I wish that work life balance had been introduced to me earlier in my life, because I'm still struggling with it. I chuckle as I write this, because I literally had to ask for an extension on the first draft of this article since I was swamped at work, and I was working hard to take days off. Although proud of my work ethic and where it has gotten me in my career, it's easy to forget the other important things missed out on along the way. Additionally, I was never taught how to be an advocate for myself, nor how to set and respect boundaries. I’m thrilled that this generation is not only talking about boundaries and advocacy but is also really prioritizing mental health. With that, I’d like to offer 5 tips to help ignite a work life balance early on in your career, rather than trying to play catch up later.

Self-care is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

1. Learn to say NO.

People will take advantage of you and your time if you let them. It’s important to be clear in the beginning that you will do your job, and perhaps go above and beyond at times, but that can’t be an expectation. Sometimes we want to say yes to things out of fear of not being seen as a hard worker or that you take your work seriously. It’s important to remember that free time doesn’t have to be available time. Recognize the trap of someone simply asking if you’re free. That’s usually followed up with an expectation to say yes with what they’re asking of you next. I’ll say it again; free time doesn’t have to be available time! Set that aside for yourself.

2. Create and respect your own boundaries.

You owe no one your 24/7 availability. Be careful with the precedent that’s set by not only checking work emails/texts at all hours, but also responding to them. That sends the message that you don’t respect your own boundaries, so why would anyone else take them seriously? Sure, if it’s an agent calling with a last-minute audition, take the call! But if it’s a planned day off, be straightforward with how available you will be and respect that boundary. Drop that fear of missing out. The rest of your life outside of work demands and deserves your attention!

There will never be a perfect window to take time off, no matter how well you plan for it in advance.

3. Schedule time for family and friends.

I can’t stress enough that we don’t get time back. I don’t imagine that when you reflect on your life towards the end of it, that you will regret not working more. However, you may wish you had more time with the people in it. Commit a day, even half a day every week that’s devoted to those people. Hold that time sacred. If something must get bumped, make sure to set a different time aside. It’s too easy to get busy and out of your scheduled priorities. Even when your work is your passion, it’s important that other aspects of your life feed your soul! How to live your life without regrets begins here.

4. Stand up for yourself and the time off you have earned.

There will never be a perfect window to take time off, no matter how well you plan for it in advance. But that's no reason to not go at all. Even if you can’t take a big vacation, never downplay the benefits of a short staycation as well! After we all experienced the pandemic, we were doing everything in one space. Work, class, family time, meals. It’s time to get back to separating space for those. So, if you are still working from home or taking class from home, make sure to give yourself proper breaks and move into a different environment. Designate a “workspace” and only work there. Do NOT work through your lunch break. Enjoy your well-earned breaks elsewhere and take a tip from the film “Four Christmases”. Take a vacation on your vacation, and do NOT feel bad about it!

5. Self-care is imperative.

Prioritizing your health and well-being MUST remain at the forefront. When we neglect self-care, everything in our lives suffers. Focusing attention on nutrition, sleep, exercise, meditation, and getting outside can be a game changer. When you protect your body and spirit with these things, stress has less of a chance of taking over. Managing stress is hard! If you’re still struggling with stress management, reach out to a therapist! These professionals literally help people for a living. I know it’s helped me a lot along the way. Remember, self-care is not a luxury. It’s a necessity.

It’s important to remember that free time doesn’t have to be available time.

I’ve learned so much in my career and life so far and look forward to learning more. As someone who stubbornly must learn for myself, please consider some of my lessons gained from mistakes. Regret and guilt are a poison that I wish all of you to live without. What if, for one moment, you believed that you were enough? That what you are doing is enough, and that you matter? Perhaps you could let go of envy. Perhaps you could let go of your fear of missing out. Perhaps for the first time, you would be confident, feel fulfilled, and truly be proud of the work you’re doing? This change will not happen overnight, and perfection doesn’t exist. But isn’t that the cool part? When you realize that you are enough, that you are making your mark on the world, and that all the while you’re not missing out on your own life?

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