matter in my life, to spend more time with people (my friends, family), and less time with things (my phones, my computers). All this without necessarily compromising on the quality of my work. As cliché as this may sound, to me those things are the true essence of life and can never be replaced. I guess I’ve always known these things. I just wonder why it took me so long to put it all into practice.
In his article, Philip also mentions the money aspect of things. Freelancers have to work to ensure they don’t find themselves in financial hardship. This obviously depends on individual circumstances; for my part, at this stage of my life, I feel quite blessed I don’t necessarily need to work for the money, and I can afford to do some things for free or even invest a tiny little bit of money in my craft. But even if I did have to work for the money (and that will be the case very soon), I don’t believe in sacrificing what’s truly important in life even for financial gain, no matter how much you can benefit from it. As harsh as it may sound, if after a decade as a freelancer your work can’t get you a decent living and you still aren’t thriving financially off it, it may be time to consider making it a side job and finding a more suitable career path for you as a main activity. Being in the freelance game isn’t for everyone and is at your own peril ; some painful (but wise) decisions will have to be made along the way.
But back to finding that balance between work and personal life…
Those all important practical steps…
You would get a lot more from reading Philip Bloom’s blog post than mine, but let me just give you those small practical steps that I believe helped and will continue to help me find that balance.
1. Learn to say no. You don’t have to do everything that comes your way. It’s okay to turn down work. In fact, it’s better to turn down work than to take on a hundred projects at once and only give each 10% of yourself. I am having to turn down work and collaboration offers literally every week; I’ve come to the realisation that I can’t do it all, I don’t need to do it all, and quite frankly, I don’t want to do it all.
1. Stop creating for a while. Just don’t stop being a creator. Take a break sometimes. Not every idea needs to come to life now. Not every script needs to be turned into a film now. It’s about cutting down without cutting off. It’s about quality, not quantity. Personally I have had the make the decision to do less of my own films this year, to focus on the projects that really interest me, and to only work with the people I really want to work with. A decision that wasn’t hard to make because I know that ultimately, all parties will benefit from it.
2. Prioritise. As a workaholic, I hate the word “Prioritise”. If you are a fellow workaholic, you probably hate it too. I don’t want to prioritse, I want to simultaneously tick every single item on my to-do-list. But I know this isn’t necessary. Some things can wait 2 or 3 days and won’t kill my project.
3. Make time for the human beings around you. Who are these people? How much do you love them? How would you feel if you lost them? My personal aim is to switch off my computer every now and then, and spend quality time with them. Work can wait. It really, really can.
4. Eat and sleep. Eat healthy, look after your health. Stop working at mad hours of the day, sleep is vital. lack of sleep will result in you being stressed and irritable. Nobody wants a miserable git around them.
5. Enjoy the journey. If you find yourself hating your work more and more, it’s probably because you’re doing too much of it, and not taking the time to enjoy the things that made you fall in love with it in the first place. When you’re overloaded with work, you start to appreciate it less and less. Take a step back – it’s about enjoying the journey, not trying to ‘survive’ it.
Are you struggling with finding the right balance between work and personal life? I’d love to read your experiences so feel free to comment.