The work/life balance, as we all know, is a delicate one. I often worry about whether I’m working too much. I feel guilty when I get caught up in a project and end up spending nights or weekends at home, at my computer. I feel guilty if, instead of exercising or getting some fresh air, I’m writing. We’ve all been told that we aren’t really living if we spend too much time working.
In an effort to “get out” and more fully live the life of a writer, I started attending book signings and listening to the wise words of other successful authors. Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of hearing Nichole Bernier speak at The Book Cellar in Chicago. She read from her first novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, and shared what the process of writing and publishing this book was like. Bernier confessed she had not written fiction before, but that it started to come out after the death of a close friend. She usually wrote magazine articles and nonfiction, but each day, she found herself almost compelled to write the words of this book.
Bernier also shocked the audience when she told them that she wrote freelance for magazines, wrote this book, and has five children. Naturally, someone in the audience asked if she believed women could “have it all.”
I was moved and inspired by her answer when she said there was no such thing. In all of our lives as men or women, we have to prioritize, we have to give up some of our hobbies in order to have what we want. Bernier said she didn’t train for a marathon, but in the end, she had written and published a book. She gave her free time to writing the words she wanted and needed to write. As I listened to her explain this, I had the “Aha!” moment my professors always describe.
If we are doing whatever it is that we love, whatever it is that we are passionate about, we are truly living. To me, the act of storytelling, in whatever form, is living. It is obviously not all of life, but why should I feel ashamed or guilty for spending my free time doing what I love? If you love something, it isn’t really work — it is vital nourishment for your mind, body, and soul.
Bernier’s advice was to figure out what you would do if you had no other obligations, and you had two hours of life left. Her question echoed in my mind, and linked back to another article I recently read from Deanna Zandt in ForbesWoman. Zandt offered three tips for women ready to change their lives and pursue passionate work. At the end of her article, she offers words of wisdom similar to Bernier’s:
The last little snippet I’ll leave you with is from the War of Art. The über-macho tone of the book was often a little much for me, but there are nuggets of gold sprinkled throughout. If you’re considering making a change towards doing passionate work, but aren’t sure what that might look like, ask yourself: If the rest of the world disappeared today, and I had no other responsibilities or needs, what from my current life would I keep doing?”
For Bernier, that thing she would keep doing is writing. For me, it is also writing — but on a grander scale, it is storytelling.
What would you do? Are you doing it in your current job? Are you doing it in your free time? Find a way to make it happen or make it happen more in your life, and never feel guilty about it for a second. No one should feel guilty for living.