The Work / Life Balance
Hustle Hard & Ignore Your Family
I recently created a survey to get a better feel for what folks might be interested in hearing about, and a decent amount of you asked if I’d be willing to write about what a day in the life of Levi consists of, and what a good “work / life” balance looks like. I feel too weird to think that writing about a day in my life would be anything other than really boring to everyone, but I've definitely got novels about how wonderfully I fail at balancing anything, let alone work and life.
Being a self-employed artist is weird. I saw this tweet from Alex Medina not long ago who said something like "I still don't think my parents know what I do for a living." He's the creative director for Reach Records. Haha.
That's how I feel a lot of times, though. Not with our parents, but Brandi and I have talked about it a lot over the years. We come and go, in and out of town, on again off again, new tour goodbyes back home hellos. It's a weird and inconsistent life. I wrote that poem called Trees in 2010 for Monologues to try to articulate it back then but I didn't know the half of it. I wasn't even married yet.
There's the envy: Wow what a cool job - you get to do what you love.
There's the naivete: Cool so do you just sit around and write poetry all day?
There's the confusion: What do you even do for a living?
All of those things make sense and honestly I love the innocence in the envy and the wonder the in the naive. I remember feeling like that, and I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying it is - unfortunately - not always reality. If I’m honest, the “confused" are a little bit more annoying because the question is usually coupled with degradation or disapproval. Like, “when are you going to get a real job?” But anyway...
This may be more an issue of perception over truth, but I think it's normal that most self-employed folks, regardless of what they do, find it difficult to feel as if they are ever not working. Plus, if you're the one stuck inside of your brain then your perception is the truth, anyway [(perceivably) <-- see what I did there?].
When you work for yourself, there is no clock-in-clock-out unless you are incredibly disciplined at creating your own parameters, and most people aren't that disciplined. This is probably extra-true of artistic types who don't like any structure whatsoever. I sort of like the idea of both, so I switch back and forth between them and talk to everyone about how one is better than the other depending upon whether I'm in a season of waking up early and hitting the gym and regimenting my days, or if I'm awake until 3 a.m. because - you know - creativity only flourishes in the night or whatever. Either way, task lists don't shrink, and there's always something to do, so you just do it all of the time, no matter where you're at, or who's around. Or, you don't, and then your head is somewhere else, which means that you are never fully present... which also feels like you're working. (And I'm sure it's really annoying for everyone else who ispresent.)
These aren't complaints... they're just... realities, I guess. I've never talked to a single person who is creatively self-employed who hasn't articulated the same struggles. (<--- Double-negative sentence - grammatically incorrect, I know.)
My dad was a workaholic and I'm probably a workaholic and knowing that about him annoys me about me. I’m constantly second guessing what I am doing with what I should be doing elsewhere.
I'm sure everyone has a love/hate relationship with different aspects of their jobs. I truly do love to write (otherwise I sure wouldn't be typing this email), but even pleasure writing usually has the potential to turn into something for work, and so even “time off” is - perceivably - time on.
The summer season is always really crazy for us, and its around this time that I usually lose my mind doing everything at once at the exact same time as I'm getting ready to hit the road. I'm in the middle of a six-week long tour that goes from Albuquerque all the way up to New Hampshire and circles all over the place and back again.
Before it started, I was working on the tour, the Harsh Men video release (get that before the public release here), some freelance copy I’ve been helping out with for another organization, an audiobook, a blog edit, booking responses, new merch, and whatever else (I go back and forth between tricking myself into thinking that multitasking is a real life thing that works for me.) Last week, I brought my computer to my in-laws place to try to pull one of those, “I’m here, guys! Just hanging out with you!” when everyone knows you are absolutely not there and not hanging out with them.
My nephew came into the room and was sitting by me and asking me some questions, but I was mostly ignoring him. Finally, he asked,
“Levi, how come every time I see you, you are working?"
Sinking guilty feeling in your chest that’s like, “Yo, you are forfeiting relationships for busyness, and your family and friends feel the weight of your absence."
My nephew - Aiden - followed that statement by saying, “Can I make you a dessert? I just feel like you work so much, I want to make you a dessert…”
Aiden’s 10. He met my neglect with kindness and the innocence of a child. It sort of broke my heart.
It was, “I miss you. Let me make you a float with chocolate ice-cream, Pepsi, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.”
And he did. And it was really good. Like, really good. I shut the computer and we sat in my father-in-law’s hot tub and he proceeded to ask me a thousand questions about how I liked his concoction, and how he could have made it better, and what other sweets and combinations of cookies and ice-cream might make for a better shake in the future. Dude just wanted to hang out.
I understand that there are cycles to a person’s working year. I’ve got a better grasp on what mine are than I did when I started, but I’m still learning. The summer is always nuts - I know that - but it is very easy for me to prolong those seasons and never learn how to clock out of them. If any of you read the blog I wrote for To Write Love On Her Arms at the beginning of the year, you’ll got a pretty good look into what that does to me over time. 2015 was a lot of that. Anxiety and depression and guilt and a chaotic mind. It's just not healthy.
Despite the story above, I’ve slowed down considerably - at least internally - quite a bit since the new year. Something I’m happy about. I’ve been trying to learn more about time management, and to remember that the planets, contrary to what the whole of culture would have me believe, does not revolve around me, and the world will not stop spinning if I take a break.
“Hustle” is the word of 2016. Everybody else has picked up on Gary Vanyerchuck’s work ethic and built their own adaptations of his persona. I really like Gary, and I really like the idea of hustle, but even though Gary’s thing is always “family first” - I have a hard time keeping things in that order. Even writing this email has acted like some progressive revelation in that sense. There’s pride and fear and all kinds of roots tangled up in workaholism.
God has met my weakness with strength, sin with grace, addiction with abandon, pride with forgiveness, even forcing sabbath on me when I would rather continue with complete disregard for it.
I do think there is comfort to be found in remembering that we are not the center of the universe. I’m pretty convinced that no matter how many people think they want to be the point of everything, they absolutely despise the weight of that pressure on their shoulders. I don’t know what all of you believe about who God is, but I believe he is, and I know that I struggle to sit in his sovereignty. Slowing down and prayer and abandon and quiet are - for me - a dying of self unto a savior who tells his children to come to him so that he can give me rest - even if just in my annoying brain.
Work hard as unto him, but remember that it does not profit a man to hustle hard and ignore his family.
I've begun sending these articles out via my personal email list, here. Sometimes they make it to the blog, sometimes not. They're generally less polished, but if you want a little bit more of a behind-the-scenes feel, you can sign up to receive them at any time. I was inspired by a guy I follow named Tobias Van Schneider, who challenged himself to send out weekly inspiration emails every Sunday night, and is now a year into his habit. Love it.