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Putting Work Back in the Box: Work-Life Balance After the Project Ends

This week I am wrapping up a huge, all-consuming project that I started more than a year ago, but has totally and completely taken over my life for the last 3 months. And as I reflect on this significant professional accomplishment, I’m struck by the fact that I’ve essentially been living the life I know many entrepreneur and start-up professionals live every day.

My truth is that I can’t wait for it to be over.

I can’t wait to stop talking about this project. In a casual conversation with an acquaintance I see more on Facebook than in real life, she mentioned that she’d call me about something after things clear up for me next week. I paused for a moment and thought “how could she possibly know??” and then I realized that it’s all I talk about, in nearly every interaction.

How’s life?”

“Crazy.” (Insert some inane project details no one cares about but I can’t quite get my head around)

(Pause) “Wow. That sounds really intense.” (casually backs away, as though from a crazy person, ensuring there are no sharp objects within arms reach.)

The effects of this are more than just a severe limitation of my conversational skills. The physical toll is significant; weight gain and true, physical exhaustion are very real, very direct outcomes of where I’ve placed my priorities. And then there’s the guilt. By my account, the mental baggage filled with my guilt has to account for about 15 of the 20 lbs I’ve gained this year.

I realized today, as I was taking down the Christmas tree, that I spent no more than about 10 minutes in the last 6 weeks actually looking at the tree, which is one of my favorite things to do. (It’s dark, the tree is the only light on in the house, and I squint until the lights turn into tiny stars….). The same can be said for my children. How did my 4 year-old suddenly get so tall, so boyish, and when, exactly did his hair go from cute and shaggy to that stage where we need to get a cut, STAT? The guilt of having felt like I missed an entire season of joy and memories with my family – even though I was right here through it – is overwhelming.

A friend told me, nearly a year ago, that I needed to figure out how to put at least some of my work “back in the box.” I’ve been thinking about that conversation, and the idea, a lot over the last few weeks. As much as I want an integrated life – one that flows from family to work to personal wellness and growth and back again, I know that it’s easier said than done. I know that small business owners and entrepreneurs struggle with this too; in following your passion and deciding to take big risks professionally, you’re unpacking that box and inviting the contents into every corner of your life.

And yet.

Some of it needs to go back into the box. For me, I have to figure out how to let this project be launched out into the wild, and not take its success and failure quite so personally. To remember that even though the project ends, the product now takes on a life – and growth trajectory – of it’s own. If something doesn’t work as we planned, it’s not a personal failure. It may just have meant that our understanding of a particular need or requirement wasn’t quite right. We can fix it in increments. We don’t have to start from scratch.

I take inspiration from the entrepreneurs in my life that have started and ended more ventures, businesses, and beta tests than I can count on both hands. These endeavors – while often incredibly personal in nature – are not the sum total of their talents. They launch, they learn, some succeed and some don’t. And then they move on. It’s personal, but they don’t take it personally. That’s a distinction I think its important for me to learn.

So next week, the launch will happen, the celebrations with my team will be plentiful, and then I’ll need to decide how to re-pack the box. It will be tempting to let the next project or idea fill the void without really assessing how I want to “be” in my work and life again, with a healthier balance in both camps. So if you know me, the next time you talk to me be sure I talk about something other than work. I’ll need someone to keep me honest.

Jen S.

Jen Swanson (@jgswanson) a digitally curious designer of experiences, a mom, a wife, a reader, a gardener, a cook, and a little bit of a bad-ass. Professionally speaking, of course.

1 Response

  1. megan flynn says:

    Well done Post Jen – you’ve done a great job thinking through this, and I am sure you’ll be successful packing up! I can bring some tape, if you need to keep the box shut!

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