Author’s name withheld.
Hey! Hey, it’s me, we worked on that one job together. Was it LA or New York? Oh, it had that crazy load out in the rain, remember? Yeah, hey! How are you?! Sorry, I haven’t slept in ages, so I almost didn’t realize it was you. Can I get you anything? Want to go outside for a quick smoke to catch up?
If you’re in my line of work, you’ve had this conversation a thousand times. I work in live audio production, meaning events, tours, fundraisers, broadcasts, film, and TV run my (often 20-hour) days. People who do this job do it because they love it. We’ve found our passion (something many aspire to!), but it’s both a blessing and a curse when it comes to taking care. Doing it to its fullest potential often involves throwing your idea of “normal work hours” out the window. Work/life balance? For a while, I didn’t even know where to start.
This job comes with long days, strange hours, and a thrill like none other when you get to work on a project you love. It’s demanding – physically and mentally – and doesn’t always make sense to those outside of it.
Here’s the honest truth: The idea of self-care (as we see it in the mainstream) has historically not been on my radar. In my line of work, your job is to do just that – work and work and work until you collapse (we joke if you die, you might actually be able to grab some sleep!). “9-to-5” isn’t a thing for me and neither are “weekends” – maybe that’s something you can relate to.
For the longest time, my friends couldn’t grasp why I’d choose work over brunches or birthday parties. My mom would tell me to download meditation apps (no thank you) to get me through the stressful days and long hours. But, I’d explain, this job I love so much has upsides – like traveling the world, working with top talent on productions you care about, and having access to your heroes. I won’t make it home for Thanksgiving, but this job is thrilling. It “sparks joy” (did I use that right?), and it feeds my soul. For a while, I thought that was all the self-care I needed.
In fact, ask your average roadie/production technician what their version of “self-care” looks like and they might give you a list that looks something like this (truly, this is what my list looked like for a while too):
- Smoke breaks (not anymore, mom – promise!
- Stretching (the type where you lean back in your chair and say, “AHHHH, THAT’S THE GOOD STUFF”)
- Potato chips (oof, I know)
- Intermittent chit chat, preferably something that will give you a laugh – you’ll need it
- Another coffee break
- Ripping out your ear piece for a precious moment of zen every few hours Going to the bathroom
- Staying up through most of the night and almost missing the next day’s call time when you finally do get a few precious winks
- Rinse and repeat
This job is an exercise in human endurance and agility. The pervasive mentality is to “suck it up” (don’t get me started) if you want to be successful – or even if you just want to have a job, and that’s hard. On any given day, it’s a test in resilience, strength and adaptability – one that usually has to be performed for a new group of people (mostly men - that’s a TED talk for a different day) on a daily basis. Each gig is an audition for the next. Your manager’s approval is everything. And above all else, time is money.
Now, I realize something: My version of “me-time” and “taking care” might look different from someone working a 40-hour-a-week desk job, but at the end of the day we’re all looking for one very common thing: more time.
Time is the greatest of luxuries and the hottest of commodities. It’s where I believe self-care actually lives for all of us. Making time to take care is half the battle and by far the hardest part in my process – and probably in yours too. I’m not proud of my habit of using vacation days for more work, or cutting trips short for the next gig, but that’s the nature of the beast and it’s what I love, what feeds my spirit, and what makes me feel fulfilled. So, instead, I’m learning to start small and pick my spots.
Carving out time for the simplest things like eating during the day or even pooping (yeah, I said it) can be a feat of strength in jobs like mine – and I know I’m not the only one (hey doctors, teachers, and anyone who’s worked in retail). When time not working is money lost, it can feel nearly impossible to set boundaries or take a few minutes for yourself. This is what my therapist calls “living to work” instead of “working to live.” She fully rejects my argument of “BUT WHY NOT BOTH?!”
So what’s the answer here? What’s the big finish, the takeaway, the landing, the hot take? I think we need to open up the way we understand self-care because it means something different to everyone. For some it’s a day at the spa. For others, it’s just stealing a few minutes away over the course of a twenty-hour day – then eventually questioning whether those 20-hour days are sustainable in the long run. These differences are acceptable and okay.
In short, not all self-care is created equal, but at the root of it for all of us is a question of how we choose to spend the time – however minimal – we do have. I’m learning that when you don’t have time, sometimes you have to make it. Making time requires sacrifices, and it’s HARD – but sometimes self-care is hard, and that’s what nobody tells you.
What does self-care look like for you if you don’t have the luxury of turning your brain off when the clock strikes 5, 5:30, or even 6 on a Friday? Let me know below (seriously, please).
Photo by Yoav Aziz via Unsplash.