Inspire people you know

Stop.

I put my fork down and looked at my boyfriend confused.

Stop. Can’t you just for once talk about something else than work? It’s just a stupid web page.

It was our 6 month anniversary dinner in a restaurant overlooking St. Paul in London. I thought we were having a great time. Apparently only I was.

It’s not just a stupid web page! My career depends on it. 

He looked at me with a mix of annoyance and pity.

Do you even realize how sad that sounds like?

Ouch. But he didn’t understand – how could he? He didn’t have this scale of projects or pressure, he didn’t have to work day and night to deliver, he didn’t work in as high position as I did. He was a simple entrepreneur.

Oh the arrogance. I was such a jerk.

Five months later I was sitting in a walk-in clinic in Soho. Alone. I had lost my consciousness in the tube.

Indeed. It was just a stupid web page.

How I managed to screw up my work-life balance:

Mistake #1: Making a project too personal

I speak a lot in conferences about the importance of giving a damn, because there’s a huge difference in employee performance between someone who cares about the company and the project they are running, and someone who doesn’t.

However, there’s a fine line between caring and making it too personal. 

Mistake I did few years ago was that I crossed the line: the project became my baby. What at first started as something positive and exciting became a time and energy consuming monster.

I kept talking about it, stressing about it, checking my emails wherever I was. I was arguing about the smallest details, getting bitter, thought that any criticism against the project was a personal attack.

Little tip if you are getting tense: If you notice that instead of being positive and constructive, you are becoming grumpy and negative – take a deep breath and re-assess your priorities: is this project really that crucial? If you only worked on it during the week would it be that bad? Set a challenge: for one week remove notifications, don’t check emails after 6 pm and see what happens.

Mistake #2: Thinking that the project was the center of the universe

When I got too close to the project, it became the center of my universe. I lost my ability to step back, stay cool and be objective. I got stressed, snappy and exhausted.

It was all I thought about 24/7.

That meant that I only didn’t manage to screw up my health, but also my relationships were suffering: I had no time, patience nor consideration about my loved ones’ feelings. All I talked about was my project. It was all about me, me, me.

Helas, when I was sitting in the walk-in clinic in Soho I didn’t have anyone to turn to.

It freaked me out.

Have a look at your calendar: do you have time scheduled for your friends and non-work related activities? What do you actually talk about? Do you have FUN?

Little tip if you talk too much about your work: As I couldn’t avoid the whole work topic with my friends at first, I was only allowed to talk about it for 10 minutes (yes, I timed it) – worked like a charm. I got the worst things out, so then we could concentrate on more positive topics.

If I then mentioned work again, I had to pay a penalty: whether it was getting the next round or getting an extra plate of tapas 🙂

Mistake #3: Not taking care of myself – When your head is not in the right space, it’s your body that goes first

Why am I telling this particular story right now? Well. I promised I would not do the same mistake again, yet there I was again this Friday, at the hospital, sick. Not because I talked too much about work, but because I didn’t share my struggle with anyone. I was too proud to confess even to myself that I had bitten more than I could chew in all areas of my life. That I wasn’t the superwoman everyone was expecting me to be. I kept neglecting my health while trying to cope with the constant pressure.

But you know what I realized this time when I was sitting there?

It’s ok not to be ok 🙂

It made me smile, relax and feel free again. I stopped feeling the pressure to seem unbreakable.

See, no one is perfect. Life can get too heavy at times even for the most resilient of us and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Stop feeling bad about it: you can always change the direction you are heading to.

If you are struggling with work-life balance, don’t try to handle it alone – speak with someone who doesn’t judge you. It helps.

And never, ever, forget to take care of yourself.

Best of luck,

Pauliina

Ps. If you found this helpful in anyway, please do like this or share your thoughts in comments 🙂 Would really appreciate it!

[This is part of my challenge to share one personal failure per week to help you see you’re not alone: we all fail. I hope this will help you to get unstuck and succeed in life 🙂 ]

Related: 7 Painful lessons I learned in agile project management

Related: 4 Painful lessons I learned in project reviews

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