Pro Tips: The Body Doesn't Lie
There was a period of time where I was wholly dedicated to the conservatory program that I was attending. I felt like a multitasking genius – I was on top of both my school and my supplemental job, I was fully prepared for all assignments, my personal finances were in order – I felt great!
One day, a friend in my conservatory pulled me aside. “I feel embarrassed telling you this,” she began, “but you have a balding spot on the back of your head. It’s about the size of a quarter.”
I was stunned. Both of my parents have full, robust heads of hair that have withstood the ravages of aging. I did too, until then. I promptly visited a hair specialist, who examined me and declared, “Your hair will likely grow back – this looks like stress-related hair loss.”
Though relieved, I found myself objecting that yes, of course my life was stressful, but I didn’t feel that stressed.
Her simple response to me: “The body doesn’t lie.”
I came to realize: I may have felt like a warrior because I was so high-functioning, but it came at a cost that I wasn’t registering because I was so focused on being focused. And even if I could lie to myself and say I was alright, my body wouldn’t lie – it was stressed and needed care.
For anyone who lives a freelancer / multiple-jobber’s life, being able to juggle all the responsibilities that come along with it is a crucial skill to develop not just to survive, but to survive well. We all strive to be productive, but there are times when our ambitions can unintentionally result in overwork or imbalance in our lives. And the more overwhelmed or burnt out we feel, the harder it is to work at an optimal level; we start to hit diminishing returns.
I’ve seen this happen with all of my friends and colleagues that have gone through a season of extreme career focus. People lose friends and relationships, they neglect their diet and their overall health, they ignore their finances, they begin “losing it” emotionally, their bodies start betraying them with insomnia, hives, ulcers, and the like…
What we want to avoid is staying too long in a reactive existence, meaning that you’re just fielding responsibilities and emails and any other obligations that are thrown your way but never feeling like you’re on top of your life. There will be times where life will be like this (an exam coming up, a deadline for a major project) and you must hunker down with complete focus. But once you can carve yourself out any time, even just 10 minutes of your day, you will be surprised at what changes you can make and what a world of a difference it makes in you.
Balance means something different to everyone, but the good news is, we can all begin to ask ourselves some key questions to figure out how to live better and how to live smarter so we’re not just hemorrhaging all our energies in one area while neglecting other key areas of our life that make us feel happy and whole.
As a freelancer and multiple-jobber, I’ve had to wrestle with this at length and these steps have been crucial in helping me achieve a greater sense of balance and focused productivity in my life:
Thoughtfully Engage with Your Priorities
Take some time for yourself to daydream and to ask yourself: what kind of a life do you want to have? What does it look like? What makes you truly feel good and healthy? Is it friends, solitude, more time for the gym, etc? Write these things down and make a mental note – these things need purposeful attention. Examples include: relationships, solid financials, health and wellness, spirituality, hobbies, and so on.
Think about what’s missing
Some sober self-assessment is in order – I’d like to invite you think about what your life looks like now and then ask yourself: why does it differ from what you’d like to have? Write these things down and try not to judge yourself. You are a fascinating, complex person with your own systems for how you work and the more objectively you can see yourself, the more smartly you can engage and make really revolutionary changes in your life.
Think about what things are under your control. The possibilities are endless in a positive way! Maybe it’s only giving 80% to your job instead of 110%. Maybe it’s removing mindless TV watching or internet surfing from your life. Maybe it’s about reaching out and connecting to people in your life more. Maybe it’s google searching for an affordable life coach, therapist, or financial counselor. There are all sorts of small actions we can take, and realizing and naming these things will help empower you and move you in the direction you want to go.
Calendaring is one of my favorite things – and if you can embrace it as a helpful tool in your life, it can break up your time and your large goals into small, manageable actions that over time, really make progress. Start with small increments – set aside 10 minutes a day to google something, to call someone, to meditate! But make sure that at least once a calendar week, all of your priorities are getting at least 10 minutes of investment from you. If you can do more, go for it! Also not to be ignored, I encourage you to budget in enough sleep for yourself because the importance of being well-rested cannot be overemphasized!
Forgiveness and Re-Engagement
If you’ve gotten swamped again and come to realize that you’ve fallen off track, forgive yourself and re-engage with your priorities. We are bound to make mistakes and to slip – life happens. But continually being able to re-engage and find a self-supportive joy in achieving balance will help you keep at it. Pursuing balance is definitely a lifelong practice!
Oh, and last note: it’s been 4 years and true to the doctor’s word, my hair has grown back.