O Free Time – Wherefore Art Thou?

By Garrett

Feb 24, 2016

Guys – I’m struggling. Don’t worry, it’s not a ‘what the hell am I doing with my life’ struggle (though who hasn’t had those–THIS GUY. what?) but this particular struggle has been going on for a while and I just don’t know how the hell to sort it out.

It’s that damned work life balance.

It’s something I’ve never been great at. But in the past I at least had the structure of a “normal” work day. Now that I’m my own boss and my personal life has become intertwined with its business counterpart, that already mediocre balance is getting seriously tested, and turns out I’m not passing Magna Cum Laude. #nightmaresaboutcollege

Since returning from the holidays I’ve tried to set aside time to “have a life” – this meant grabbing drinks with friends, weekend adventures, going on a date or simply not doing a damned thing! Yet as I try to build in free time for myself, I not only feel like I’m falling behind in my business and other projects related to the biz (which is why this newsletter has taken so long), but I don’t feel at ease during this ‘having of life’.

So I ask myself: What the hell bro?! Why? Or to reframe that question – why do I struggle to make space for free me-time and why do I feel guilty when I do so?

I think it has to do with external expectations and pressures to create balance. I come across articles espousing balance, or podcasts where people say “you should build a business that allows you to balance work and play, and if you aren’t doing that then why do it at all?”.

Then of course the conversation in my head turns to “well, if I’m not having this whole ‘balance’ thing, then yeah – why am I doing this at all?” Because yes, if I look 5 years out from now, that life does involve me passionately pursuing this work. But I also see myself traveling more, rock climbing, being out of shape on an indoor soccer team that occasionally wins and more often drinks – and doing those things without a twinge of guilt that I’m not working. So why can’t I feel that now?!

Okay. Deep breath.

Here are the facts. I made a conscious decision to jump head-first into an industry where I had a butt-load of passion but only the teensie-weensiest of connections, and had to build my network and name for myself from scratch. This is not the first time I’ve had to do this – I helped co-found two music companies EMW Music Group and Deep V – and so I knew it would take a shit-ton of time and resources to make happen.

So – having made that conscious decision to start my company, knowing that it would require a bunch of upfront investment and time, even more so because I was venturing into foreign waters… is having time/money for travel or out of shape soccer shenanigans even a realistic expectation? Or did I give that option up the moment I decided to jump in head first?

Fun fact – I started writing this post two weeks ago but haven’t been able to get it out it because I had no answer. But as I’m typing this right now (at 4:49pm EST on 2/22 to be exact) this little voice just popped into my head:

It’s not that you don’t have time for yourself.
It’s not that you can’t have work life balance.

You’ve just decided to fill your free time with work related commitments that you feel are the most important thing for you to do right now.

And holy shit! The voice in my head is right! The reason I feel this struggle to create ‘balance’, why I feel stressed trying to force this ‘free’ time into my weeks, is that I’ve said yes WILLINGLY to things – mostly business related things – that I feel are the most important to focus on right now.

It’s true – I could have more time to hang with friends, going to bars/brunch or whatever the kids do nowadays (I’m 30, I can say that). But I decided to commit to volunteering one day a week and donating 10% of my income every month. I committed to joining the board of the Financial Planning Association of New York to head up their PR (humble brags are back!). I’ve made commitments and decisions that directly impact the amount of free time and money I have to spend. And right now these are the right decisions and most important things I can be doing!

What I’m realizing as I type is that I’ve actively made the choice to take on these responsibilities, and that time has to come from somewhere. Apparently it’s not an infinite resource (who knew?!) The reason I don’t have ‘work/life balance’ right now is that I’ve taken on commitments to help me meet more people, build my network and grow my business – because that’s my priority right now. The reason I’m finding it so hard to balance work and ‘free time’ is that I’ve made decisions that reflect those priorities. Building the business beats out brunch, bro. <——— +10 alliteration points.

It reminds me of when I was partway into my two year volunteering stint after college and called up my mom to say “it sucks having no money”. Her response? “I’m sure it does, but you gave up the right to complain when you signed up to volunteer and made that commitment. You made a conscious decision to do this and knew that meant not getting paid. I understand that it’s difficult and challenging, but I just want you to realize that you made the active decision to do this.” Momma Philbin: 1. Petulant 23 year old Philbin-child: 0. #bestladyintheworld

While growing the business beats out brunch, it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) beat out everything. Even with minimal balance there still must be things that trump work (obvi). Two things I’m actively trying to create space for is sticking with my morning routine (exercise, journaling, meditating) and reading at night – even if it’s just 15 minutes. These two, while not under the friend-hang/travel/going-out category people often partake in when balancing out work, are very important for me in order to feel centered and recharged.

So, back to here and now. This doesn’t mean that I have to keep this work-heavy (lack of) balance forever – if I only worked and never played, how could I help coach others on how to live their most awesome lives if I wasn’t doing so myself? I’d also probably turn into a boring, bitter bastard (alliteration game strooooong!). Since my current situation is based on my current priorities, it would make sense to re-evaluate my commitments every few months or so to make sure they are still in line with my priorities.

As cheesy as this may sound, writing this newsletter has really helped clarify this work/life balance argument that I’ve been struggling with for a while. Right now I have made a choice to focus on my business, and spend much of my free time doing things that will help it grow from sapling to mighty oak much faster. And although that realization doesn’t give me any more time in the day, it does take a weight off my shoulders because at least now I know it was MY decision. This work-heavy balance isn’t something that happened to me or was forced on me, it’s something I subconsciously chose based on my priorities. And knowing that it was my choice honestly makes a huge difference. Because I’m a grown ass man who makes his own decisions!!

Thank you for taking the time to read this to the end. It was really cathartic to write, and while I am conscious this being all about me and my ‘problem’, my hope is that this resonates with you, informs a struggle you might currently be facing, or if nothing else make you feel that you are not alone in your internal battles.

If this is something you’ve struggled with, I’d love to hear how you went about tackling it – what worked, what didn’t and how you feel about where you are now. I always learn a lot from your guys’ responses, so if you’re open to sharing I’m all ears!

It’s an honor having your eyeballs every few weeks(ish) – it feels good to be back.

Smokey the Gare

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