A New Balance Between Work and Play

A New Balance Between Work and Play

Last month, after suffering from increased anxiety and mild panic attacks, I stepped away from this website, spent a lot of time alone, went hiking in Patagonia, and sought to rebalance my life. I needed to clear my mind and come back to everything in my life with fresh eyes. As a travel writer, I share all the places I go and exciting things I do. It’s easy to think of my life as constantly moving from one amazing thing to the next. But social media and blogging present a warped image of my life, since all that gets shown is the good stuff.

You don’t see the days I spend in cafés, the sleepless nights, the hours spent writing or looking for an Internet connection. Running a website with 1.2 million monthly visitors is a full-time job, and when you throw in a penchant to start new projects (a blogging school, a hostel, a charity), I’m too often the busiest of bees. I like staying busy — but there’s busy and there’s overworked.

It wasn’t until I threw on my backpack again that I realized I was overworking.

I had bitten off more than I could chew; I was juggling too many balls. I couldn’t work full-time, travel full-time, and also find time to just enjoy the moment. As a consequence, everything suffered. I love this job I have created. Writing is cathartic for me, and this blog is as much a journal for me as it is a travel guide for you. And I also love immersing myself in a destination, starting new businesses, and being on the move!

On their own, all the things I love in my life bring me tremendous joy.

But I realize I simply can’t juggle everything anymore. This website has too many moving parts, my nonprofit is picking up, my business partners and I want to create more hostels, and I want get offline more. Trying to do them all at once means I can’t do any of them well and they become sources of anxiety, not joy.

I hadn’t noticed this before because I was doing them all while at home in NYC. But then I went on the road — and I felt like I was drowning. I just felt a weight on my shoulders I never felt before. I couldn’t enjoy anything.

Robiul Smith

While in a hostel in Mendoza, Argentina, I was sad with envy looking at the travelers around me without a care in the world. They were just there soaking it all in. None of them had to wake up for an 8am meeting or worry about video upload speeds. They could just enjoy the destination and worry about work when they got home. It didn’t travel with them.

Over the last few months, the thought of doing anything has left me paralyzed with anxiety. I found no pleasure in anything. Every time I did one thing, I thought about all the other things I wanted or had to do. If you haven’t experienced anxiety, you don’t know what I am talking about, but it’s not a good feeling to feel helpless for no reason.

So, sensing how things were going, I took February off and started the process of trying to get back to me. I spent weeks by myself. I went hiking in Patagonia. I deleted emails. I kept the computer shut. I went to bed at a normal bedtime. I read a lot.

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As time went on and I stopped juggling so many plates at once, the eye-twitching anxiety melted away. It was lost somewhere on the W trek in Patagonia. As I came back online and into my old life, I realized the same patterns were slowly re-emerging. Intentions are great, but action is all that matters. All I learned about the cause of my problems (trying to do it all) was being pushed aside by old habits. I need to untangle my life and create new patterns where my passions bring me joy, not panic. And one of those new patterns is changing how I handle work.

I love this website and community, but I have let the nature of the Internet control me. It never shuts off. It’s there 24/7/365. Since I’m a workaholic, I don’t know how to stop. If I don’t set boundaries, work will consume me even further (through no one’s fault but my own) and that’s no good.

So I’m announcing some changes:

I’ve taken email off my phone. No longer will I check my emails and be a slave to my device. It’s felt amazing no longer constantly reacting to a ding like Pavlov’s dogs.

I’ve amended my email policy to be clearer on what emails will get a response. It’s too hard to keep up with 200 emails per day. As much as I want to help everyone, I am only one man. I’m taking my weekends back and no longer working outside Monday through Friday. (My assistant is helping enforce this.)

For the time being, I’ve decided to stop answering comments on this blog. I went back and forth on this, but it’s something I need to do right now. I love reading your responses and seeing everyone interact with each other and can always be reached via email, social media, or the forums, but for now, I will no longer be responding to comments on the blog itself.

And, most dramatically, I am no longer going to travel and work at the same time. This is the biggest cause of my anxiety. It’s going to be just one or the other. When on the road, the computer will stay at home. I am at my best and at my happiest when I can focus on each thing individually. I am most excited about each when they stay away from each other. But when I’m trying to mix them, they bring me a lot of stress. I could handle the juggling before but not any more. To get back to my happy place, I plan to focus on each one separately. When at home, I’ll work. When on the road, I’ll travel like I used to… like how I saw those backpackers in Mendoza. This trip to Australia is the last time I’ll bring my computer on the road with me.

These are big changes for me and it’s going to take time to get used to them, but I know creating boundaries and limits will stop me from going crazy and wanting to pop Xanax like candy. Rome was not built in a day and mental health is a long journey. But, as I write this now in Sydney, Australia, I feel more free. The small changes I’ve already made have helped a lot. My anxiety was because I was spinning too many dishes at once, but now I realize that when I just pick up one at a time, I can become my old, fulfilled self again.

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Alice Walker

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