It’s easy to read Erin Callan’s essay about her former life as the CFO of Lehman Brothers and feel like you’ve dodged a bullet by stepping away from the corporate track.
That’s how I felt as I started reading. Then I had to tell myself, “Not so fast.”
Callan resigned from her job in 2008, a few months before the company went bankrupt. In the years before that, she says, she put work above everything else in her life–her marriage (which ended), her family, and her friends. “They got what was left over,” she says.
While we freelancers don’t have to survive in corporate cultures like Lehman Bros., we’re at risk of workaholism, too. Many of us do creative work that we love–and the hours can fly by. On the flip side, many of us have been scarred by the global financial crisis. It’s possible to get into a mindset where you are hesitant to turn down any work, leading to early mornings, late nights and weekends at your desk and a lot less time to enjoy the freedoms of freelancing–like having time for the people you care about.
Callan’s essay reminded me of how insidiously this can happen:
“I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job. It crept in over time. Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.”
I just came off of a few weeks where a big project all but took over my life. I felt like it sucked up all of my mental and emotional energy, to the point where I was not fully present for my family. I’m trying to take the next few weeks to break out of that rhythm, by planning activities where we’re far from my computer and there’s no temptation to log on. As Callan’s story shows, the small daily decisions we make, like checking our email before we go to bed at night, can have a big effect on our lives in the long term.