Most of us will have had a day job at one point or another – lots of us still do.
They mostly don’t light us up, but they tick along nicely, pay the bills, give us some social contact, enable us to experiment and get going with the businesses we dream of, and crucially don’t take up too much energy (emotional or otherwise).
But what happens when they get out of balance? When you find yourself spending more time or energy or worry than you want to on your day job? When it is encroaching on the rest of your time and energy, much more than you planned for?
The advice around this is usually to remember it’s a choice – a choice you made, and a choice you always have. Which is true, but is also very irritating when your options to make other choices immediately are limited by finances, caring commitments or contracts.
And there are some wonderful upsides beyond just money – for me, the biggest benefit has always been the amazing likeminded friends I’ve found along the way:
While you can’t always choose to change it immediately (and that might not be the answer anyway), you can use it as a catalyst for change.
You might find you start to realise you’ve been tired, grumpy, lethargic or just miserable for longer than is normal for your job, the project you’re working on or the stresses & strains happening outside work (case in point – my building work, which was fine for a while but after sixteen months of it, I am currently extremely intolerant of any disruption to my routine!).
Once you notice things are out of whack (and even more so if you find other people have been commenting on it – if you hear “you don’t seem quite yourself” or comments in that vein, they are an alarm bell), then you do have options to get things behaving again.
Negotiate your working pattern
Some companies have built in flexible working policies and some depend on your manager. But it’s worth having a little look or an early chat to see if you could change your work pattern. I shifted my full time hours over five days to the same hours, but condensed over 4.5 days to help care for my Gran during the daytime one day a week, but still have the income I needed.
Some places will offer summer hours, some a nine day fortnight (rather than a ten day week), and some might let you work staggered hours, or core hours so your start and finish times are flexible. Whether it’s around your business or your life & commitments, or a bit of both, take a look at what’s available, talk to trusted colleagues, and see if you can get some flexibility into your hours.
Consider part time
Part time isn’t possible for everyone – particularly on a single income this can be a tough one. But it is always worth looking at, and checking your outgoings and doing some budgeting, as even dropping from five days to four, or leaving earlier each day, can make a huge difference to your quality of life (and to your work productivity, if only the people in charge would read the research that has been done around this).
Again, some places will have a fixed flexible working policy while others will need individual negotiation, but you might be pleasantly surprised, especially in smaller companies in the private sector, how receptive your boss might be to this suggestion. After all, if you’re working less hours they will be saving money…!
For me, I can’t really afford to do it yet, but if my parents’ health continues to decline, I’ll be looking at dropping some hours and going to part time if possible.
Not my circus, not my monkeys
If your day job is, to you, just a J-O-B and you’re not at all emotionally invested in it, and especially if you don’t enjoy it much, try the “it isn’t my problem” approach. Even if you’re in customer service, you can do a good job without taking it all on board and analysing it, and freeing yourself of the responsibility of worrying about things that are happening at work (while obviously still continuing to work well and conscientiously) can be very liberating.
You can also care about your job without letting it drain you – it’s a tricky balance, but definitely necessary sometimes, especially in the kind of companies where the CEO says “jump” and everyone they employ asks how high after jumping…! But the point of a job, especially if you’re not trying to have a career and move ever upwards in a particular field, is definitely not to leave you fit for nothing but sofa-flopping five or six days of the week.
Repeat after me:
“Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not my corset, not my tassels. Not my pony, not my saddle…” (and I’d love to hear any more you come up with!)
Focus on your creative pursuits or your business, not on how to escape
This was advice from a couple of wise friends recently, and they hit the nail on the head. When you’re focused on how to get out of your current situation, that tends to contribute to the trapped feeling and leave you feeling paralysed with fear and convinced you’ll be stuck feeling miserable for ever and always.
If you can take a step back, notice and accept those trapped feelings, and then focus on your creative pursuits and what brings you joy, you might find yourself almost instantly calmer and happier.
When you notice the trapped feeling surfacing, or you find yourself panicking about the future and the what-ifs, take a deep breath, notice and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings, and then actively choose to do something else. Draft a blog post, go for a walk, take twenty photographs in five minutes, call a friend, watch a video of that new skill you want to learn, read a book, make a list of the books you want to read… there is always something more productive to do than worry about being stuck.
(I promise this works, I was doing it myself until previously mentioned wise friends intercepted a money and life and job meltdown and gently suggested trying this for a week. It worked a treat.)
Schedule in time for you
There’s no point pretending most of us don’t run around like headless chickens 90% of the time. Between the day jobs which are often vaunted as the Most Important Thing (here’s a secret – they’re really not!) and all the other things that we are trying to achieve in our lives, we’re constantly busy and constantly stressed and this can make it very hard to keep everything balanced and in check and where it should be.
When it gets unbalanced, I find myself stressing about work when actually often that’s not the problem at all, it’s the fact that I have no down time. (One of the things I would very much love to do this coming year is slow the fuck down! Pointers happily accepted – being busy has been my default for my entire life.)
But I know too many people, and women are particular offenders, who swear they will take time for themselves (whether that is to paint or to make Lego structures or to work on their business or read a book or chill out with the dog, or whatever it is that makes them happy), and then, you know, life happens, and other people need them, and their time goes out of the window.
If you booked a dentist’s appointment, you wouldn’t cancel it except for an actual emergency or if you were sick. If you’d promised a friend or family member that you’d be there for them for a certain task or time, you wouldn’t flake unless there was an actual emergency or if you were sick.
So why in the name of all that’s cat shaped on the internet do we treat ourselves so much worse than our friends and our families and OUR DENTISTS?! At least the dentist gets paid if you don’t turn up!
Schedule in soul time for yourself. Even if it is only an hour a week. Don’t make plans for that time, let yourself have it held to do whatever it is *you* want to do, when the time arrives. And when it does, do what you want without guilt. If you want to tweak your website, do – but don’t do it because you “should”. If you want to sleep, damn well sleep – but not if there’s something else that is calling to your soul to be done.
Your business can totally be your soul work and part of this soul time – but you need, deserve and are entitled to have time by yourself to do whatever it is you need to to feel less anxious and scratchy and fed up.
Take your businesses and art and hobbies and passion projects seriously
Ok, it sounds like a totally obvious thing to say. But do we really and truly, hand on heart, always take our non-work, non-family related things seriously?
I like to think I do, but when a friend brought this up recently, I realised that, much like the down time I’ve just preached we are all entitled to, when life laundry and muggle chores start piling up, my joyful hobbies are the first things to be squashed off the list, and my business time (especially the time working ON them rather than IN them – client work tends to always get done) also gets crushed to oblivion.
And this is not okay.
Temporarily, yes – a relative is ill, your pet needs the vet, your in laws are visiting so the house needs the clean it didn’t get last week or the week before that – I get it. It’s ok.
But long term, you cannot keep taking the things that light you up, and the things that you are so carefully and patiently building, off the list.
This last eighteen months, due to rebuilding my house & garden, and converting my fairly crap garage into a fairly high end office/studio, combined with some severe family health issues and my own anxiety rearing its ugly head, I have done very little for most of my businesses and I haven’t done anything crafty or made anything for its own sake for months and months and months. Those things haven’t been a priority, not because I don’t love them, but because there was simply too much else going on for me to make time for them, and I thought it wouldn’t matter.
How very wrong I was. The longer I went without creating, but with increasing pressure from these other things on my mind and time, the worse my mental health got, the higher my anxiety levels soared, and I became less and less rational.
Within weeks of resuming creative projects – spending more time with my camera, having a proper place to edit, getting my jewellery tools out, making glitter jars at winter solstice – though many of the external pressures haven’t gone away, and some have increased considerably, I am managing everything much better.
Exercising your creativity is not optional.
As Elizabeth Gilbert says, being creative is like having a border collie for a pet. If you don’t give it something to do, it will find something to do – and what it chooses is rarely positive!
So next time you’re feeling so frustrated with your day job you want to just sit in a corner and cry (and it happens to all of us – I’ve done it at every single one of the seventeen day jobs I’ve so far held, including my current one), bookmark this post, take a deep breath, read through and pick a coping strategy. Also, come and join the Business Soloists Club (it’s free and it’s magically sanity-saving), where you’ll always have a safe space to share – whether it’s a shared panic or a shared joy, it’s always better with people who get it!
This too shall pass – and you will be fine, my lovely, I promise. One day you’ll look back and marvel at how stressed you were about something that ultimately matters so little next to the important things in life!
With love and unicorns,