Want to know what the life of a recently graduated journalism MA with staggeringly high student loans looks like? Not so much? Well, I don't blame you. It's not exactly the stuff memoirs are made of, but it is keeping me extremely busy. There's been some freelance reporting for The New York Times and Fortune Small Business Magazine, a regular gig fact-checking at The New York Observer, a couple of pieces for Psychology Today, along with my normal gig writing about community events for the local newspapers.
Hustling is a prerequisite for success in this field, and as long as I get to write, you won't hear me complaining. (You won't hear me because I will be safely within the confines of my own home.) This is, of course, what I signed up for when I renounced my citizenship in Corporate America and went back to school to become a journalist. And, don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the work. Heck, I even like the work. That said, I'm not without guilt. After all, my family didn't sign up for being neglected; my friends didn't sign up for curt phone calls informing them that I wouldn't be able to make it to the dinner party/cocktail hour/reading after all because I was just "too damn tired." You, dear reader, did not bookmark this page so that you could scan the same headline for two weeks. Not to mention the fact that my house is a mess, my spouse (well - okay - my boyfriend) is long suffering, and my taxes remain undone.
If I sound a little overwhelmed, I know I'm not alone. Virtually everyone I know in New York spends in excess of 50-hours a week working (conservatively) and they're lucky to get two weeks off a year. At first, I thought this mania for work might be a symptom of living in a major metropolis. Then, the boyfriend and I went down to North Carolina to visit the purportedly "sleepy" town of Chapel Hill and found that our good friends, the Griffsbys, had adopted a 14-hour workday in order to keep up with the demands of completing dual PhDs and raising a one year old. Now - granted - the Griffsbys aren't your stereotypical "slow and steady" Southerners. They've both card-carrying Type As. But I would argue that even us Type B+s are starting to prioritize work over almost everything else. And unlike previous generations, the new breed of workaholic isn't compelled to go into the office on Saturday, or warm up the old laptop after dinner out of overzealousness or ambition, but out of desperation. There's simply no way to get through it all during the workday.
Okay, deep breaths.
It's possible that I'm a little over-caffeinated, a little burnt--perhaps a wee bit melodramatic by temperament. But, hand-wringing aside, I do think I have a point: The so-called work/life balance has become fundamentally unbalanced. What do you think? Am I being a big wuss? I'm open to the possibility that bemoaning my lack of leisure time may be totally - well - bourgeois of me. After all, I'm not laboring away in some mine, I'm just slightly sleep deprived and somewhat antisocial.
Still, I'm feeling stressed out enough that I opted to take this "work-life balance quiz." I got a 9, which, according to the site, requires me "to take immediate action to make changes in [my] work and [my] life before things start crashing around [me]. " (Seriously, it said that. Who writes this stuff?) If you too are feeling like your To-do list is beginning to eat your life, I'd be curious to hear your results. We could even compile them--do a kind of informal scientific study. You can always email Neurontic at orlivan [at] gmail.com.
I'd also be interested in hearing from those of you who have found ways of "simplifying." This appears to be the catchword de jour, but I have yet to encounter anyone that's done it successfully. If you've managed it, tell us how. What did you do: (1) Cut out T.V., (2) Limit commute time, (3) Have standing dates with family and friends?
Share the wisdom, folks.
We're not nearly as busy as you are, but one thing that helped us a lot was 'no cable'. We only watch what TV we rent on DVD's, which is only when there's time. Makes us picky, so we watch better TV but less of it.
My wife and I have found it hard to explain to "9 to 5" employees what it means to have two simultaneous academic careers, each of them in more than once discipline, plus two secondary careers as professional authors, plus careers as consultants, on top of the usual childrearing and taxpaying and homeowning demands.
The standard response that drives us up a wall is:
"Oh, I'd love to be a writer. It would be so nice not to have to work!"
It's obvious to me that everyone is busier and more driven now than we were 20 years ago. Personally, I've lived on half my income for the last 20 years and am "retiring" at 53 before my husband and I wear out. I haven't enjoyed a vacation for the last 5 years at all - too many emails and cellphone teleconferences. Next year, we will be able to really vacation and relax.
I got rid of cable TV in January 2005. I cancelled the newspaper a year ago or more. I use Google Reader to organize - and limit - my Web surfing and deli.cio.us to keep track of things I want to look at later when I am more relaxed. Otherwise, I waste too much time on the Web.
Eating at home is less stressful than eating out, too. Make simple homemade meals like steamed vegetable and grilled meat.
One thing I need to do more of is exercise. I continually fail to work this is. When I "retire" I expect to succeed at this.
Thanks for your post - it's very well stated. Good luck in your new career.
What did I do?
I quit. Turned in my resignation in June 06.
Here's what I had to say about it at the time (that still rings true).
"So what am I going to do? - I'll get rock star fit... play with my 5 month old niece... listen to funky reggae... drink rum on a boat... build condos... get active in politics... walk from one end of Bermuda to the other... eat Indian food... and most importantly, surround myself with people who I admire. "
"Getting this stuff down on paper is important, because if not it's easy to forget that three months ago I was a sedentary workaholic who rarely saw his family, drank in bars, generally came home too late to listen to the funky reggae, never picked up a book except to study, and was falling in love with a woman who was everything I wanted and also everything I didn't want. Instead of continuing that life as the Man In The Grey Flannel Suit I sit here a victim only of my love of a nice Pinot Grigio with the funky reggae filling my ears, today's workout thumping in my legs, and a bookmark 250 pages into the book I started this morning (Investment Biker by Jim Rogers)."
I work three days a week, about ten hours a day. Do I make a lot of money? Nope. I just scrape together enough for my part of our living expenses and save up for one vacation trip a year. But it does give me free time to indulge in my hobbies, to study Japanese, and to spend plenty of quality time with my fiancï¿½.
It's a tradeoff I'd be delighted to make at any time.
This is something I've put a lot of thought into. I'm a grad student in physics now, and it's grueling, particularily since I'm still in the course work phase. I can't do this all my life, or even all of my 20s. Which means that I won't be going down the professor/tenure road, and I think that's ok. I think too many of us are simply too chicken to live the style of life described by Janne. I suspect a few years from now I'll be doing a job I'm way overeducated for and honestly I don't know if I mind.
Next time you come down to see the Griffsbys, give me a holler and I'll show you the 'slow' part of Chapel Hill....