On Balance

Lionheart Magazine issue 11 – November 2019. 

On balance 

I wanted to get more serious about my work, and be more deliberate about where I’m going with it. I started spending a lot of time thinking about work – what do I want to do? Because before you can go there, you need to know where “there” is, you know? I loved spending those long, meandering hours pondering the question. It was so satisfying, and I made some real professional progress. And then I realise I hadn’t seen my friends in months. 

I wanted to be closer to my friends, spending more time talking to them in the week. It was great: I spent hours chatting with people, talking about ideas and solving problems, enjoying their company in ways I hadn’t done since I was at university. And then I realised I was spending hours of my workday on my phone. 

I wanted to get into shape, and I started doing flowy, fast yoga several times a week. It was incredible: I felt strong, and energetic, and happy. But then I realised that all that yoga was threatening to interfere with my sex life; the studio was nowhere near my house meaning I ended up going out all sweaty, so fit from all the yoga and yet so untouchable. 

I wanted to start eating better, having proper food for lunch and making a real dinner for the evening – food should be an exploration! It was a relief: there was always good, healthy food in the house, and I felt so much better for eating so deliberately, both physically and mentally. And then I realised that food, with the endless planning, shopping and cooking, had become a part time job. 

There’s always something to do better, but there’s only so many hours in the day. What I’m craving more of right now is thinking time – just space to sit with the thoughts in my head and see where they go. But balance eludes me – I’m always the person on the Tube who’s got their notebook or laptop out, taking advantage of the extra half hour to get things done. If I’m already in that “work” headspace, why not keep going? There’s a time to rest and a time to get things done, and I’ve come to realise that for me, the two simply don’t mix. 

I’ve worked for myself for eight years, which has given me a lot of time to think about work-life balance. I’ve experimented widely: keeping standard office hours, working when I feel like it, wearing proper clothes, wearing leggings, working in cafés, working in bed – I’ve tried it all. Some things worked better than others and I still go through phases for what I prefer, but no matter the details I know that the only way for me is to do one thing at a time – I resent changing my focus. This is the opposite of balance, but I’ve realised that anything that’s worth doing will fuck up your life. Fall in love, invest in work, travel somewhere great, help someone who’s in crisis – it will dominate you. The best moments in life are the ones that overwhelm you.

Right now I’m focusing squarely on work. I’ve gone through periods where I’ve focused on travel, mental health, relationships – it took me such a long time to get here, where I’m able to put my full force behind work. But all that faffing about means I’ve had plenty of time to sort out the details: I know what I like, and what it takes for me to be able to do good work. Now I wake up and read in bed for 90 minutes with coffee before I do anything else. I make sure to have food in the house and eat the same thing for lunch every day – something nice but simple, so I don’t have to think about it. I schedule time with people I want to see. I wash my hair every other day, after doing yoga at home, before I go out. I make sure I get some. And in the middle of all that there’s a block of time – about six hours – when I put my headphones on and play house music, and I do the work. No breaks, just pure focus. 

Except sometimes. I met my friend Matt for lunch the other day, after a meeting in the city. We had some Thai food – do you have somewhere to be, he asked me, and to my surprise I found that I didn’t. When our coffee cups were empty we sat there for at least another hour. I’d been so busy lately I’ve barely had time to make it to the post office, let alone take a long lunch. But that day I did, and afterwards I walked in the sun from Shoreditch to the Thames, which was muddy and vast and open and lets you breathe in the middle of this mad rush of a city. I did no work at all that afternoon. I just stood on the bridge, looking out at the water, thinking how wonderful it is to get to live like this – to have this charmed life that has no balance at all.

Published by Jess

Journalist; Londoner.