Tonight, Lauren and I leave for a trip we’ve been planning since, well, the last day of the same trip last year. This means that, between this and only recently being back from the West Coast for VidCon — along with working on the book and having both Becca and Mary being relatively new to the TFD family — it’s been a bit non-stop for us over the past month. We’ve both come to pretty much the limit of our respective sanity, energy, and communicative abilities, and it’s frankly a ringing endorsement of our ability to work together that we’ve not only not killed one another, but that we’ve only had a few relatively low-wattage arguments over the past few weeks.
We’ve been working pretty much full-size work days seven days a week, with the regular days being for the day-to-day running of the site and all things site-related, and the nights and weekends for the book (or occasionally a different, longer-term project). We have about fifty thousand things still on the back burner that we constantly feel guilty about not getting to, but the real art has become, lately, “just getting through another week.”
And none of this is to complain because, at least speaking for myself, I feel extremely lucky on a daily basis to be doing what we do. Building a company, working with an amazing team of women, writing and designing a beautiful book that actually makes personal finance something you’re excited to read about — this is all dream-level professional stuff. And more importantly, I know that the time in my life where I’ll be relatively unfettered, kid-less, and able to throw myself into something this way isn’t going to come again. If we don’t seize the opportunities we have every day to build something amazing now, and to keep growing something that has already grown so far and fast beyond our expectations, we’d only be failing ourselves (as well as all the people who believe and invest in us).
But that doesn’t mean that some semblance of a work/life balance is something we should consider out of our reach for the next year or so. No matter how hard we’re working, or how obsessed we can feel in the moment with getting things right and making them better than yesterday, it would be very anti-TFD of us to not engage in some well-placed self-care. Hence, this trip we’re going on, the yearly retreat with the great group, where we will have our first completely-offline time — four whole days of the trip! — since TFD began. Nothing could feel scarier or more exciting to me, and I recognize the slight-unhealthiness in my obsession with TFD to the point that not opening my email or checking Google Analytics for even a few days feels like abandoning a new child.
I need to slow down, remind myself of what is actually important in life (our business is, of course, but it’s only one of many important things!), and recalibrate. To that end, I’ve come up with 17 mini-mantras that I need to keep in mind going into this trip, as someone who has a very, very hard time letting go of everything that needs to get done.
1. You are not defined by your work, no matter how much you love it or how much validation you get from it. The day you start valuing yourself only by how well your career is going is the day you start to lose all the other stuff that actually matters.
2. Taking time to call people, text them, tell them you miss them, check in: all of this should be on your calendar. If you need an alert to do everything from send an email to water a plant, you should have one for your personal relationships, too.
3. When you can feel yourself getting to the frayed end of your wits, be open with the people around you that your shortness/frustration/anger is not them, it’s you.
4. Apologize, sincerely.
5. Take time to really appreciate and consider the sacrifice being made by the people who love you when you’re really throwing yourself into work. It’s hard for them to have to take a backseat for a certain amount of time to all you have going on, and that deserves as much appreciation and acknowledgement as anything a colleague does.
6. Allow yourself to turn off your phone sometimes, and accept that you’re not performing open-heart surgery (unless you are). It can probably fucking wait a day.
7. Make yourself “it’s the last day of work before vacation!” playlist, and turn your last, chaotic day at your desk into a frantic-email-answering dance party.
8. Don’t be afraid to set that OOO reply: he is your friend, and you need him, even if you don’t want to admit it.
9. It’s okay to decide a hierarchy of what’s important to you and your mental health, even if that sometimes means putting something personal in front of something professional. You’re allowed to say “Even if I have to delay something at work, I need to take time to eat dinner with my partner or call my mom or see my friend I haven’t seen in a month.” Being human doesn’t make you unprofessional, it keeps you from burning out.
10. It’s better to work well indefinitely at 50 hours a week than to work well for 85 hours a week before collapsing at the end of week three.
11. Will this issue matter six months from now? A year from now? No? Then stop losing sleep over it.
12. Call up a friend, meet them, give them a hug. Sometimes, when work stresses you out and you feel like you’re going to lose it, a simple friendly hug can be the difference between ugly crying and laugh crying.
14. When it comes time to leave for vacation, instead of thinking of everything you didn’t have time to finish or still have to get done, take a few minutes to make an actual list of the things you managed to accomplish, and the things that are taken care of while you’re away. Choose to think about the things that are going well, instead of dwelling on the couple things you didn’t get to.
15. Admit that you deserve to take a break. Even if you have to say it out loud, tell yourself that you’re glad — and not guilty — to be going away.
16. From time to time, put a “no work talk” rule on your conversations with friends and family (and even colleagues). It can feel temporarily satisfying to fixate on work stuff, but ultimately it just sends you further down the rabbit hole.
17. Remember that you’re working so hard for a reason, and that reason is to live a good life and share it with the people you love. If you don’t take time to enjoy the fruits of all that obsessive work, you may as well not be doing it in the first place.
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