Well it’s been a busy few months, work continues in a fairly predictable way, still interesting and enjoyable, and somewhat stressful at times, but the other elements of my life have been interesting and complex as well. Juggling my life admin and getting the work-life balance right is something I’ve been very conscious of this year, and something that seems to get harder as I go along.
I’ve noticed a few things lately that have made me stop and reflect on my general work-life balance. (Spoiler alert – this is a fairly long post, so you might want to get a cup of tea and settle in).
Firstly, my job has become busier and busier, meaning I’m working longer hours than ever before, and the stress levels that go along with that are sometimes a little tough. It occurs to me that for most of my twenties, I was drifting about in different lower-level jobs overseas, and while there was sometimes stress, I wasn’t really in what you might call a career. And once I decided on my career, it took me several years to break into it, doing my masters, all those months unemployed, and finally getting a foot in the door, in a relatively low-level job where I was often bored or under-used, and I had to put in the time to slowly work my way up the ladder.
Now that I find myself in my mid-thirties, and finally doing really well in my chosen career, and finally in a senior enough position that I have autonomy and some authority to do things on my own, and I’m managing multiple projects, the stress and pressure has increased along with the increased levels of responsibility I always craved. I wonder if it’s an inevitable step, and one that others have trodden before, and how much of that comes with being in my mid-thirties? Does everyone, in roughly their mid-thirties, hit their career stride and find increased stress and pressure as a matter of course? Or does it happen to others earlier or later in life (I’m conscious that I started my chosen career later in life than some do).
Secondly, also as a result of being in my mid-thirties, I am now finally a home-owner, something I am still thrilled about 6 years after buying my lovely little house. However, home-ownership comes with its own new levels of life-admin that require a bit more investment than when I was a renter. As a renter, when things break, you call the landlord, and 9 times out of 10, they will sort it out. As the homeowner, when things break, suddenly it’s you who has to sort things out, which takes significantly more time and effort. As many of you know, since last November my boiler has broken down multiple times, both while I have been at home and while working overseas. Each time requires calling up companies, seeing who can come when, arranging for someone to be at home, and when the boiler finally gave up the ghost and I resigned myself to purchasing a new boiler, I discovered that just to get quotes, you have to be at home for several days while different plumbers come to quote for the work (apparently no-one will quote without physically coming to see the property etc).
And so it takes rather a lot of planning and working from home and re-organising meetings and appointments to ensure that I can be at home on the right days and at the right times for all these things, which is increasingly hard to do in a busier and busier job! (I can however tell you that I am finally the proud owner of a brand new shiny boiler at last!).
On other issues of life admin and home-ownership, as I’m now earning a bit more than I was, and I’m starting to prepare for the possibility of starting a family, I’ve been attempting to buy another 10% of my house (I currently own 50% of it), and also to convert my loft into a third bedroom to add a bit more space. It’s been a long, slow slog of a process, – over 18 months of trying to find out from the housing association if they will give me permission to do it (essentially no-one knows, as no-one has ever tried it before), and trying to get all of my ducks in a row (mortgage offer from the bank, permission from the housing association, drawings done by an architect, and planning permission approved, more letters required from the bank to the housing association, written permission from my neighbours to go ahead, etc, etc).
It has essentially involved endlessly long and circular conversations with a large number of people but I am slowly but surely edging closer to being able to actually do something, and FINALLY in a position where I feel confident it will actually happen, which is a bit of a shock! After months of back and forth, I now have drawings done, planning permission approved, a confirmed mortgage offer from the bank, and a letter from the housing association approving the whole thing. It has been sapping my energy for months now, which has not been easy, and I became so convinced that it would never happen I can’t quite bring myself to believe it’s really going ahead now! However the construction is booked in for mid-May, and will take around 8 weeks, after which there will be a brief period of painting, decorating and carpeting before it’s all finished, hopefully sometime in July or August. It’s actually really exciting!! And after crunching all of the numbers, I am stunned to discover that by more than doubling my existing mortgage, my monthly payments will go from £837 a month to £838 a month! Mortgage financing is so peculiar… But it’s to do with the fact that by buying another 10% of my house, my mortgage payment goes up, but my monthly rent goes down, plus I’m getting a better interest rate etc, so it all seems to balance out.
And of course, in amongst all of these complex processes like new boilers and loft conversions and mortgage offers, there have been the more mundane, everyday life admin demands, such as dental check-ups, and sight tests and new glasses, and picking up the dry cleaning, and broken/new washing machines, and hunting down lost parcels from the post office, and vet appointments and cat vaccinations, and friend’s birthdays, and car insurance quotes, and car tax, and getting a new clutch for the car (I recently inherited a car from my mother – an incredibly generous thing, but naturally comes with additional life admin to sort out!).
I sometimes wonder how anyone finds the time to go to work at all under the weight of general life admin, given that most of these things have to be done between 9am and 5pm, Mondays to Fridays while I am needed at work… Then I finally realised that most people live together in couples, and therefore have the luxury of splitting some of these chores and tasks between them, thus halving the workload – I imagine that couples say things to each other like “Darling, could you sort out the car insurance, and I’ll stay at home for the boiler guy?”. It makes me feel harshly reminded that there is the same amount of work to be done whether you are single or not, and I must admit I have to fight an impending sense of panic when I think about how much more life admin there is when you add children into the mix, as they notoriously come with their own set of tasks to be done! It is an extremely daunting prospect!
Sometimes I do wish there was someone else in my life who could offer to do some of these things for me, as although I’m lucky to have a lodger who helps me deal with disasters like a flooded kitchen when I’m halfway across the world, it’s not quite the same.
I also reflected on something else recently, after a couple of my friends joked about how I record every little mundane detail of my life on facebook, (which I unashamedly do). Most people only post things that are funny, or interesting, or share news stories, or photos of their meals, or show themselves having a fabulous time somewhere (all of which I do too), but I also post insanely long and frequently dull sagas about my boiler, or my tax returns, and other mundane elements of my life admin that no-one in their right mind cares two figs about.
Why do I do this?
I guess because I don’t have a partner at home to tell. Couples are often conscious of their ability to do the big things – love each other, comfort each other, have babies etc, but I wonder if they are as aware of the little things that are just as important – having someone to tell about your awful day, or someone who knows it’s the FIFTH time you’ve rang the post office about the lost parcel and they still haven’t searched the bloomin office, and that you’ve already had 6 quotes for new boilers, but so-and-so reckons you are still overpaying. When you don’t have anyone to absorb the tiny, mundane frustrations of life, they sometimes need to spill over and go somewhere. So I tend to live my life out loud, on social media, on facebook, and yes, even via this blog. It’s my way of sharing my little mundane frustrations (and tiny successes) with someone – even if that someone is the big, wide world at large.
And finally, the last couple of years have seen a steady increase of stress and pressure in my personal life – various friends and family going through illness, divorce, unemployment/redundancy, and bereavement, and more and more often I find myself torn between the desire to be there for others, and visit friends/family in need to try and help out, with the desire to just stay at home, rest, sleep, recover, tick off lists of admin tasks, and finally get around to sorting out the garden, or cleaning, cooking, and getting on with other things that tend to pile up during the week. It made me realise that entering my mid-thirties, my friends and I suddenly have much more grown-up problems than we ever had before!
In January of this year, I decided that 2017 was going to be the year of Maya. After feeling too much stress and strain from too many quarters, I decided enough was enough, and I needed to put myself and my needs first. This meant joining a fancy gym, exercising more, eating healthier foods, and making more time for myself to be at home, pottering about gardening or reading or knitting etc.
It’s a hard balance to strike – I don’t want to spend every weekend sitting around at home doing nothing, but sometimes it’s extremely welcome and needed. I adore spending time with my friends, but sometimes after a long and hectic week, racing about to visit friends and family all over the country, and getting back home just in time for work again can be exhausting. It sometimes makes me feel a bit guilty that I don’t see many of my friends and relatives as much as I’d like, and incredibly grateful sometimes when they come to see me instead!
It’s also very hard to focus on things like eating healthier (which means carving out additional time to cook healthier meals and make lunches instead of buying ready meals and takeaway when I’m too tired to cook) and make time to go to the new gym – which I love, but it’s hard when you’re tired and stressed after a long day to build in time for that too!
I have had a few small successes lately – I finally sorted out the garden ready for spring, and sorted out the mortgage, boiler, car insurance and most other big things eventually. I am managing to find time to take an evening class in pottery once a week, which I ADORE, and which is enormously good for my general well-being to have something fun and creative in my life! There is nothing like working with your hands where you really have to concentrate, to help you completely switch off from all other worries for a few hours! I am also managing to mostly make time for the gym after work, regardless of how tired or stressed I am, which is proving to be a useful habit and often helps me to de-stress and relax after work anyway. I also managed to squeeze in a fantastic spontaneous mini-break to Florence and Pisa with a friend of mine, which was WONDERFUL and much-needed (many, many photos to follow).
So, to sum up, there are ups and downs, peaks and troughs, and I continue to navigate adult life with a mix of 1 part competence, 1 part panic, and 3 parts just-about-making-it-work.
Anyhow, those are my current musings on the state of my life, and a little check-in as we are now 1/4 of the way through the Year of Maya. (I think it’s going ok personally!)
I will now go back to posting zillions of pictures of my recent amazing trip to Italy (another new country to add to the list!)