Lesson 14: Your Job Isn’t That Important

How far would you go to please your boss? This week I’m talking about how I learned (the hard way) how important it is to have a work-life balance.

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Okay, bear with me on this one. Before you react: of course your career is important (if you want it to be, that is). 

Maybe this title was a bit clickbate, but I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t care about your career or your finances, and it’s also not meant as a bohemian-traveller-girl fuck-you to the people who are naturally inclined to the traditional career path. No, no, we’re one and the same, you and me. I feel you. What’s not to love about a steady income?

This is actually a lesson I learned about work-life balance the first time I started working in an office at the age of 23. 

I had spent the previous five years working in bars and restaurants. Before that, my only job had been at the local Sainsbury’s supermarket, so there wasn’t much to compare to. There was no benchmark for what was “normal” in a workplace, so I basically had to take what I learned whilst working in the hospitality industry as fact.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago in my article about taking care of yourself, but that isn’t actually what inspired me to write about this.

I’ve been thinking a lot about work-life balance lately because I’ve been on holiday from my day job. Instead of actually taking a holiday, I decided to take a week off to live the life I’ve been dreaming of, lately: Getting up early to walk before anyone else is awake, doing yoga, eating and meditating before I turn on my phone, and spending the day in the lounge in my joggers, writing and writing and writing.

It’s been bliss. I’m dreading going back to work in a way that I haven’t for a while.

Don’t tell my boss.

When Work-Life Balance Goes Awry

I’m sure this happens in many other industries, too, but my main experience of this has been in hospitality, so I’m going to relate my examples back to that.

Once, whilst working in a pub during the winter (yes, the fact that it was a winter does make a difference, because your energy is lower and the customers are more demanding…), I was also moving house. I was moving in with my then-boyfriend, and my dad had kindly rented a van to go and pick up a sofa from said boyfriend’s parents’ house in Nottingham and drive it back to Sheffield.

We got stuck in traffic, and then the sofa got stuck in the doorway (long story), and I was almost late for my shift that started at 5pm. It felt like a crisis. I remember my dad saying “oh, but they’ll understand if you’re a few minutes late, won’t they?”.

They definitely would not understand.

Turning up to your shift five minutes late (instead of the expected fifteen-minutes-early-that-of-course-we-won’t-pay-you-for) felt like a crime, and worse, it stayed like a black X against your name for weeks.

And what did this lead to? Of course, high levels of anxiety, bickering and resentment amongst staff. Just what you want to see in a healthy workplace!

God forbid someone gets really ill or has a chronic health condition. They would put it diplomatically: “they aren’t compatible with this kind of work”.

You know what you have to do to solve the arriving-late-anxiety? Make shifts cross over by 15 minutes or half an hour for a smooth handover to happen.

How much will it cost the business?

3 shift handovers per day, at £3 for 15 minutes, multiplied by 7 days per week.

(3 x 3) x 7 = £42

For a business turning over thousands of pounds every night, £42 per week is nothing.

I do have to caveat this with one thing: there was one pub I worked at, for a long time, and I had a health crisis whilst I was working there. The managers were great. Probably more than five times, I called them at the last minute and said “I can’t come into work today” and they just said “okay, get some rest.” If they’re reading this, they’ll know who they are; but this isn’t the norm of the industry, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

What Work-Life Balance Really Means

When I got my first job in an office, I was 23 and I still had this lingering anxiety that the world was going to burn down if I missed my bus and turned up 15 minutes late.

What happens in reality? You miss your bus, you turn up fifteen minutes late, and… nobody says anything. You work a few minutes into your lunch break. Problem solved. 

One Friday, I was one of the last people left in my office. It was around 2pm, and I was supposed to work until 5pm. The only other person still working that day walked into my room and found me in tears because I’d just broken up with my boyfriend.

He asked me if I was okay.

I nodded and tried to pull myself together, and this leftover anxiety from working in hospitality started telling me that I was wrong, that I needed to start working, and I was wasting everyone’s time by dealing with personal emotions at work.

But the tears didn’t stop. (Anyone else just start crying more as soon as someone asks you if you’re okay?)

“Go home,” he told me.

And my reaction was: Wait, what?

He obviously saw my confused face and said something along the lines of: “Work is not that important, whatever you have to do can wait until next week. Go home.”

So, I packed up my things, cried on the bus home, and spent the afternoon drinking tea and taking care of my poor broken heart.

And, you know what? Everything that I needed to do got done the following week.

There was no end-of-the-world disaster. Whatsmore (not that this is the point at all), I worked harder and took my job all the more seriously knowing that I was taken care of.

So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care about your job; it’s just about prioritisation. If you put yourself first, everything else will follow naturally. Take care of yourself, and you’ll find the strength to work harder because of it. 

In most lines of work, nothing bad is going to happen if you arrive late once or miss a deadline by a day. (This might not be true if you work in something like healthcare or the emergency services, in which case you’re amazing and I salute you.)

If your boss is making you feel bad because you can’t work overtime for free or they won’t let you take some rest when you’re sick, maybe it’s time to try something new. Because work isn’t everything, and don’t let them convince you that it is. 

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