Life and Work: The Balancing Act

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Like nearly all other writers out there- I have a day job. Now, fate was kind to me, and it is a job that I deeply enjoy- but it is also a job that takes up the majority of my week. Between the time it takes me to get ready in the morning (I move glacially slow before 7am), my commute to and from work, and my time actually spent there- that is about 12 and a half hours of my day, 5 days a week, already spoken for. That’s just for my regularly scheduled programming; sleep sold separately.

We live in a world where we are constantly moving, other people and things are poking and prying for attention- in fact as I sit here typing this, I have a black and white kitty attempting to head butt my fingers off of the keyboard to pet him already- before giving up and sitting on them. That will show me.

I wish I could tell you that there was some secret to making it all work- managing to have your day job, your writing career, friends and family that feel both valued and loved by you, and still squirreling away some time for yourself. I would love to impart some words of wisdom that would transform you into the superhero of your own life, kicking ass and taking names.

But if we writers know anything, it is that growth is only born from the struggle. Becoming a good writer is like anything else in life- you have to fight for it. You have to decide that it is important enough. You have to learn the balance that will make you (and those that you love) happy. Now, I don’t have a magical solution- but I do have years of trial-and-error that have helped me get closer to my own balance.

For starters, and I can’t stress this enough- whatever you are doing, be present in it, be fully immersed- in all aspects of your life. If you are writing, be in your writing, not poking around online (unless it is research that you cannot make it through another scene without). If you are spending time with loves ones- be in the moment. Do not ‘take two seconds’ to check up on the status of your last blog post- because trust me, if you seem to be distracted they will probably notice and say something. And that conversation will go much better for you if you don’t have to ask them what they said because you were only halfway paying attention. We live in an age of instant gratification- don’t fall victim to it.

Second, know and maintain your schedule. When you have a laundry list of things to do each day, and only a couple of free hours to cram them in- take the extra time to plan. Perhaps you have happy hour after work tomorrow, and you know you won’t ‘have just one and head home early’ (even though you always tell yourself that you will)- maybe you should go to bed early tonight, so you can wake up and get a bit of writing done before work. Or perhaps your schedule fits better as a lunch-hour or weekend writer- know yourself and your schedule, otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t run yourself ragged. You need time for yourself too, after everything else is said and done. You need to recharge. Getting outside and going for a walk, or starting a workout routine can be helpful. I know it seems counter-productive, this whole post is about finding time to write in your busy schedule, so why add something seemingly unrelated on top of the heap of items you should accomplish? Trust me- your work will thank you. Your brain needs a break too. A big part of finding the time is to use the time you have available more wisely. I am a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. So give yourself regular breaks, get your blood pumping and your brain working more efficiently- then you will need less time to produce a higher caliber of work. Sometimes the answers are hidden in plain sight, and sometimes all you need is to take better care of yourself.

At the end of the day, it will come down to you, it will come down to whether you want this enough. Writing is one of the hardest things I have done, but I don’t know how to be me without it. That is my reason, that is my purpose. I do this for me.

 

 

Jumping off the Bridge (crossing out of the comfort zone)

I once jumped off of a bridge because my friends did. (Sorry mom, but I can explain).

It was early spring, and still cold enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but the sun was out and there was not a drop of rain in sight (a rare treat in the pacific northwest). We were on a white water rafting trip for my friend’s birthday- the first time I had ever done something like that. I was already feeling emboldened because I had not only managed to climb into the raft without any help, but I had also succeeded in staying in it the entire time- didn’t even lose my paddle! So naturally, being dry and warm in my wet suite- it seemed like a perfectly logical idea to take the guide’s offer to climb out of my little raft and scramble up to the cement monstrosity we had just managed to pass under. I even convinced my sister to follow along (again- sorry mom, but big sister peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with).

That was all it took- not even gentle prodding, just the mere mention of this possible adventure, and there I was. Standing on the cement railing, staring down into the dark rushing waters below me as four rafts of college aged students (most of which I didn’t even know) stared up at me with gleaming expectation in their eyes.

Now, let me explain something to you- a vital element to this story. I have two big fears: heights and deep water. And there I was, standing on the edge of a bridge glaring into the eyes of both of them. I remember thinking that after everything, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be the only one to turn tail and walk sheepishly back down to the rafts, dry as a bone. I stood there and nearly froze, perched precariously on the railing, staring down into the black water. And then my friends started cheering for me- perhaps they were able to see the slight hint of panic in my face, or they noticed the way my muscles tensed and I stopped breathing.

I knew that all I had to do was take one step off of that ledge- just one, and then there would be no more going back, it would be done. It would be over in a heartbeat. All I had to do was go- and forget the fact that I was stepping out into a void of nothingness. Before I could let my brain catch up and realize what I was doing, my body moved.

You always expect that something crazy and adventurous would go quickly, it would be over in the blink of an eye- I would hit the water, and all would be right in my world once more. Don’t let the lies fool you- that’s not how it happened. Everything was suddenly going in slow motion. I had more than enough time for my brain to catch on to what was happening and berate me for what a stupid decision I had just made. Jumping off of a bridge? Really Katie? A bridge? Isn’t that the exact example all parents use because its just so ludicrous, who in their right mind would do it? I am pretty sure I could have read the entire works of Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote- and still had time for a spot of tea- all in that endless moment from when my feet left the cement bridge to when the water engulfed me from below. And all I could do was stare at it’s lapping waves as I approached, as the dark expanse of water slowly grew larger. The whole time I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad when I hit, and secretly willing my body to magically learn the art of teleportation and zap me back up onto the bridge.

And then I was in, the water was cold as it enveloped me, slowing me down as I sunk towards the bottom. It was done, I was kicking towards the surface, fleetingly wondering how deep this little water hole really was, and whether Lake Placid style crocodiles could ever hide in a place this far north (fully immersed underwater, it seemed like a plausible possibility- so I kicked harder). I half floated, half swam back to the raft where my friends pulled me in and I looked up to watch the next person take their death defying leap.

I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of the way- and I’m actually doing it again now as I relive this memory. There is something about knowing your boundaries and your fears- and tossing them to the wind anyways.

If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that every story we have worth telling starts at the edge of our comfort zones. We just have to be brave enough to take that leap outside of our self-imposed boundaries. I am the first to admit that I forget this fact a lot. But this year I have been fighting for my adventures, the spice that peppers my writing. Some days all I want to do is curl up on my couch and ignore whatever is waiting for me outside that door. But the other thing life has taught me- you never regret opening that door, even if it all turns out disastrously- you have one more memory, one more moment to shape who you will become. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the girl who did something- even if it was as crazy as jumping off of a bridge in spite of your fears.

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