Here is a story of domestic strife which repeats itself in homes across the world, every day (probably): My husband and I had a fight about something dumb. This happens from time to time – like most couples who live together and have been with each other a long time, occasionally we entertain ourselves by arguing over who should get up and turn the hall light off when we’re already in bed. That wasn’t what our fight was about, though it was pretty effing stupid. But this time my reaction was so extreme, and so disproportionate, that this whole experience really changed me. I got so angry. We didn’t speak for a whole day, I think the longest we’ve deliberately avoided each other since we met. When I got home from work that evening, he was actually convinced I was going to leave him, because of how angry I’d been. Seeing how upset he was, realising that I’d done that to him, felt terrible and caused me to reflect a lot on why I’d completely blown up over such a ridiculous disagreement. I was stressed out at work and I wasn’t addressing it, meaning my panic and frustration was coming out in other ways, making me act like a self destructive menace in my personal life.
Like most people my age I’ve been told for a long time the importance of goals. If you want to be successful in life, aim high and pour all of your energy in to hitting that mark. Achieving your goals means personal fulfilment, which means happiness. Pretty much all of my goals are career oriented. So I took aim at the kinds of jobs I wanted and worked hard at getting them. What I haven’t really thought about until fairly recently is that all this time I’ve been conflating ‘job’ with ‘life’. I didn’t plan for what kind of life I wanted because my job would be my life – once I had the job I wanted, I would have the life I wanted. I think creative people are especially prone to this because your ambition and your passion can be so consuming. Until you get that job you want, everything else can seem kind of meaningless.
There are a lot of things I love about my job; I get to solve interesting challenges, it pays well, it’s in a nice location, my boss and co-workers are lovely and it’s in a field I’m genuinely interested in. Do I love it more than my husband? Nope. If I lost my job tomorrow, of course I’d be upset but I know I could get another job. If I lost Daniel, I’d crumble. So why do I and so many of us put our lives, put the feelings of people we care about, at risk for our jobs? I think it’s because of the life/job thing I mentioned above. We’re made to feel like once the job is right, our lives will be right. And so our focus narrows and narrows and we forget to check in with what’s going on in our actual life. But your job is never going to be perfect because it’s your job. The perfect job is a one dimensional myth which only exists in movies, like the perfect surprise party or reading a book in the bath. Doing something for money for long stretches at a time, even if it’s something you’re completely psyched about, is going to come with a litany of pros and cons which really are more or less out of your hands. And if you over invest your emotional energy in it, one day you might find yourself screaming your head off at the person you love the most, over nothing.
And this is by no means a ‘work-life balance/go for a run on your lunch break’ column. If I’m being totally honest, I’m still not great at that. I still work late, I still lie awake at night thinking about my email inbox. I spend my lunch breaks reading Buzzfeed and looking at animals doing people things on Tumblr. But what I’m trying now is to step away from the idea of a ‘dream job’ and that once I have that great job, my whole life will automatically also be great. I have to balance that against my own personal ambitions but the fact is there is no way to tell from the outside what a job is going to be like until you’re doing it. And until you know what that job is really like, there’s no point throwing your health or your hobbies or the people you love on to the sacrificial fire.
I hope this doesn’t sound cynical or bitter, because I totally believe in following your dreams. Whether you want to be a photographer, musician, illustrator, systems analyst or banker, just go for it! But we should all try harder not to let what we do for a living define who we are as a person. Your identity doesn’t have to be tied so tightly to your job, and it’s not something that’s worth hitching all of your hopes and dreams to. Like I said, I’m not the best at work life balance, whatever that means, but everybody needs something outside of work that they care passionately about, that they don’t get paid for. I love my job, but I’m lucky enough that there are a lot of things in my life that I love and if I got fired tomorrow I wouldn’t melt in to a WHO EVEN AM I ANYMORE puddle. All you can do is believe in yourself, have faith in your talent and remember that your job is one slice of your life, not the entire cake.