9 to 5
I never used to carry work home. Back in 2009-11, I was working at a large corporation in San Francisco. When I shut my laptop down and left for the day, I didn't think about work until I came back and opened the laptop the next morning. I never even took my laptop home, as it was for work and I'd leave it at my desk.
Work was something I did to get a paycheck. Which allowed me to spend 8 hours of my day (8 at work, and 8 sleeping, which leaves 8) doing what I wanted to do.
Over the past 11 years, my relationship with work has changed. I don't view work as a chore anymore. I work at a company that I helped found and a cause that's close to my heart - to help people improve their health and fitness and live stronger lives. This deeper sense of purpose helps me jump out of bed every morning. It keeps me motivated when things look bleak. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and keeps changing and evolving.
Two different streams conjoined and led me to move back to Madras to do what I do today. One is a growing malaise at work. My cushy job was not fulfilling, and I was getting itchy feet. Two, my personal transformation from being a clueless, unfit, unhealthy young adult to a strong person.
My self-transformation helped me realise this was a gap. If I had this problem, how many people around me are having this? How many people are driven to solve it for themselves? I could help with that.
Most of us suffer not from motivation or willpower but from a lack of a good teacher. I loved teaching, and here was a method to combine purpose, a deeper sense of self, and making a tangible, crucial difference in people's lives.
Like the early stages of a relationship, when you are head over heels for somebody or something, you stop looking around. You lose all sense of balance and time.
I worked crazy hours and I loved it. The fact that I was in direct connection with the people I was working with and I could see the difference I was making with my own eyes kept fuelling the fire.
The pandemic was a good wake-up call. Visiting my old haunts in San Francisco before that helped rekindle memories as well. I realised I had fallen into quite a bit of autopilot and had lost a significant sense of my work-life balance.
The "good problems" of living your passion, as I realised. It always helps me to look at extreme cases, of people who are facing a similar challenge but at a higher level. And to see the direction they took, and if that appeals or not. Because we are looking at extreme levels of success (narrowly defined as fame/money/#1), their failures in life and relationships send a stark warning.
While I was nowhere close to redlining, having a few extra hours in my day due to the lockdown gave me time to stop and think. I realised I had gotten caught up in my bullshit, yet again.
What's the end game?
What was I working towards? What's the end goal?
To have a work-life balance. To continue making a difference in people's lives. To have deeper relationships with the few people around me. To have enough time for myself, to learn and to challenge me. To have a good time.
To follow my own advice, I realised these were things that won't happen one fine day but had to start happening immediately. While there was no way to figure out the right answer, aiming in the right direction was a good start.
I have a tendency to over-correct. From my childhood, my rebellious nature has entailed dramatic shifts in attitude and action. But knowing this and allowing this has helped me move on with things. I know I'll get to balance.
Some things had become impossible. A weekend without work, for example. A vacation without an hour of work. The word impossible sends alarm bells and as part of my over-correction, I took a few weekends off . And longer vacations. And disappeared.Having a support system and an amazing team at work makes this possible, and lets me know that nothing burns down when I am not around. Or especially because :)
I stopped responding to WhatsApp or phone calls during certain hours of the day and most of the weekend.
Then, my thinking evolved. The only person judging that "a weekend without work" is good or bad is me. Instead, what is the larger goal here? And if I am making progress towards it, all is well.
The "Don't work on weekends" is a hard and fast rule that might not be the right one at all times. There are weekends when I enjoy working. There are weekends when I don't see my laptop. Likewise, there are vacations when I am off the reservation. And vacations where I check in.
The WhatsApp/Email checks are not about WhatsApp or email. But the relevant question is does it help or hinder me? Or better yet, the larger goal?
Figuring out my path and process is a constant. As my evaluation system keeps improving and as my personal dashboard provides better insights, I keep tinkering and making changes. And moving in a direction that feels better.
What changed was realising (well, not completely ...) there's no right answer. Nor am I expected to get it right. But instead, learning to listen to all parts of me, and not my head.
There is a cost to everything we do. Knowing the cost is important. Knowing our values and our end game, equally so. And then, we can start working on ensuring that we aren't fucking ourselves up while narrowmindedly going towards a goal that does NOT encompass all of us.
Note: If this post seems self-indulgent with all the first-person stuff going on, I apologise. But in case it isn't obvious yet, all my posts are written to me first and you second :)