Last week, after flying to North Carolina, last minute, to vote, I was at home with my family.
For a full work week. In the middle of several projects. With self-imposed deadlines creeping around the corner.
Normally this would have stressed me out far too much — Would I be able to spend time with my family and also Get Things Done In a Timely and Efficient Manner? — but in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to feel some of my anxiety and need to maintain a relentless pace melt away.
I am trying to turn off my “work brain” more often and allow time for activities that won’t later be spun into an article, video or photo gallery. Finally, I’m starting to feel some semblance of balance when it comes to my work life and the time previously reserved for teeth brushing and sleeping.
Getting there has been a journey.
You see, everyone dreams about leaving their jobs and working for themselves because they want to be their own boss.
But not many people take time to think about just what kind of boss they would be.
And as it turns out, I’m a nightmare.
Forget the fact that I don’t offer benefits and that my 401K plan is the equivalent of a emphatic shrug — I don’t like to give my employees weekends or even lunch breaks. (Sometimes I tell them they’re getting a weekend but then call them at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 6 p.m. on Sunday to let them know there are just a few short hours of things to be done.)
I change my employees’ job descriptions all the time. I constantly demand they do more without considering a raise. I have them diving face first into their laptops the minute they wake up and then squeezing in a couple more hours in before bed.
Why read a book or watch a TV show or, you know, chill out IF YOU CAN WORK???
Some of this hellacious behavior, no doubt, stems from the reality that even though I’m the boss, I’m hyper aware of all of those watching, evaluating, ever determining whether I get to keep my position. Let’s call them the board of directors. Or we could call them “readers” and “social media followers” and “Patreon subscribers” if you insist on being more literal.
Behind the relentless treatment of my employees is an unhealthy need for validation I don’t always get, and a sharp fear that my board won’t believe I’m doing enough, or worse, that my board won’t believe I *am* enough.
“HEY GUYS,” I yell as I prod my employees onto Hour 16, “CAN’T YOU SEE HOW HARD I’M WORKING?”
Deep down, I know there is a problem with this strategy. If my employees are exhausted, they’ll likely do lesser work, they’ll likely lose inspiration. They’ll stop caring. They’ll grow to resent me.
They say “All you have is your people,” and let me tell you, never is that phrase more true than if “your people” is actually just you.
So to fix this debacle, I’m sending myself through management training. I’m loosening the deadlines. I’m dropping some work. No more iron fist. No more insane hours.
(“Somewhat crazy” hours will likely remain in place; it’s a process, folks.)
As for my employees, I’m suggesting they sleep more, read more and occasionally put down the camera/iPhone/laptop.
My top employee did just that last week — hiking with her parents and her aunt, making dinner, sitting with her grandmother in her sun room, walking around downtown, perusing the farmers’ markets.
I’m encouraging her to do more of that, more often. And when she returns to her desk, I hope she will refuse to accept anything from me that she wouldn’t accept from anyone else.