Let life get in the way

Let life get in the way

How a little side-project helped reset my work-life balance

Zack Sheppard's photo
Zack Sheppard
·Apr 20, 2021·

2 min read

I made zero progress on my side-projects this past week. Indeed, I just barely got the work done for my freelance contracts. I was the opposite of a 24/7 hustler. And that's ok, because I was spending that time letting life get in the way of work.

Specifically one very small bit of life: my new four-legged side project, Islay.


But this post is not (just) an excuse to share adorable photos of this tiny puppy now living in my house. This post is about taking a breath after months of quarantine hustle and realizing I lost sight of that quasi-mythical goal: "work-life balance."

For myself, and I assume I'm not alone in this, it can be easy to get sucked into games about making numbers go "up and to the right" - whether that's getting obsessed with the performance of an API server, maximizing finances, or driving up the engagement stats on a blog or Twitter. These are games with "high scores" where it's easy to monitor whether we're winning and every time the numbers go up, a little dopamine burst whispers "good job." But the tightly-coupled simplicity of that system makes it addictively, dangerously easy to slip into the habit of working almost every waking moment.

I don't have the be-all and end-all answer to perfect work-life balance and in no way would I - someone who has happily plugged away on projects for 60+ hours a week for basically all of 2021 until this week - pretend that I do. All I can share is what has worked for me looking backwards. A decade ago, finding work-life balance was about unplugging completely and sitting in a park or a bar with people. In 2019 work-life balance was becoming a deep-dive nerd about photography.

This week, work-life balance was teaching this little furry destroyer-of-toys how to sit.

Sit! Good girl!

The common factor to these was a living goal. One that isn't measured in numbers like commits or reps or engagement but rather in moments like stories told or photos made or lessons taught. I don't know if that's the recipe to success. What I do know is I've signed up for a new big project in raising Islay. The payoff for this project will be a little spitfire who will come demand I stop working if I've been grinding too long, because she's a dog and she knows nothing about numbers or making them go up, right, or in any direction at all.

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