I don’t believe in work-life balance.
I’m currently an assistant managing editor for the world’s largest DJ site, and I regularly work 12-hour days that include writing, filming tutorials and reviews, and producing music. My girlfriend calls me a workaholic, and my boss says I should take it easy because I’m the first person who logs into our team’s Slack channel and, often, the last to leave. At one point my Mom got so worried about me that she asked if I was taking any “performance enhancers” to let me work for long hours seven days a week (I wasn’t).
How’d it get to this?
Ten years ago, I was working in an insurance firm and was being groomed to take over the company. My Dad was so happy. I've got it made, he said. I was just two years out of college, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
That's what I thought too, but there was one problem: I’m obsessed with music. I was in two bands (Halik Ni Gringo and Boy Elroy), I’ve been actively DJing since high school, and I also ran a recording studio called Love One Another Sound Production, where we had just finished cutting a demo EP of a new dance-rock band called Taken By Cars, and had started recording an album of an unknown indie rock group called Ang Bandang Shirley.
Because I liked music so much (and because I was young and dumb), I juggled all of these: I worked in the insurance industry during the day, managed the studio at night, and then DJed / gigged with my band on weekends and some weeknights. This went on for all of three years: I’d punch in at 8 a.m. at my Makati desk job, clock out at five, then head to the studio in Pasig and work there until around midnight, and head out for a gig if I had one.
Mornings would always be a struggle because I’d have to work tired and hungover from the night before. In some cases, I’d still be drunk—gigs would end at 4 a.m., so one of the ways I “avoided” the dreaded C5 to Makati morning rush was I’d pack my barong and leather shoes in my DJ bag and sleep an hour or two in our office parking lot. I’d then sneak in a nap during lunch time.
Despite this unsustainable arrangement, I did it because I couldn’t imagine myself not working on music in my studio, and neither could I imagine myself not performing music in front of a crowd. The more I tried to explain and defend my work schedule to shocked friends and relatives, the more I realized I had stumbled upon something special: I’m pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion because I’ve found something in my life that I can’t live without.
And while I think work-life balance is a myth, I know burnout is real. I experienced painful, crippling burnout during those years. I don’t mind working nose to the grindstone, but what I’ve learned as I got older is that you can only do this for a while before you start experiencing debilitating anxiety where you crawl into bed thinking about how you’re going to survive the next day, let alone the coming week.
So after three years of barong-wearing, 6 a.m.-rising, daily 90-minute commute to work(and a few breakdowns here and there), I realized I had had enough. I didn’t leave because the work was bland (it was), or because of my officemates (I love them, and they’re one of the main reasons I stayed for as long as I did). I left because it wasn’t me, and the work wasn’t aligned with my life’s vision. That’s when I handed in my two week’s notice, kicked my 3-in-1 instant coffee habit, and set off to focus on recording and performing music.
There is no work-life balance when your work is aligned with your life’s values. When you do your life’s work day in and day out, you push yourself without any external stimulus, except perhaps a deadline.
Instead of a clean 50-50 split between your career and personal life, I think of it more as a seesaw: There will be days that you’ll spend more time on your career, and there will be days when you’ll spend more time with friends and family. You can be obsessed with your career and obsessed with family, but never at the same time.
You can spread yourself evenly if you just want to do acceptable work and be a decent Mom/Dad/husband/Silicon Valley COO. This will be enough for most, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to do extraordinary things and have a massive, positive impact in the lives of the people around you, you’ll inevitably have to drop one for the other once in a while.
Joey Santos is the Assistant Managing Editor for Digital DJ Tips. He is a DJ and music producer, speaker, and online educator having authored best-selling courses for Ableton Live and Virtual DJ.