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As someone who makes a career out of part-time jobs and freelancing, work comes in waves, either too much or too little. It feels like so much of the time I have too little. Because of this, I have come to learn to take the work when it comes, which has left me with chunks of time where I’m so overbooked I can’t sleep. This in turn causes me to be less productive, grumpy, and overall not very effective at life.

Right now I’m in a period where I have a lot of work. In fact, everyone wants me to work more. Great, right? Well, turns out I actually want to have a life. This time I’m trying to take JUST enough work to keep my bills paid and leave me with free time. Time to cook, time with friends, time to actually make a relationship work.

The tricky part about this is it means I have to say “No.” Why is this so hard? Partly because I’m afraid of the day when the work won’t be there. Partly because as an actor I’ve been trained to always say “Yes!” But I don’t think this is just a consequence of a career choice. The more I contemplate American culture, the more I remember how ingrained this is in all of us. From an early age, we sign up for extracurricular activities, sports, and music lessons, and the list goes on. I’ve always thought that if I had kids, I would put them into all these things. It makes them well rounded and keeps them out of trouble, right?

But what about free time? What about leisurely family dinners, and time to stroll around the neighborhood, and time to read for pleasure? These are things that I love so much that Americans are much worse at than our European counterparts. And this is coming from someone who was raised in a very laid-back household, where I actually found the pressure of overbooking came more from my school and my social group than home. The more things you are good at, the more popular you are, and the more colleges you get into. Yuck. Why? Does this truly makes us better, more efficient workers? Well, it certainly makes us more anxious. The number of Americans on anti-anxiety medication has skyrocketed. When 1 in 5 Americans needs to be medicated in order to handle normal, everyday life, something has to be wrong…right?

I’ve always thought I liked to be really busy, but I’m discovering I actually don’t so much. I don’t think I like this aspect of American culture much at all, in fact. But what to do about it? Work less? Yes, that is the answer, but that requires saying no. So hard to do. I get a nervous pit in my stomach when I know I have to tell people I can’t do the work they want me to do. I’m afraid. Afraid I won’t be able to pay my bills, afraid of disappointing them, afraid of shooting myself in the foot.

So I’m learning to get through this and try to say no. It’s not been easy, but the last three months since I’ve started doing this have been the happiest I’ve had in years. I’ve been able to do the things I love to do, work, and still have time for new creative outlets and the people I care about. I write this so I remember: It’s okay to say “No.”

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