It feels like, all my life, I’ve been in the process of building up to something. You do K-12 building up to go to college. You go to college building up to grad school or into a job. You build up from “jobs” to “careers.” So, what happens when you finally get there?
I was definitely the sort that spent my life chasing. Jumping from path to path, but the one thing that all those paths had in common was that I wanted to achieve the very best in any direction that I went. That meant a lot of hustling hard, because the thing about chasing is that you always feel that you’re behind. For me, that manifested itself in one major not being enough. I needed two. And a minor. And taking enough credits to technically have three other minors that I wasn’t allowed to declare. And the whole time I was doing that, I was writing.
While on the job hunt, I worked hard to make the most out of my freelancing. I established a rock-solid reputation for copyediting, and that encouraged me to do even more writing. Finally, I reached the end of the trail: I got a job. Not just a job, but the jumping off point of a real career. I’m now working that good ole 8 to 5 grind and loving every minute of it. I even kept my freelancing job as a little side hustle.
Except, I couldn’t knock the feeling that I should be producing for that side hustle at the same level that I had been when I had all day to do that work. I needed to be taking on just as many assignments, outperforming the other editors in my network, earning the bonuses. Basically, doing full-time work in the free time that I had outside of my full-time job. The reality of that meant I’d come home after a full day of work and do nothing but work some more, until I went to bed.
Did I mention that the dream gig of being a film reviewer came along? That’s right. I threw myself into another side hustle. Suddenly, I worked all week, came home and spent my evenings working, and on my weekends I was having a ton of fun…but also putting in serious hours to get the opening weekend review out in time for the readers. I felt on top of the world for all of about four weeks. And then I crashed HARD.
I felt like a dog chasing its tail. What exactly did I think I was going to accomplish here? Why was this necessary? My full-time job pays a great salary. The exact salary I need to live comfortably, plus some. I didn’t need to kill myself over a side hustle. Even doing a small amount of work brought in good extra income. It’s not like I was having to scrap my way to surviving off it, anymore. The writing. Well, it’s something I’ll always do. I love that I’ve finally gotten a crack at the dream. Having access to screenings and getting to write about them. But, I was hardly able to enjoy it, because I was just working too much.
Ambition is a wonderful thing. It drives us to become better and better. But my ambition had reached a point where I was not enjoying any of my current successes — I was too preoccupied with the idea of more. I had to get real with myself. Consider that I had a partner that I wanted to actually spend time with. That I had things like exercising and tending to the garden that I loved (and the shit that I had to do, like clean my house). I was putting so much energy into what I thought was going to give me the best life, but not taking into account that I already had the resources to live the life I wanted to live.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it gave me perspective. One of the great lessons I have learned is that misery should not be the norm. It’s easy to convince yourself, “Oh. I can be uncomfortable now, because it will all pay off later.” Push yourself, but have your limit. If your life is all work and no living, and you’re tired and drained all the time, that isn’t a good life. Your passions should be your passions, which requires a healthy dose of joy. Your goals should not be the albatross around your neck, weighing you down.
So, what did I do? I slowed down. I determined what dollar amount made my side hustle a boon to my goals and set that number. I hit that number, and the pressure was taken off. I don’t take on any more freelancing unless I really and truly want to (and that’s after a mandatory “day of rest,” because even God had a day off). I set realistic expectations for my writing, and I gave myself permission to just come home from work some days and do nothing.
Work hard, but work well. Most importantly, live well.
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. By day she is a mild-mannered content marketer, by night she is a freelance copy editor, and (when there are hours left in the day) she writes for the adoration of faceless online readers, everywhere! When she’s not writing, Caitlin annoys everyone around her with her obsessive love of podcasts, movies, and coffee.
Image via Unsplash