Daunting. If asked to describe my first two years as a young professional in one word, I would describe my entry into true adulthood as daunting.
Like countless others diving into the hustle and bustle of the working world, I was thrilled and unnerved when I walked into my first gig. I was excited about the journey to come, but I was equally worried that I lacked serious credentials.
Although I knew my stint as an unpaid intern would give me a platform from which to network, develop invaluable skills, and ultimately boost my resume, I was constantly comparing myself to more experienced young professionals with intimidating jobs. I did not want to be a failure, when everyone around me appeared to have their lives “figured out.” More importantly, I did not want to be viewed as a disappointment to friends and family.
So, in the hopes of looking more impressive and adding more experience to my resume, I started a job as an administrative assistant. After an hour-long commute, I interned in the mornings, worked in the afternoons and traveled back home at night. At the end of each day I felt exhausted and doubtful, and dreaded having to repeat the routine again. My thoughts were always consumed with next step, and I never took time to be proud of my achievements.
Throughout that period of time, my mental health suffered a great deal. I rarely considered what was best for my body and mind. Disregarding my physical needs, my actions were driven by my intense desire to succeed at all costs. I ignored the severe anxiety and stress that nagged at me incessantly.
Today, I am lucky to have a full-time position, but balancing work and life outside the office remains my primary focus. My job is demanding and I continue to experience stress, but I refuse to overexert myself to the detriment of my body. Adopting the following guidelines has helped me manage work and play. I encourage young professionals learning to balance careers and personal lives to consider these as well:
1. Find a hobby and do it consistently. This may seem like obvious advice, but people jumping into careers often brush hobbies off as trivial. However, it is imperative to find an activity that requires you to leave work mode and focus energy on something you enjoy.
It is important to keep up your hobby on a regular basis. This will produce a mentality that work is not the only important aspect of life; people should teach themselves that stress-relieving activities are equally stimulating and important to maintaining healthy lifestyles. Hobbies allow young professionals to prioritize themselves during a time when external pressures in the workforce become demanding.
2. Keep work at work. This is easier said than done. Sometimes people feel compelled to check emails, knock out to-do lists, or finish assignments on nights and weekends, particularly when juggling multiple jobs. However, it is essential to set boundaries outside the office.
Working off-hours can exacerbate stress, prevent you from separating yourself from the job and create a negative environment at home. Refraining from checking emails or completing assignments takes effort, but ultimately this will allow you to cultivate non-work related priorities. If a job does demand a weekend shift or two, try to arrange your schedule so that you have at least one day off during the week.
3. Check in with yourself. This is by far the most important guideline. At least once a week, if not more, take time to reflect on your mental and physical health. In order to balance work and non-work effectively, you have to pay attention to what your body is telling you. While this also takes practice, your body is the best indicator of what your needs are, at any given moment. Listen to it!
My fellow young professionals, I hear you and understand you, and I implore you to do what is necessary to live productive, happy and balanced lives. Your wellbeing depends on it!
Carimah Townes is a Special Assistant for ThinkProgress. She received a B.A. in political science from UCLA, where she also studied cultural anthropology. While in school, she served as a festival planner and interned with the Office of Mayor Villaraigosa. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and interned with the Communications and Development teams at Vital Voices Global Partnership.