A life lesson in working to live

Do you "live to work" or "work to live?" It’s a question that every independent creative needs to ask themselves.

Years ago, at the age of 35, I found myself being defined by my doctor as a "heart attack waiting to happen." I was working an average of 70 to 80 hours a week – sometimes much more with late nights and working on weekends. Work consumed my life. My personal life was almost non-existent.

I had allowed myself to become the "design department" for an advertising agency client that suddenly represented at least 80% of my business and income. When the principal of the firm said "jump," I leapt into the sky without questioning the command. I was doing some great work, but I wasn’t sleeping, not eating well and my blood pressure was dangerously sky high. In fact, when my physician checked my blood pressure – three times – he thought his equipment was broken.

The doctor sat down and asked, "What the hell is going on in your life?"

I told him.

He responded that I needed to resign the major, all-consuming client immediately or I was going to have serious health issues, possibly a heart attack. I was stunned – and immediately my mind went to concerns about money.

It was frightening to request a meeting with the owner of the business to inform her I could no longer handle all of her design work. However, she understood completely and actually apologized for her business causing me undue stress.

I was a little freaked out about the loss of income due to resigning the account.  Still, within a very short period of time, I had five new clients with a very manageable project load.  The income situation balanced out; as did my blood pressure – which dropped 30-some points in a month without medication. My personal life showed great improvement as well.

The entire situation was a great life lesson.  It helped me re-evaluate how I, as an independent creative, had been letting my work rule my life – instead of enjoying the life available to me as a result of being my own boss.

2 thoughts on “A life lesson in working to live

  1. Ken

    Wow! I think I was really meant to see this article!
    I was recently told by my doctor that my blood pressure was not only dangerously high, but that I am becoming malnourished. I started contracting with a company a couple of years ago as an aside to my own business. I have been able to maintain this client and my other business, but like yourself, this client has become my main focus. I feel in my gut that I should be letting this client go and trying to rebuild my other client base. However, the possible financial strain that I’d possibly incur is holding me back. Yet, I have been in this spot before and it didn’t take long for the client roster to fill itself in again. I guess it boils down to, “what we focus our attention on, prospers.”. Now, if only I can trust that and faithfully take the risk. Thanks for your post!