Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Balancing Act

Back in early January I got an email from my friend and former co-worker letting me know that a job in community organizing was opening up in my old division of city government.   I missed that division.  My job had ended due to federal funding cuts and it always felt like I left my work there unfinished.  A week later I got a call from my wonderful and amazing former supervisor asking me if I was interested in filling the position on an interim basis.  At first I laughed.  Out loud.  For far longer than was polite.  It's a tough gig and I remember how miserable the previous occupant of the job had been toward the end of her tenure.  And I was now running Found Beauty Studio full-time.  It seemed like failure to abandon my business owner life.  Was I giving up?  Was I quitting?  Was I retreating to the familiar world of meetings and offices out of fear?  Or was I following my intuition that said another few months of house-bound isolation were going to do me in?  My former supervisor gave me the weekend to think it over, and by Monday I was in.  I longed for a regular paycheck and for the opportunity to interact with other humans besides my husband.  The conversations I had with my cats were getting very extensive and I was a tiny bit worried for my sanity.  Luckily, I haven't gotten to the point where they talk back...yet.

So back I went.

Back I went to pretty pretty city hall with the lovely marble floors and the grand views of Church St.  Back I went to a feeling of importance and value that I never quite mustered working by myself for myself.  Back I went to engaging brainstorming sessions with colleagues and community members.  It seemed magical.  I had a reason to get dressed up again.  I felt like I had value and purpose again.  I also, as I was soon to find out, had a 50-60 hour work week that regularly included night and weekend meetings.

I do not mind hard work. I happily jump in to the projects that involve long hours and difficult meetings.  The more challenging the better.  But this one was tough.  Being "the human pincushion", as my supervisor put it, sucks.  My job involved constant backlash about development projects and leadership that I had no involvement with, angry emails about the distribution of funding and resources that I again had no involvement with, being stopped any time I left my house by people with beefs against the city, and - my favorite - quite a few verbal and written personal attacks.  It took over everything.  It seeped into every conversation.  It seeped into every thought.  Slowly I noticed the toll the stress was taking on me.  First it was the constant stomach aches.  Then it was the overwhelming desire to sleep every second I wasn't working.  Then it was the relentless recurring nightmares.  Then it was the moment when my husband told me how bad he felt that I was always sad and angry.  Then it was when I realized I no longer had the time to talk to my friends and family or make time for them while they visited.  But much like any dysfunctional relationship, I kept at it thinking that things would get better.  If only I stopped doing whatever it was that was making everyone so angry, it would all change!

And because that's crazy talk, it didn't.  So out I went.

Everyone was shocked that I was leaving.  I was so good at the job, they said.  I was made for that work.  I apologized profusely.  Worst fear realized - I was letting everyone down.  As I reconsidered my decision to leave over and over and over again, I had a revelation.  I have the right to say no.  I don't need to please all of the people all of the time.  I love building community and networks.  I love helping people find the resources they need.  I love coordinating projects that bring a ton of people and partners on board and creatively problem solve.  Love. It.  But I also love free time, and Found Beauty Studio, and all of the  volunteer projects I devote myself to.  I don't think I'm alone in having a continuing battle with creating balance in my life.  We all joke about first world problems (can we retire that hashtag, btw?  Please?), but this is a biggie.  We deserve to not work ourselves into the ground in order to make a living.  We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity by those we work for and with.

I don't know where my path will take me.  Who does?  But I do know whatever I chose to do, I will do it knowing that it must involve carved out space for all of the wonderful people and rich experiences that make me happiest of all.  No job is worth that kind of sacrifice. 

Oh, and it has to involve making things out of other things.  Because that is what makes me happy. 


  1. Thanks so much for posting your raw feelings about going back to corporate life and then having the courage to change your mind and go back to what makes you happy.

    I've been at the tipping point for several years - not wanting to give up the cozy blanket of steady income but fighting with my inner self because I KNOW I want to do something else, something creative, something that is me.

    Who knows what the future holds. You may take the corporate path again, but at least you will be doing it on your terms. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks! It's been a huge learning curve. I have no doubt that I'll find a position that allows me to balance running Found Beauty Studio with the mission driven community work I love. I'll just be much more aware of my needs and boundries going into it. While the last half a year has been a hard road, it's taught me a lot and I wouldn't change it.

    I encourage anyone who wants to change course in life to do so. I saved up 4 months of living expenses before taking the leap to running Found Beauty Studio full time and it was a life saver. If you can do that, you'll have many fewer heart attacks during those first few months :)

    I wish you the absolute best of luck!!!

  3. That comment by Unknown could have been written by me, to the point where I'm wondering if I wrote it in my sleep or something! So...ditto. Thank you for sharing - it's so nice to know that I'm not alone in these struggles.

  4. You know, I've felt so alone in these struggles, it's the least I can do to share. I know there are so many others out there going through the same experiences, but it's not an easy thing to talk about. I think we as a culture are so wedded to the traditional idea of what success looks like - the nice house, the family, the expensive car, the high profile job - that when you talk about not being fulfilled by it, it can feel like there's something wrong with you. At least I know that's how I've felt for a long time. Success for me probably ends up as a mix between a day job that I love and running this art business that I love, along with having the time to engage in all the other side projects that I want to do. It's a hard thing to communicate to a society that doesn't recognize that as achievement, but instead sees it as some kind of failure for not working hard enough and focusing on just one venture. It's always a wonderful surprise to see that I'm not a weirdo for struggling through these choices!

  5. Yes! Right now I'm searching for a new job because my current one is crushing my soul and boring me to death. I've been going back and forth between wanting a new full-time job, or wanting a part-time job and doing Sweet Avenue part-time (probably more like full-time, if we're being realistic!) I feel so torn on what to do. I do best when I have variety in my work life and when I'm challenged in a meaningful way. So right now I'm applying for both types of jobs, continuing to work on Sweet Avenue, and kind of waiting to see what happens...

    Like you, I don't care about having a lot of money or expensive things, but I do care about spending my time - my LIFE - in meaningful ways.