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Home > Publications > Quill > Life balance is the key to avoiding burnout


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Thursday, January 24, 2008
Life balance is the key to avoiding burnout

Michelle Maskaly

Balance.

Sounds like a simple word, but without it many things are not possible. You wouldn’t be able to stand up, my goldfish would die if I didn’t have the right pH balance in his water, and a tightrope walker would be unemployed without it.

But how does balance play into your life as a young journalist? Simple. You need to create some, or you will get burned out.

Yes, I know, easier said than done.

As a young journalist, we are always told we need to prove ourselves. That means working long hours, usually without getting overtime or comp time; spending what free time you do have trying to improve your skills by attending seminars; or reading newspapers, Web sites, books and magazines related to your career.

It shows ambition and may get you slightly ahead of the competition, but it will also cause you to lose touch with the world outside news and journalism.

Take it from someone who has been there.

When I started in the industry, I lived, breathed, ate and slept journalism. And still do, with limits.

I’d check the local paper before I left for work, listen to talk news radio during my hour commute to and from work, and check the cable news Web sites and those of the major national newspapers, all before I had even stepped through the door of my newsroom.

If I didn’t do these things, I’d feel guilty, really guilty.

Listen to a CD my friend gave me of a new, upcoming band? Nope. Actually look at the person I was ordering my coffee from instead of having my face buried in the newspaper? Nope. Go out for a night with my college friends without checking CNN, Fox News and the Associated Press wires at least every half-hour on my Blackberry? Nope.

After a little more than three years and three journalism jobs later, I started to feel disconnected from the people I was interviewing. Yeah, I knew almost every breaking news event going on in the world at that moment, but trying to make small talk with my sources (“American Idol”? What IS that?) and relate to the people I was writing about became difficult, as did not becoming jaded about life and the business.

That was when I realized I needed to create a good work-life balance. Without it, young journalists can get burned out.

So how do you create this great balancing act? Simple: Make a list of rules for yourself.

Here are some suggestions given to me that do work and don’t take away from my career:

• Be selective with your Blackberry. Just because they are great little devices that give you the world at your fingertips doesn’t mean you have to constantly search the world. Set a time limit on your searches.

• Find something new you are interested in and try it. If you like it, set aside time each week or each day and do it.

• Read something other than newspapers.

• Watch something other than network news.

• Get a hobby.

On a recent job interview, in the middle of the questions being fired off at me, one of my now bosses asked what my hobbies were. He caught me completely off guard. The capital of Pakistan, the president of South Korea, the CEO of the company I was interviewing at — easy. But my hobbies? I thought I had blown the interview, because I just stared at him in shock that someone had asked me that during a journalism job interview.

Later when I told him how thrown off I was, he told me he asks that question because it is good for journalists to be well-rounded and have interests outside the field.

I couldn’t agree more.

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