The idea of a “work life” balance — is an illusion. And don’t let people tell you otherwise. You know who i’m talking about — — those women you see on Facebook who seem to be “doing it all” and “have it all together.”
It’s an illusion.
Because what you’re not seeing are the times they locked their kids in the car by mistake or set their kitchens on fire because they were dealing with a work crisis at the same time.
Multitasking — and work life balance — are impossible. There has to be some give and take and with that comes some sacrifices and disappointments. And some of us learn the hard way unfortunately, like I did.
I was sitting at my desk on a Monday morning in January 2016. I’m a senior TV health producer in New York City.
I started to get a weird pain in my stomach. Right in the middle. I begged my coworker to share his stash of Tums but the pain wouldn’t go away.
So I did what any one of us would do — I blamed my husband for buying the wrong kind of Greek yogurt that morning and giving me food poisoning.
Except — it wasn’t food poisoning…
I’ve had food poisoning before and I’d never had such intense stomach pains with it. But I just figured it would go away.
After two agonizing days I finally went to the emergency room at New York Presbyterian — Weill Cornell on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The ER docs informed me that appendix had ruptured.
Yep — that actually happens to people. I waited too long. I thought the pain would pass and in that time the tiny organ actually exploded in my body.
Even when the doctors told me, I didn’t believe them. I kept saying it must be food poisoning. They assured me it wasn’t.
An appendix rupture is like a dirty bomb going off in your body and it’s very dangerous. I had emergency surgery and had to stay in the hospital for eight long days.
I got an infection and had to be on lots of antibiotics (which is really bad for your gut health!) and had another procedure to take out fluid from my abdomen with a large needle. I literally yelled out at the technicians during the procedure because it hurt so bad. They were unfazed. I guess it’s just an occupational hazard. Angry, sick people. I get it.
During my eight day stay I didn’t eat solid foods for most of the time. I lost 10 pounds, had bruises up and down my arms from IVs, blood draws and injections. I had three roommates during my stay and one that I’m convinced I will be writing a novel about. Stay tuned for that.
My doctor took me out of work for six weeks. I thought he was crazy at first but soon it started to sink in.
I was so weak even when I left the hospital. I couldn’t even lift my arms, pull myself up in bed or hardly move. I was hunched over like a little old lady and moved like a snail. It’s amazing how your abs and core control everything that you do. Take those out of the picture and you’re basically useless.
There were days when taking a shower was my only activity. That was it. And the ordeal that would consume my entire day because I moved so slowly. I would psych myself up to take the shower, then actually do it and then was so exhausted afterwards I would need to lay down.
I was too exhausted to even watch TV at times. My body was working overtime to heal itself.
It’s been a slow, long process getting back on my feet. Since January I’ve been to more doctor’s appointments than I can count. I continued to have pain under my right rib, in my back and had tingling in my right hand, which no one could diagnose.
Turns out I developed some food sensitivities that I never had before. Navigating that has been exhausting. It took me nine long months after my surgery to pinpoint exactly which foods I should and shouldn’t be having to eliminate symptoms.
No more gluten, eggs or cow’s milk. It’s sad to think I can’t have pizza but I’ve found some amazing alternatives through this process.
I’m happy to report once boring, daily functions are now a joy! Who knew that simply splashing water on your face without pain would be such a luxury.
People who know me, know I’m all about productivity, efficiency and getting things done. After all I did write a book called “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed.” Many people said to me during medical leave “you must be getting so much done.”
The only thing I could do was rest. Literally, that was it.
This is difficult for anyone. But for me it was unthinkable. I never sat still before this. I just published my the book I mentioned the year before and 2015 was a whirlwind for me.
If there was a networking event, I was at it.
“Want to meet for tea?” I’m in.
I was invited to book signings and speaking gigs and podcasts to promote my book and I said yes to every single one. I wanted to get my book and my name out there. I was trying to figure out where to focus my time and energy but that was really hard so I just said yes to everything.
Plus, I was launching online products on my website ListProducer.com and being an entrepreneur is all about the hustle and getting exposure. I had a commitment almost everyday of the week.
That’s on top of my full time demanding job as a senior TV producer. Plus all my obligations as a wife, daughter and friend. Oh and I forgot to mention, my husband and I bought our first apartment in NYC as well. And that didn’t go according to plan with our renovation — not at all. Talk about stress.
I like structure and to plan for every single detail ahead of time. It’s part of what has made me successful as a producer. I’m always one step ahead. Anticipating where the plan will break down so I can have a backup ready to quickly fix things.
Except — you can’t do that when your body breaks down. You have to let your doctors and nurses take over. And there’s nothing you can do but rest.
This experience reshaped how I view everything in my life. My family, my friends, my business, my book, my career and all of my commitments.
I instantly became an Essentialist. If you haven’t read “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown you must put it on your list. At it’s simplest essentialism is clarity for determining what’s most important.
I learned that I get to choose what I say yes or no to and I’ve become much more comfortable with my answers. That’s because I get to do what I really want to do in that commitments place. If that means sitting on the couch catching up on Netflix shows with my husband instead of giving a webinar for free. Then so be it.
The old me would have felt guilty but now I realize getting to choose what I say yes to and being very strategic about it makes me most successful.
Life is really what you make it and you must make it work for you. The only way to do that is to set boundaries.
I’ve always been good with rules but not like now. Now I never answer my phone unless we have a scheduled time to speak. I go with my gut reaction on accepting wedding invitations. Just this year alone I declined two weddings that the old me would have been front and center for. Instead I got to spend a lovely weekend with my mother and teach a class for my newest endeavor, Lights Camera Expert.
Same goes for speaking engagements. I set criteria for what I will accept and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I also don’t say yes to more than two after work activities. I set the remainder of the time aside for myself — to do whatever I want. If someone asks if I can do something on that day I simply say “I’m busy.” Because I am! My appointments with myself have become more important than any others because I get to choose what I do in that time. Even if that means getting my nails down or laying on my couch it’s satisfying.
Rest really is the new hustle.
I’ve had to offload a lot from my plate to recover. Basically everything. Every dinner, meeting, phone call, podcast, speaking engagement came off my calendar because I truly needed to rest. I’m not used to going at this pace but I need to remember this as I get back to my regular activities. Slowing down is really “prioritizing on steroids.”
I always hated what Tim Ferriss says about how he makes decisions on what opportunities/interviews/events he will take on. He says if it’s not a “f@ck yeah” — it’s a no. But now I really get his point.
Except I’d prefer to go with the Marie Kondo (who I met just days before my appendix burst) version of that — if it doesn’t bring me joy — I’m not doing it anymore!
This experience has opened up something in me. Maybe that little appendix was weighing me down in ways I didn’t know.