What Hurricane Sandy Taught Me About Work/Life Balance

There is none.

Disclaimer: This post is by no means an attack on my clients and/or employers. It is merely my opinion, based on my experience in light of Hurricane Sandy and how it impacted me both professionally, and personally. Please respect that.

I’ve been held up in Brooklyn for one whole week today, as much of New York City is beginning to get back on its feet, allowing a small number of us to get to and from desired destinations. Though I had the option to leave my apartment at leisure, I decided to stay put, take things slow, and wait for things to calm down before I jumped full speed ahead into what is my normal New York City work mode. 

Seeing the city in chaos was unnerving to say the least, but the thing that stuck with me most, occurred only a few short days after Sandy hit: the plea to return to the office. Certainly not my priority, as I was glued to my Twitter news feed, but for most of my peers, and their higher-ups, the call to get back to work was loud and clear. I wasn’t saved either, despite my best efforts to go off the grid and make sense of the catastrophe happening outside my window, my iPhone wouldn’t stop flashing with constant email, phone, and text notifications. I couldn’t understand why, at such a time of distress, the pressure to be working was higher than ever.  

If I ever thought I - and my fellow New Yorkers - weren’t addicted to working, I saw it at full force this week. I read endless tweets asking ‘what’s the best commute to Midtown Manhattan?’ followed by photos of people waiting hours in lines for shuttle buses, ferries, cars, cabs, you name it, just to get back to their offices. Then I’d stare at my phone as the number of unread emails kept piling in, and me angrily thinking 'Not now, it’s just not the right time’. I just couldn’t grasp the concept of getting back to work – not when real life was happening.

Life is more important than work 

I was one of the lucky ones who didn’t need to be in the office to get work done. As a free agent, I can work out of anywhere with a strong WiFi signal and cup of coffee. So I chose to work in bed however I could, trying to knock productivity and focus back into my brain. But I still felt the pressure of my clients and employers trailing me online, waiting on deadlines, scheduling the next set of meetings, and checking in on tasks. It got me thinking, 'If a hurricane that knocks out power and internet out won’t stop us from working, what will? Where’s the line? When does it end? If your job isn’t reporting the news or impacting lives, can’t that email reply wait? Can’t you reschedule that conference call to next week?’ Though I was safe and sound, my neighborhood being blessed and escaping any real damage, with reliable electricity, hot water, and WiFi, I still felt it unfair to be responsible for timely deadlines when the rest of this city was suffering, practically underwater. 

My point is that even facing human tragedy and natural disasters, work seems to triumph personal life. Maybe it’s just the way this city operates, maybe it’s the way my industry operates, but it’s an operation that needs re-evaluating. When your health and well-being are at risk, and you’re faced with situations outside of your control, it’s time to shut down the laptop and take a step back. At times like these, we need to better prioritize. It’s not just access to power outlets and WiFi that allows us to produce work, it’s our mental state. And if we can’t concentrate on a project because the news updates are directly impacting our livelihood, then it’s a sign for us to recharge, and take a break from the desk. Maybe even do something about it. 

If I were an employer who appreciated their staff, understood their concerns, and the concerns of the city it inhabits, I’d probably make it a point to be sympathetic and recognize that bigger things happen beyond the work place.

I recognize that this week was probably a great time to play hooky, and I’m not saying that this rant is just an excuse to defend my 'staycation’ but I’m also sharing the fact that some of us did better things with our time off - like participating in relief efforts, in addition to answering emails. I focused my social media efforts on spreading the word on how to volunteer and donate, collecting resources and updates to inform others in my immediate surroundings. I even lent a hand at the Red Hook Initiative sorting and giving away clothing to those in need. 

I didn’t need this week off, neither did I want it. But had I been an employer, instead of asking about the latest on that project, I would have encouraged my staff to step away from their computers and contribute back to the community. Put their energy into something positive… 

But hey, that’s just me.

Career Tip: #Rethink Yourself

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