How did you identify your passions and follow your dreams?
It’s interesting. I wasn’t a kid that always wanted to write novels. When I was growing up, I never knew that I could. I loved reading, and I read a ton of books, but it never occurred to me that my passion for reading could translate to writing novels.
I knew I liked writing and was good at it, so I pursued a career in journalism. But then I realized I didn’t really like current events [laughs]. I wasn’t interested in writing based on facts.
So I pursued a career in publishing and applied to grad schools. I was interested in being a children’s book editor, so I applied for a MA program in publishing and writing at Emerson College.
I also applied for a MFA writing program at the New School, and part of the application was to submit a writing sample. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about at first. Then I came across the book The Princess Diaries, and I knew right away that teen fiction was what I wanted to write for the sample. It was the right tone, the right voice. I wrote the sample, but rather than pursuing that degree, I thought I had to be practical and think about jobs, so I went for the MA program instead.
I did finish writing the book, and after grad school I showed it to a friend who was a graphic novelist. She loved it and asked if she could show it to her agent.
I lucked out and so many things aligned for me. I may not have pursued it on my own. I didn’t see it is a viable job, and honestly I’ve always had a network of support, so that’s why it’s even been possible for me.
What does “work-life balance” mean to you?
Very early on I realized I love what I do, and I’m so lucky, but it’s not my life. I value spending time with friends. I value spending time with family. I value traveling. I’m not someone who’d be happy 100% working all the time, but I’m not someone who’d be happy not working enough. I really believe in balance, for myself. I definitely need both in my life. I definitely need to give both equal attention.
Also, I need to not be in the creative headspace all the time. I don’t think it’s healthy. You need to actually live your life so you can have the experiences to talk about.
What do you wish you do differently in how you manage your day and time?
I wish that I could be more disciplined with my time. I’ve gotten better at it, because I’ve been a freelancer for 5 years. But my attention span is… ekh.[Laughs] I think it’s because of the Internet and social media.
I feel I could output so much more of my potential.
What do you feel you don’t have enough time for, or wish you could tackle better?
I wish I had more time for exercise because I really don’t prioritize it enough. When I have free time– I’m a very social person. I want to see my friends. I want to clean my house. I want to spend time with my husband and my cats. I want to watch movies. I want to read books. So I don’t exercise enough, even though I kneow I feel better when I do.
Do you have advice for someone starting a new endeavor and grappling with issues of following their passions, doing meaningful work and making a difference, while managing their time so they can find their “balance” (whatever their definition may be)?
My advice would be to try to get a routine and try to figure out where you’re most productive. As a writer, I’m much more productive in a coffee shop. For my day job, I do better at home because I need to make phone calls and have my big desktop screen there.
I would also say, it’s hard not to procrastinate, but you will not want to procrastinate for too long. At the end of the day, you won’t feel proud. You’ll learn to self-regulate in a way. But some people are just not capable, and if so, you should recognize it and maybe rent out a workspace.
You really do need a level of self-discipline.
How do you think we need to approach “work-life balance” as a society?
I think it’s interesting that this question often only gets asked to women. It doesn’t get asked to men. I don’t see men worrying about work-life balance. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it’s because women are expected to do everything. Maybe it’s because women spend so much time helping others, caring for family… and they don’t get to pursue their passions or self-care.
Balance is different for everyone. You have to find what it is that makes you happy, but just know you can’t be happy all the time. You have to work at it.
And it’s OK to be off-balance. When I’m in a deadline mode, I don’t leave the house. I order pizza. The Chinese food delivery guy knows me. But I can’t do that for more than a couple of weeks. So know it’s OK to be under pressure and stress sometimes, and learn how to deal with it.
Read more from this series here.
*Edited for length and clarity.