When you’re working to live…

...life can pass you by.

Hello, hi. As ever, it’s been a while. I got busy. And lately, I’ve realised that I have a pot of energy. It’s up to me to decide how to portion it out. I used to devote most of it to work, and the rest to keeping up appearances. Shouting about things in social and letting everybody know about all my exciting experiences. I used to wonder why I felt so spent, and yet so unfulfilled.

After Burnout v2.0 (because I didn’t listen first time round), I took stock of myself. Prompted in part by a few family health scares (I say a few, but here’s the list in all its painful glory: dad having a stroke, then a heart operation; mum falling and breaking her hip, then contracting a virus in hospital, THEN falling down the stairs; that fun hospital appointment where they told my boyfriend they thought he might have leukaemia (update: he thankfully doesn’t, but to this day is still an outpatient at the blood cancers clinic); losing two of my uncles and my 43-year-old cousin in the space of a year; plus my own illnesses and operations), I began to review what really matters to me.

I started to realise that, while I’d give everything to a job – so much so that I’d make myself ill – ultimately the job would never give that back. I started to view work in a different way. I didn’t want to live to work anymore. Life is too precious to spend all day in meetings and trying to answer every email in your inbox.

I started to learn a few things on who mattered most to me. When my dad was taken into hospital after suffering a stroke, I was walking back home, holding his hat and glasses in my hands (I was with him when it happened, but couldn’t go in the ambulance with him), I was overwhelmed with the emotion of: what if he never sees me get married? Or have children? If he goes now, will he be proud of me? Will I be proud of myself? That was several years ago now and really put the wheels in motion.

The night my mum had her hip operation, I was away in Brighton, running an influencer event for a brand. I barely checked in, because I was so busy. The company, who knew what was going on in my personal life (this was the same year as my dad’s heart operation), didn’t intervene or suggest I step away. Should they? Should I? All I know is that I’d handle things differently with hindsight.

Then when we were told my boyfriend might have cancer, I mean. That. Changed. Everything. Suddenly you’re like: why haven’t we got married yet? Had children? Spent every living moment together? It’s so cliched but those weeks where life as I knew it was hanging in the balance really changed everything.

Some things unintentionally: my mind, was – understandably – in bits. As was my heart. I was somehow still holding down a full-on full time job, but something inside me changed. I couldn’t do it any more. I didn’t want to do it any more. I started making mistakes, which at the time I thought were accidental, but looking back I believe they were all part of the Universe’s master plan. They in fact put in motion a series of events that meant I quit my job – and all the other side hustles I was desperately trying to juggle to prove I was exciting! I was a real somebody! That I could do it all!

I basically put the kibosh on everything and started from scratch.

I asked myself: What did the ideal working week look like to me? What was I passionate about? What things did I truly hate doing? What were my main triggers for stress?

It sounds so obvious, but I decided to do less of those things, nor things I disliked and more of the things that made me happy. For me, this involved going freelance, allowing myself to work when I was well and to rest as needed. To uninstall the drilled-in concept that Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm is the only way of working.

And so far it’s working.

But it’s left me wondering: Why so often does it take a life-changing event (or two) before we change our lives? Why don’t we listen to our body, heart and mind sooner, and trust? So many of us put our careers and what we think we “should” be doing before what truly matters. I won’t be doing that anymore.