Thursday, October 15, 2009

When no sleep is a badge of honor, we're not practicing what we preach

"Sustainability" is one of the big buzz words I encounter daily working in the green industry. I've been thinking about this concept a lot as it applies to the work/life balance. Part of the green movement is challenging practices that cannot be maintained and repeated over time. When companies talk about being sustainable, they are referring to practices that can be replicated without damage in the long run. So drilling for oil and using coal for power are not sustainable practices because we run out of resources and hurt the planet. Using the power of the sun and wind, on the other hand, is sustainable because it is not depleting anything. Businesses embrace sustainability in their supply chain and business models, but what about the people who run and work in those businesses? How many of them travel incessantly and work crazy hours without rest? Why is it that almost every entrepreneur I've spoken with hardly sleeps (me included) and doesn't seem to experience real days off?

Our culture of consumption measures success by increased output (i.e. the growth of the GDP) and there is an aching undercurrent of faster, better, more. This applies to businesses and individuals. We try to balance work, family, exercise, rest, social life, etc...but how many of us feel like work gets most of our time and attention at the expense of the other things? I know I do. But to admit that sounds like I'm not a hard worker, which is not the case at all. It's just that our society values output and production - fortunately, we are also beginning to value sustainability. I say that to make a fulfilling and successful career sustainable in the long run, we must embrace balance in the beginning. Workaholism is not sustainable - and neither is its cousin, drinking more coffee than water. But when I get to encounter amazing people and share invigorating ideas, it replenishes me. That's the reason I have the energy to write this blog right now.

Today I went for a midday walk in the Bolsa Chica wetlands (squashing the guilt I always feel when I do anything other than WORK). The fresh breeze, glimmering water and mesmerizing birds actually did little to alleviate the constant pressure I live with every day. There's client work, business development and cash flow worries. I felt guilty for walking but I knew I needed to do it (it would have been a run but I am sick and still wanted the fresh air).
In my last post I compared the challenges of running a new business to feeling like a waitress carrying multiple trays. Sometimes you just need to set the trays down for a second. The walk was my second, and it helped at least to recognize that the plates full of household chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming) and self-care items (manicure!!!) are important too. If I'm only focusing on the work projects and ignoring my personal and household care, I feel terrible and gross. To keep up the pace and not drop the trays, I have to do things like take walks to gain perspective and maintain stamina. But I still have a long way to go before I don't feel guilty all of the time - that's because my inner self wants to please everyone but at the same time rejects the existing standard of an unsustainable chunk of life dedicated to working, working, working.

I need to sleep, play, laugh, dance and sleep (did I already say that?) so that I can be present and focused when I am writing/pitching/planning, etc. It's not sustainable to be imbalanced. And in the green movement, if we are going to talk sustainabilility, let's try to live it too. It's 11:20pm and I should go to bed, but I'm going to be a hypocrite now and go back to work. Why? Because that's the way it is. It's not the way I want it to be though, and little by little I will become the change I wish to see. Today I took a walk, and tomorrow, by G-d, I am getting a manicure!


  1. Hi Amanda,

    I loved your blog and especially this post.

    I find that people just don't get it -- how hard you must work when you own your own business. There have been so many all-nighters lately, and just the thought of putting my feet up and snuggling on the sofa seems so appealing. I do know what you mean by taking a break. In the warm weather I sometimes take the train into NYC and Bryant Park, a great space and totally wireless. I can work there -- or not! But there are many nights where I find myself walking way past 10 p.m., the only "me" time to squeeze in. So enjoy your breaks, and the perpetual warm weather, you lucky stiff!

    Best Regards,
    Your East Coast colleague who believes we should be paid what we deserve and not a penny less!


  2. Amanda,
    The first time I went off on my own I worked myself into the ground -- it turned out that I had a jerk for a boss. I burnt out and went back "inside" for a number of years. I am back out on my own again -- this time with a wiser boss: I choose clients that I like and areas that I care about (leadership and sustainability/social enterprise). And I make time to recharge because when you are in a thought-centric business, as we both are, it can sometimes be the walk in the woods that makes all of the difference for you and your clients.

    If you ever want to chat with a fellow traveler, feel free to be in touch (LinkedIn should work). I have "green" designers, search firms, admin support and other resources in my network. Good luck -- and keep walking.

  3. Just what I needed to read. I'm with you on the guilt factor. One day we will get it all together. But, then again, even this notion of balance has become another indication of our need for control. But I have faith.

    And, of course, keep walking. A walk through Elysian Park always clears my head. I'm a better person for it.

  4. Thanks everyone for your encouraging and thoughtful responses!