Running Towards Work/Life Balance

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We all stress. It's natural. We get overwhelmed at work or home, things pile up, and we fear that we'll drop one of the many balls that we have in the air. And it happens. We screw up and drop the balls and stress out about it.

The danger with stress, though, is it causes us to confuse what's important with what's inconsequential. It blurs our perspective and rearranges our priorities. This is when a minor task at work is valued more than a major event at home. When we try to please everyone, we end up alienating someone, and it's usually the one closest to us. It's safer to piss off your spouse or your best friend, rather than your boss, right?  After all, they'll understand. And they will understand, at first. Work is important. It generates income, which we obviously require to survive in the modern world. The problem is that that we put a premium on the almighty dollar and forget how valuable our time is (time with family and friends, time pursuing hobbies, time developing new skills, etc.). Time is our most precious resource, but it's easy to forget that reality as we go about our days, often within the constraints of the 8,10,12 hour workweek, focused solely on making money to support whatever lifestyle we aspire to. Then, suddenly, we wonder where the time went and ask ourselves why we can't seem to connect with our family and friends. We wonder why we don't actually do anything anymore.

This ultimately gives birth to stress, which, more often than not, spawns bad habits. We've all been there. You're on edge, so you lash out at friends and family. To take the edge off, you develop addictive, unhealthy behavior. It's a cycle that can lead down a dangerous path that's difficult to course correct.

I have a tendency to stress big time. About everything. I often stress out about feeling stressed out. I don't have the answer to this problem, but I have a working theory, and isn't profound or groundbreaking - implement healthy behavior that's also a natural stress reducer.

Like many people, I have days when I love my job and days when I hate my job. But the latter days were starting to tip the scale. I was bringing my job home with me physically and emotionally, I was spending more and more time away from home (staying late in the office or traveling oversees), and it was causing an unhealthy amount of stress. To cope, I was indulging in too much alcohol and too much junk food. I'm normally a skinny dude, but I was carrying 25lbs more weight than usual, mostly in my gut. I felt like shit.

Partly to lose weight, but mostly in an effort to take control and do something, I started running. After a month of running 3-4 days a week, I was happy to see my gut was disappearing, but I was more surprised to realize I wasn't stressed anymore. Sure, I still had stressful days at the office, but they weren't staying with me. If I felt on edge, I'd run and leave my worries in the dust. I'd simultaneously clear my head and work through whatever issue was bothering me. I also began eating better and drinking less, without really thinking about it. It just happened naturally. I found balance and became a happy person again.

Around the time I began running, my work/life priorities started shifting. I curbed the overtime at the office and stopped taking work home because, most of the time, it was work for the sake of work. It didn't carry any urgency. More often than not, the task could wait until the following day. I also started cutting the duration of work trips, so I could limit traveling on weekends. This allowed me to take back my time, so I could spend it with the people I care about. Of course, there are exceptions. I still travel regularly and I occasionally have to put in overtime at the office, but I changed my thinking so the exceptions were no longer the rule. 

We all stress. It's natural, so don't fret it. The best we can do is put mechanisms in place that counteract stress and encourage a return to stasis. I run. What do you do?

  

Try New Things

Complacency is a silent killer. When life is finally going your way, be wary because one day in the not-so-distant future you will wake up bored, fat, and unmotivated. We get comfortable in our daily routine, we tell ourselves that we’re busier than we actually are, and then we forget to challenge ourselves. This happens to all of us. It’s inevitable. I’ve been sucked into this cycle a number of times, and I’m still trying to figure out how to avoid it. Apparently, I’m a slow learner.

What I have figured out is that complacency creeps in when we stop trying new things. There’s never a shortage of new skills to learn, but when we give up, we’re doomed. I fell victim to this when I finished university. I took a mental vacation from learning and quickly stumbled into a rut. Learning how to plan a wedding pulled me out of it. Likewise, after I became a working-stiff and family man, I tricked myself into thinking I had no time for new things, so I put on my comfy clothes and hibernated. Becoming a runner forced a wardrobe change.

Trying new things keeps the mind fresh, helps us develop new skills, and puts us in situations where we’re forced to meet new people. Ultimately, we become better, well-rounded people as a result. It’s easier said than done, though, and I certainly don’t have things figured out. For one, finding motivation to step out of your comfort zone can be difficult. Also, trying something new can be downright scary.

As cheesy as it sounds, Dr. Leo Marvin, from the comedy classic What About Bob, was onto something with his groundbreaking book Baby Steps. Setting a series of small, targeted goals is much easier than a large, undefined one; it gives you a plan to follow and breaks the goal into manageable chunks. It also helps if you research the new skill you want to learn. Knowledge truly is a powerful thing, and a bit of research can also help make the task at hand appear less daunting.

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but I have a tendency to over complicate things, so I’m going to keep it simple for once. I’m using this approach to cross a few items off my bucket list this year – run a half marathon, write a screenplay, and learn a new martial art (either Aikido, Kung Fu, or Muay Thai). I’ve signed up for a half marathon scheduled in May, and the training is going well. So far so good.

Excess Baggage: Packing for the Business Trip

I have a complicated history with packing for a trip. I've been doing it for most of my life. My parents divorced when I was young, which resulted in weekly "trips" from one residence to the other. I suppose the smart thing would've been to keep a wardrobe and other essentials at each house: the weekend warrior wear at one and the schoolboy regalia at the other. That idea never occurred to me, though, which resulted in a constant state of packing. I'd get through the school week, pack a bag Friday night, and then head to my Dad's place Saturday and Sunday (sometimes I'd unpack, sometimes not). Monday morning I'd drop my bag(s) off at my Mom's on the way to school and unpack afterwards. Rinse and repeat.

This perpetual dance resulted in a tendency to overpack. The one way I could control things was to be sure I had the gear required to navigate the weekend. Only adrift for three days, but certainly I needed jeans, three pair of shorts, two sweaters,  three t-shirts, a bathing suit or two, pajamas, five pair of socks and underwear, sneakers, sandals, a guitar, and two books. This was the norm.

Fast forward fifteen years. I travel regularly on business, and carry-on luggage is preferred for these trips. Packing now tests the limits of my sanity. Whether a three day trip or a ten day trip, it doesn't matter. The process is the same. One suit or two? Definitely four dress shirts, five ties, three pocket squares, and a pair of dress shoes. Need those khakis for dinners with clients, jeans for the casual dinners with "friendly" clients, a nice pair of shorts for evenings dining at the hotel bar, and "comfy" shorts for bumming around the hotel in the mornings and between meetings. Four graphic t-shirts, also for bumming around, and three golf shirts are a necessity. At least five undershirts and seven pair of socks and underwear. Bathing suit and flip flops. Don't forget the workout attire - athletic shorts, sweat wicking shirt, underwear and socks, a pair of running shoes, iPod with armband for running, heart rate monitor, and sweat proof, in-ear headphones. Obviously need the laptop, iPad, gameboy 3ds, novel (the tactile experience of reading a book is preferred to the impersonal e-book experience), cell phone, noise cancelling headphones, journal, chargers, notebook, business plans and other client related material, including no less than 25 business cards, even though clients have my contact information already. Passport (US and Canadian) and wallet are not to be forgotten. And cash...lots of US cash.

All this should fit into one, standard issue piece of carry-on luggage and a briefcase, right?

Changing Things Up

I've decided to change things up a bit on this blog. As you can tell by taking a cursory glance at the site, I haven't posted in awhile. Not much in total, really. And it comes down to the fact that there are a million sites that review music, games, lifestyle products, etc., and I got bored with it pretty quick. Also, I don't have the time to write a meaningful review of items on a regular basis. I can't consume as much media as I used too. There's just too much out there and too little time. I'll still include the occasional review or discussion about things that I'm into, but I plan on writing more personal content in the future. You know...random observations, reflections on experiences, maybe even some poetry or creative writing if I'm feeling ambitious. Basically, I'm figuring this out as I go along. I know that's counter to what this blogging thing is all about, that you're supposed to have your mission statement figured out before actually starting a blog, but I've never really worked that way. I tend to get ahead of myself. The verdict is still out on whether that's a good or bad character trait. I like to think the former, but I'm a bit biased.