When I left my positions as managing editor and lead faculty member of Matador and MatadorU in April, I immediately headed off on a couple of trips.
The trips had been scheduled before I made the decision to resign, but the timing couldn’t have been better. I needed to get offline and get in motion. I needed time to think about my next steps.
During those trips, I met about a dozen travel writers and bloggers who are considered top in their respective fields. In several cases–more than I’d care to actually count– these folks started their blogs yesterday. I jest, of course, but in the online world, a year can confer the kind of credibility that other settings/jobs only accrue over a decade.
It was by listening to them that I realized how much I’d traded off while I was working for Matador. By clocking what was effectively the equivalent of two full-time jobs, I’d largely neglected my own blogs and my own print and online freelance writing, not to mention the rest of my life. While I was helping build a company’s brand, these folks were building theirbrand.
I want to make two clear statements before I move on to my key point:
1. I don’t begrudge a single one of the writers or bloggers their success. They’ve worked hard, their accomplishments were earned, and I am thrilled for their achievements, not the least reason being because one of my most closely held beliefs is that there’s room for everyone to do the work they feel passionate about; as I’ve said before, life, work, and success are not a pizza pie.
2. I don’t view my time at Matador as time spent poorly. I’ve always believed–and still do–that every experience provides us with context, tools, and skills that we can apply in other settings and on future projects.
But I have to admit that I wondered–and not without a hint of resignation– how far along I’d be in my own writing goals and in my own “brand building” had I set better boundaries with Matador.
I believed in what we were building at Matador, and I was, over and over again, willingly swept up into the passion and enthusiasm of my colleagues. Matador was a labor of love we were building together not because we hoped we’d get rich (though, hey, that would have been nice), but because we were convinced what we were creating filled a void that needed to be filled. As a result, I was working long hours, being paid considerably below market rate, and frequently volunteering to pinch hit, take on new projects, and generally do whatever it took for us to keep our foothold and climb higher.
In the process, though, I shortchanged a lot of other aspects of my life. My husband and daughter became too accustomed to my pleas for “just five more minutes” or “just one more hour” of work. For long stretches of time, I didn’t pitch my own article ideas to other publications (and as my editorial responsibilities expanded and involved less writing, the more I really needed my freelance outlets to satisfy my need to write). I stopped or dramatically scaled back activities I’d once really loved, like cooking. The concept of “weekend = leisure” was lost entirely.
No one was forcing me–consciously or otherwise– to make these kinds of sacrifices, though many other staff members were similarly stretched thin. I was making them voluntarily. I’d set no boundaries.
How could I possibly expect that anyone would set them for me?
This week, I started a new part-time consulting job.
For most of my 20 hours of work each week, I can do what I need to do from home. For a few hours each week, I’m expected to make an office appearance. The culture of the organization feels all too familiar: some staff members stay at work until 10 PM and put in time on the weekends, too. There’s a strong sense of urgency and importance, and the amount of work to be done is massive. The temptation to throw myself fully into that fray was strong… for about 20 minutes. Here was a company that aimed to do something amazing! Didn’t I want to be in on the ground floor as we rode the elevator to the top? Didn’t I want to help build something important?
Sure I did.
But more than that, I knew that I want to be fully present and most invested in my own life– the part of it that doesn’t involve work, the part of it that will remain after this company folds or is acquired or changes its tack completely and becomes something new and, in doing so, lets me go to find someone who’s willing to give her life away to make it all happen.
And so, when I said I was leaving at 4 PM, I meant it. I packed my bag, went to the elevator, rode it down, and walked home.