My daughter is 1.5 years old, and as of late, I’ve started my work day at 6:00AM. I know plenty of people start their days early, but the point is, I start working 3 hours earlier than I used to, and I’m up doing stuff for the family while they sleep and it’s still dark out.
We’re fortunate enough to live near a lovely 24-hour coffeehouse run by very-Austin people. I come here almost daily to start my work with a cup of good coffee, scruffy people, and excellent music (today it is The Clash). When she wakes up, I get a text message, and I walk back the 1.5 blocks back home. I get her ready for her day, and make breakfast. At around 8:00AM, I go back to work, and keep going until 5:00PM. This has sort of solved the problem of not having enough time to work as long as I’m used to, and frankly, comfortable with. I say “sort of” because nothing is ever finished in my line of work. You can literally work no-stop, no breaks, no peeing, and skip meals, and someone on the other end will think it’s not enough (true story).
What I realized was that part of the fatigue and stress I was feeling before was largely mental, the fear of not having as much time. To be able to noodle on a design problem the way I used to, to have time to cook (one of my most regenerative pastimes), exercise. What non-work activities will be traded for more work? Do I have friends? And finally, the fear of being dismissed as lacking the same drive and potential–and gradually trickling out of the pipeline. I’m likely more productive now than I used to, if things could be quantified (the beauty of giving less shits that comes with age and motherhood). It’s the constraints. While I know they are ultimately freeing, they feel so restrictive in the short-term.
I’ve been told by other parents that it’s going to get easier. In some ways it has–she’s an easy baby, I get good sleep and I’m not insecure about my parenting skills. But, I think what I’ve been hearing in my head when people say that is, “Things will go back to the way things used to be,” which likely makes me dwell on the changes between how I used to work before and how I do now. I’m waiting for something that won’t come.
A few days after having that conversation, while talking to another person who’s been egging me on to take on bigger things, I ran the math in my heart, and blurted out something about work-life balance being bullshit–because what he was describing sounded like a lot of additional time, commitment, and work, in addition to what I was doing now. He looked at me in disbelief and just said, “Yes.” While his honesty and encouragement meant a lot to me, my heart sank.
This paradox has stuck with me ever since. So much that, on a bus ride back to the hotel at the GM, when someone with whom I have a lot in common with (but is much farther ahead in his career) sat down next to me, I brought it up. That it hasn’t gotten easier, and that I was pushing things away.
And he said–”No, it isn’t going to get easier. And that’s ok.”