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Is it possible to find balance?
A single day doesn't mean anything. Focus on the big picture instead.
“Can You Relate?” is an occasional advice column in which I answer your questions about writing, motivation, inspiration, audience-building, work-life balance, snack recommendations, and the zen of making your art. 💫
How do you balance writing So Relatable, working at your job, and dealing with life? I find it overwhelming—it feels impossible to balance it all.
I’m going to begin this answer with a confession: I didn’t originally plan to write a Can You Relate? column this week. I wanted to write about finally starting the fifth (and possibly final???) draft of my novel; about the incredible feedback letters I got from my readers; about the challenges of an unreliable narrator; about returning to the YMCA for the first time since Christmas and immediately pulling a muscle in my back. (Not every idea makes it into the final draft.)
But this newsletter goes out on Sunday mornings, and I ran out of time. I did not find a way to balance it all.
That’s why this question called to me—most of us regularly feel overwhelmed, exhausted by our responsibilities, and convinced there’s no way we can possibly do it all. Something has to give, but what?
I love writing and I do my best to prioritize it, but it’s not the only thing that matters. I also have a full time career and just started a new role as a manager, which has been challenging but rewarding. My career isn’t just a means to an end, a way to pay the bills. I like it, and I want to be great at it. It’s a priority, too.
And that’s just writing and work! At any given moment, I’m also trying to send this newsletter, lift heavy weights, maintain my relationships, read a lot of books, practice Italian, feed myself, and walk my dog. In the past, I’ve tried to do all these things every day and felt like a failure if I didn’t strike the perfect balance.
These days, I take a more relaxed—and, I’d argue, more sustainable—approach. As long as I make progress on at least one priority every day, I’m happy. Sometimes that means spending 30 minutes revising the first chapter of my novel, and sometimes it means drinking one glass of wine too many with a friend. It all matters, and it all adds up to a full, balanced life.
I think part of the reason it’s easy to feel overwhelmed is because we try to do too much at once. We set lofty goals, hold ourselves to the highest standards, and feel profoundly disappointed in ourselves when we fall short. I’m speaking from personal experience here, but I’m guessing many of you can relate. As a result, there’s been a recent backlash against goals. From articles about how we’re living through an age of anti-ambition, to books encouraging us to do nothing (which, for the record, I read and loved), “trying hard” is no longer in vogue.
On one level, I get it. The world is full of senseless wars and never-ending pandemics and so much injustice it’s impossible to sum it up in one pithy paragraph. Why make things harder by setting goals you’ll probably never achieve? Why not just curl up with a cup of tea and a great show, and let the soft animal of your body do whatever the fuck it wants?
Sometimes, that’s exactly what I do. It’s part of the balance I’m trying to strike. But I’m not willing to give up my goals entirely, even if making them is gauche.
The secret to balancing it all is to balance less. Your hobbies, your passions, your career, your relationships, “dealing with life”—it all matters, it’s all important, but you don’t have to tend each part of you life every moment of every day. Instead of trying to do 10 things pretty well, focus on doing two or three things to the best of your ability.
When it feels overwhelming, look at your list of priorities and identify one small thing you can do to make progress on one thing. Do this enough times, on enough days, and I promise it will add up. Don’t attempt to create a perfectly balanced day, because that will never happen. Zoom out and look at your week, your month, your year. Balance is about the big picture.
Write in the mornings and on the weekends, and let that be enough. Work hard from 9 to 5, and then close your laptop. Make a standing date with your friends—book club, Friday yoga, a stitch-and-bitch—and don’t cancel at the last minute. Set big, audacious, challenging goals and say them out loud. Embrace your want. Be a try-hard. Pursue the weird and wonderful things that make you feel alive, even if they lead nowhere at all. Ambition is only a trap if you’re chasing the wrong thing. Balance can take years, so take as much time as you need.
Speaking of balance, I haven’t had a lot of time to cook or bake lately, so I’m back to stalking the snack aisle at Trader Joe’s for my sweet and savory fix. Lucky for me, these dark chocolate almond butter filled pretzel nuggets just hit the new item shelf. They’re my new favorite thing, and not just because my husband calls them the turducken of desserts.
“If this had happened when I was 25, I’d think that it meant I was really brilliant. Happening at 55, I know it means I’m really lucky. So I’m appreciating it, for sure.”
I will not stop crowing about The Christie Affair, the NYT bestseller recently published by my former writing professor Nina de Gramont. It’s a great book, and this is a great interview.
This is a fascinating interview with the producer and writer of The Baby-Sitters Club, that also delves into about the how Netflix deems certain shows “a success”, and how streaming services and data are changing the way we tell and consume stories. Also: I can’t BELIEVE they canceled The BSC!!!
“The failed book deal marked the place where Calloway’s storyline shifted, and where it began to seem like her Instagram wasn’t a means to an end, but an end in itself; put less charitably, it began to seem like the high-volume background noise of her life meant she couldn’t produce anything but Instagram captions.”
Remember when we were all obsessed with Caroline Calloway? This update in Vice was a nice throwback to a time of simpler scams.
🌊 See me at Write Wilmington!
My alma mater, UNCW, offers free writing sessions every Friday at 9am ET via Zoom. The sessions are hosted by faculty members, grad students, and alumni, and on Friday, April 1st, I will the host! This sounds like a joke, but I assure you I am not fooling. Register now and cross your fingers that I don’t spend 45 minutes staring blankly into the camera, trying to remember what I was going to say. (An actual possibility!)
*NYT gift link—no subscription needed, and clicking won’t count toward your free articles!
Thank you to Broc H. for helping me find balance in my Venmo account last week. It takes a village, y’all!
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