Friday, November 30, 2007

Finding Self-Employed Serenity in a Workaholic World

My name is Heather and I'm a recovering workaholic.

As far as I know, there are no 12-step groups for people who are simply chronically stressed. But if there were, I would have been a great candidate for one three years ago. As a newspaper reporter, I lived deadline to deadline and was so consumed by the thrill of the hunt for just the right source or just the right turn of phrase that I forgot about things like food, sleep and exercise. You know, the usual casualties. It's what I learned early on. My journalism school was littered with professors with monumental minds and fabulous success, but without anything beyond work to give them a sense of wellbeing.

In the last few years, all that changed. When I started freelancing in 2005, I realized I needed to make some changes. I needed to put myself first, as hokey as that sounds. What I really mean is that I had to figure myself into the equation at all. I couldn't keep living as if I didn't have personal, spiritual or physical needs. I was, in two words, burnt out.

As a self-employed person, finding this balance is deceptively difficult. It's so easy to carry over the habits that made me a successful (if harried) news reporter in my new line of work. And all evidence in the culture would suggest that continuing on that path would make me equally successful.

But it's my deep belief that working that way doesn't serve anyone. It certainly doesn't serve me to sleep fitfuly, wake in a panic over work poorly done (or at least not done to my high standards) and approach my to-do list defeated, already feeling behind at 8 a.m. But, perhaps most relevant as a self-employed person, it doesn't serve my clients. When I set limits on my work, when I treat myself well, I return to my desk refreshed and energized, excited about my next assignment and able to put my full focus on it without keeping a running tab in my head of all the things I'm not doing by doing this assignment.

We all know this, though, right? We've been told a million times in magazines and by self-help gurus to take so-called me time. I don't know about you, but for me, that conjures images of Calgon commercials and scented candles. I'm allergic to scented candles. The point is that knowing doesn't make it any easier to actually create serenity in our lives. So how do we do it? How do we achieve serenity when we're entirely responsible for our financial and professional wellbeing?

That's what I aim to find out with this blog, but talking to well-balanced road warriors and entrepreneurs who don't sacrifice their sanity for their bottom line. I'll also try techniques for centeredness and consider the myriad tools commercially promoted to improve our lives. I hope you'll come along for the ride and offer your own ways of staying sane in an insane world.