When I started my first job two years ago, I was completely unprepared for the transition from school to working full-time. It was a total change in lifestyle.
My social life changed dramatically. After college, I moved home, hours away from the friends who I had spent so much time with over the past four years. Wanting to impress my new employer, I threw myself into the job, picking up projects left and right to prove my worth. I found myself working long hours and still taking work home on the weekend, straining my relationships with friends and family when I constantly missed girls’ nights, dinners, long-awaited visits from out-of-town family.
It took a few months for my social life to recover, and I rekindled my relationships with friends who were in the same boat as me – finding themselves struggling to have a social life after starting their first jobs.
On my college campus, there were so many different things to do. When I moved home, I had to go out of my way to find activities and groups I could participate in. So, I joined a gym, where I take yoga classes and meet other people my age. I signed up for a volleyball league that plays for an hour a week. I even joined a book club at my local library. Having these activities in my life has given me a good reason to avoid extra hours at work when it’s not necessary.
It took a lot of time, but I’ve finally learned to start saying no to working late and start saying yes to doing the things that I want to do. I’ve learned to make seeing my friends a priority, even if it’s just to watch a TV show like “The Bachelor” once a week. I still have to work long hours occasionally because of the nature of my job. As an event planner, I know that I will have to put in long hours leading up to events, but I’m able to manage my time better now.
Working such long hours made work the majority of my life, something that quickly grew overwhelming and unsatisfying. When anything takes precedence in your life over everything else, it creates an imbalance. As I made time for myself, I started sleeping better, getting a full seven hours instead of my usual four or five hours. By picking up old hobbies like writing and playing the piano, I felt more fulfilled creatively. This balance has helped me to enjoy my life and show up to my job feeling refreshed and ready to work hard.
Even when I do work well over eight hours, I find ways to make sure that I maintain some semblance of balance for my own health. No matter how long I have to work, I always have to eat dinner at some point, so I make a point to take a break from work and eat dinner with my family or friends and not talk about work! To make sure I stick with this routine, I don’t bring my dinner to work, therefore forcing myself to leave the office. While I don’t always make it to the gym every day, I try to at least squeeze in a couple of hours a week, especially on the weekends when I naturally have more free time. And by signing up for classes, I know ahead of time that that hour is dedicated to working out and relieving stress.
Most jobs do have their times when long hours are inevitable. Accountants work long hours during tax season. Teachers work long hours during midterms and finals. Many people might feel like they have to put in long hours to get ahead at work – just like I did – and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s all about finding a work/life balance that’s right for each person. For me, intentionally making more time for myself has actually improved my work performance, revitalized my social life, and helped me to lead a healthier life. I know there will be things to tweak from time to time, but by keeping an eye on the balance between my professional and personal life, I’m better at both.