It’s December 30th, time for making New Years’ resolutions that will last until approximately January 13th. But seriously, just as every fitness and weight loss expert will tell you: diets don’t work; instead, you need to make lifestyle changes. And you need to not be afraid to change your lifestyle to something drastically different than the lifestyles of those around you, whether that means making protein shakes at the office or turning at the grandmotherly hour of 9pm so you can get up at 5am and write that book you’ve been meaning to write.
A lot of career-related writing targeted towards women emphasizes work-life “balance.” So you should really take some time out and nurture yourself, right?
Actually, I’d keep that to a minimum right now. “Balance” is not for the young and sprightly — instead, think of work-life balance over the course of your entire life. Do you intend to retire some day? Would you like to have a baby and invest substantial time in caring for it? If there is some phase of your life during which you will be working 15 hours a week, then maybe you should work 60 now.
This isn’t as difficult or unreasonable as it might seem. In 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam points out that, of the 168 hours each of us has every week, spending 56 hours sleeping and 60 hours working still leaves 52 hours left for other activities — over 7 hours per day. So, cut out all the fucking around, and you can easily step up your career and life.
Here’s what I mean by “fucking around”: I mean anything that is not extremely productive or extremely pleasurable. For me, that happens when I feel like I’ve been online long enough to read everything interesting … and yet I am still on the internet. Or when I am on the train and have read all the guilty-pleasure articles and find myself perusing announcements about the weddings of actors on shows I have never watched. If it isn’t extremely productive or extremely pleasurable, just stop. Either eat something healthy that takes five minutes, or have a huge decadent meal with friends for two hours. Either go to the gym and work every fucking muscle in your body like an Olympian, or stay home and find someone to make out with. If your job requires you to attend pointless meetings, either find a way out (“Dear boss, would you like me to attend this meeting or finish this project before the close of business?”), or use the pointless meeting to your own ends, setting your own private goals: make an ally, impress someone it would be worth impressing, be so prepared that everyone can easily see you in a more responsible position. Treat the pointless meeting like a job interview for the next-best job. Make your commute less of a slog by finding a way to make it productive or pleasurable — either way. Make a list of all your forms of recreation, and kill off the least pleasurable ones. Is looking at Modcloth dresses you can’t afford as fun as eating chocolate in the bathtub? Why play Farmville when you could be trying new sexual positions and photographing the results for nostalgic reminiscence when you are elderly?
Cutting out the fucking around and devoting that time to work actually is balanced, if you think of your life as a bell curve — you spent childhood not working, you will likely spend old age not working; there will be some decline of work if you have children, or have to care for aging parents, or when you simply suffer the slings and arrows of your own aging process. Female fertility is seriously reduced at age 35. If you want to have a baby, you should make every effort to do it before then (remember, for every happy 39-year-old mom you know, there is someone else stabbing herself in the stomach with expensive hormone injections; people just don’t talk about that as much). If your ability to produce income will be seriously reduced at that time, count backwards: you have 13 years, max, between the end of college and the end of a safe window of fertility. Sites like Guru and Elance are full of moms looking for a way to make money part-time from home; many of them are offering to be your virtual assistant, competing with people in India charging $5 an hour. The prospects are not great. If you want to work part-time from home, best to set that up before you get pregnant. You need to be so in-demand that reducing the supply of your labor actually drives up prices; you want your skills to be so valuable to others that people will take whatever small slice of you they can get, even if it means you work online in the middle of the night when your kid’s asleep.
A thirteen-year span during which you are supposed to both launch and peak is simply no time for scaling back or fucking around.