I Never Knew How Important Work-Life Balance Was — Until I Started Working Remotely
I woke up to someone knocking on my door at 7 a.m. I opened my eyes and, for a second, I didn’t know where I was. The first thing I saw was my work desk, piled with television scripts and revised script pages of all colors — pink, green, yellow, a rainbow. Then I remembered I was still *at* work, having slept on the couch … again. The thing was, I’d just finished a 16-hour work day around 3 a.m. I would have driven home, but to and from work would have been an hour, meaning three or less hours of sleep. So my office couch won. Someone knocked again. “Ready?” they said. “We have more script changes that need to get to the actors … ” I opened my desk drawer that doubled as a dresser drawer, threw on a new shirt, and opened the door.
Yes, my work-life balance needed some help. As a script coordinator in TV I’d be the last person to have the script before it would get emailed to 100-to-200 people, from actors and the director to set designers and the prop department. And, don’t get me wrong — working in TV was great fun, especially if you loved the adrenaline rush that came from constant last-minute changes, if you were great at multi-tasking, and if you loved spending 12+-hour days with your co-workers, becoming one big happy family.
Sure, I was sleep deprived, yet I loved all these things. But when my grandma once asked me how my work-life balance was when I was in the middle of another 16-hour work day, I started to cry. The TV shows had been my life, so meeting up with friends — not to mention dating — was often a challenge; I’d look like the person who always bailed. My grandma kept ingraining the idea of work-life balance into my head and would always say, “It’s your life, but you need time to live it, too. Remember: It’ll fly by. Take it from me.”
Working as a full-time remote journalist improved my work-life balance — and it was never something I’d planned on doing. It began accidentally, when my grandma, who’d raised me, had continued health problems in Chicago — and I wanted a way to be there, yet also work in a field I loved. And, it wasn’t a random career choice. Growing up, I’d always thought I’d be a journalist and missed it over the years — I’d been a journalism major in college and started writing when I was a child; when I was nine, I even had a “newspaper,” Nat’s Neat New Notes, that my grandma would help me send out to family members and family friends. I’d write about everything from my hamster’s new litter to the new ice cream flavor at Baskin Robbins. I wrote throughout childhood, high school, college, and post-college, but when I got into graduate school for screenwriting, I moved to L.A. and focused more on film and TV jobs.
But, while I worked in television production in L.A, I often freelanced on the side, writing and editing pieces, from articles to personal essays. When you work on TV shows, you work anywhere from a few months to several to almost a year at once, all depending on how many episodes a network ordered: six, 12, 22, etc. In between, I’d get temp jobs at TV studios, as I’d prefer them (to keep busy, socialize, network, etc.) to collecting unemployment.
Working in TV also gave me more flexibility when it came to visiting my grandma. In between jobs, I’d often fly back to Chicago to see her, a month here or a month there. And, when her health got worse around 2011 and she started to hospital-hop around Chicago, I found myself leaving TV and temp jobs before they were over in order to meet her at the foot of her hospital bed instead. Finally, in 2015, a one-month visit to see her turned into a-year-and-a-half, up until her death.
During that year-and-a-half, I went to Chicago with one very part-time remote journalism job, 12 hours a week, and lived in hostels and month-to-month sublets since sleeping in my grandma’s hospital rooms was not a viable long-term option. If you know anything about freelance writing, you usually cannot live on 12 hours a week. I literally looked up and asked the Universe for two more remote writing jobs so that I could afford to stay in Chicago, close to my grandma. I’d always said I’d move back for her — and this was the time, I thought. And, my manifesting worked. Within a few months, I had two more consistent writing jobs; they’d both found my writing portfolio online. I know it sounds hokey — looking up at the sky and asking for two more jobs, but it worked, and I pitched other places to get even more writing and editing assignments, too.
That month in Chicago turned into a-year-and-a-half seemingly overnight. I rarely left my grandma’s side — and when I did to briefly go back to L.A. to finally get rid of my apartment there, she died. In addition to being crushed, I couldn’t help but feel that there was some divine intervention at work — my grandma had never liked fast-paced lifestyle, and getting rid of the only thing still tying me to it — my L.A. apartment — seemed like a sign.
She’d been a huge traveler herself and had always encouraged me to live abroad. Now, with my remote jobs, I actually could. After her death, I couldn’t stand being around ambulance sirens and wanted to go as far away from them as possible. Randomly, in a Facebook group, I saw that a woman in Switzerland needed a “digital nomad” to watch her goats for a couple months. I immediately applied. A few days later, I was living in a quiet, remote part of the Swiss Alps, no ambulance sirens within earshot. It was perfect.
However, the goats and I were not a good match — i.e., one liked to ram into my thighs with his horns, leaving my legs purple. And my carpal tunnel became so bad from all the shoveling, since it was the middle of winter, that it became painful to do my main job — my writing. Twelve days later, I decided to move on.
Although taking care of goats was much different than I’d anticipated, grief — and the goats — ended up being the catalyst for my digital nomad lifestyle. Once I realized I didn’t need to goat-sit to travel and work remotely, I explored more of Switzerland and decided to explore a new country every month or so. I went snowshoeing in the Swiss Alps, finding the smallest, most quaint church in the middle of nowhere; I fed kangaroos and wallabies in Australia; I ate churros in Madrid, which are *not* sweet and which they *do* dip in a cup of not-too-sweet chocolate and learned that I prefer the Americanized ones; and so much more.
Oftentimes, I work New York hours, where the places I work for are based. When “living” in countries in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, they’re six hours ahead of New York, which means I can go explore a castle, kayak, or snowshoe all day, then get to my laptop by 6 p.m. (my time) to work my U.S. jobs.
Working remotely, I’m no longer tied to my phone and laptop 24/7 like I used to be. Sure, I email my editors back in a timely manner, but no one gets upset if I don’t message back at midnight (nor do they message me at midnight) and I only work weekends if I want to. When I first started working remotely, I was so used to being on call all the time that it took some getting used to — for instance, I could actually go somewhere when I wasn’t working and not bring my laptop along, afraid my boss would call or email me without a moment’s notice.
But, to be successful at working remotely, you definitely need to master a few key traits: discipline, drive, motivation, and not letting the “life” part of your work-life balance take over, as you still need to work so you can make money to do the “life” part. Some remote workers work from home, in their pajamas, but I find it’s best to get up, get dressed, and leave the house, just like I’m going to an office. Sure, I work from my home-of-the-moment sometimes, too (even hostel bathrooms when that’s the only place I can get a WiFi signal!), and it’s definitely a nice option to have, but I thrive with people and noise around me, even if that means a library-quiet co-working space; they help hold me accountable.