Nearly one year ago, I hit an intense wall of burnout that left me incapacitated and almost cost me my business and my clients. After nearly twelve years of solid, fast-paced and frenetic entrepreneurship, I was forced into making a change, instantly. Whether I wanted that change or not.
After taking a good look at my current state of affairs, I thought that more balance was the change I so desperately needed. I had been so immersed into my work that I was forgot to take care of myself and give myself time to breathe. So, I set out on an adventure that I called, "The Year of Self-Care."
The goal of the year was simple: I was going to turn off the noise, tone down the chatter, say no to everything and hunker down. It turns out, tipping the scales too far in the other direction has its consequences, too.
Turning It Off
When you are born to do something, it's hard to turn it off.
For most people who go into business for themselves, they feel called to it. It's hard to dial down the entrepreneurship knob once you're immersed in the ecosystem and anything less than "all-in" can have a detrimental effect on the external perception of your business' health.
We live in a society that values hard work, resilience, strength and self-sacrifice for success but in the same breath, we hold firmly onto the fantasy of work/life balance. Balance often appears as the Utopian destination for our noisy brains and a safe haven where we can finally relax. And, we try to have it all.
So, when I found myself up against the wall, I pared down everything, shrunk my business down to a more manageable size and sought out what I thought work/life balance looked like. The only problem was that when I found the popular version of it (more downtime, less work), I was miserable.
Born to Be
Most entrepreneurs can likely relate to the following sentiment: I am my work and my work is me. I am my craft and my craft is me.
The fibre of my being is carefully constructed with the blood, sweat and tears that I've poured into making my business, my dream, a reality.
Stepping out of my craft, to focus on everything but work, created a hole in my soul where my business used to be. It created a void and I filled it with negative behaviours.
Pre-burnout, I was never preoccupied with what other people were doing because my business and the work I did with clients consumed me. Post-burnout, I found myself in comparison paralysis and experiencing envy at what my colleagues were doing.
Instead of feeling inspired to stay in my creative "genius zone", I felt like I was sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone to toss me back into the game.
Suddenly, I felt like my business and I were no longer partners. Instead, it felt like that terrible friend who brings forth all of your insecurities and lays them on the table to dissect one by one. The void between my business and myself grew larger and larger until I questioned everything I had ever done for the past twelve years.
Flipping the Tables
Even though I had found myself in a position where I was able to take my evenings and weekends off completely and I no longer felt the pull into creatively-fueled all-nighters, the void felt too large. I thought I had finally found that oasis in the middle of the desert -- less work, more downtime -- but my unhappiness told a different story.
The truth was, I wanted my business, my purpose and my passion back.
So, I started to dip my toe back into the water. I wrote more. I created more. I explored new ideas and something magical happened: my momentum returned, my spirit soared, my energy rose and I felt happier, fulfilled... whole.
Work/life balance will look different to everyone but I truly believe that when you've found what you're called to do, it's impossible to turn off. When you've found your calling, work and life meld together in a beautiful, harmonious way. Work fuels your life and your life fuels your work.
I suppose at the end of the day, I did find balance. It just didn't look like the balance that everyone else said it should.
Perhaps that's the real lesson here: look for the version of work/life balance that is going to work for you and that honours the part of you that can't be turned off.
It's okay to want to be immersed in your work and have a rich, fulfilling life. You deserve to have it all in whatever equation makes sense for you.