For as long as I can remember, I aspired to be a workaholic. I didn’t really care what it was I worked hard doing — all I knew was that I wanted to work non-stop. My plan was simple — I would be a lone wolf, a single, powerful woman who worked crazy late hours, and dined out simply to schmooze whomever needed schmoozing.
Now flash forward to 24-year-old Emily. Things are just a littttlleeee bit different than that Olivia Pope-esque scene I just painted for you. While I do live in the city of my dreams, I’m currently writing this under my comforter without a bra (not that a bra ever does much writing anyway). And my “power-suit” actually consists of Gap Body leggings and a print tank that reads something like “Will you accept this rosé?” or “New York City Girl.”
This is just my average workday, though — the strange life of a freelancer. But around 4 p.m. everyday, I hop in the shower, do my makeup, and head off to my evening plans.
Whether it’s meeting my girlfriend in publishing for happy hour, grabbing dinner with my boyfriend, or seeing any of my best friends from college in a performance, my night schedule fills up pretty quickly each week. It’s not filled with all-nighters spent catching up on paperwork or getting stuck in late meetings either — but with an actual social life.
My younger self did not plan for this, and, for a while, it caused a lot of guilt. I struggled with my sense of identity.
Let me back up for a second.
I left my job as the Self magazine beauty assistant back in August of last year. Workaholic me lined up a juicy career in magazines, holding internships at Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire before working hard as a beauty assistant at Harper’s Bazaar and Self. Still, I always maintained an active social life — drinking with college friends and dating bartenders. But it was always crystal clear where my priorities lied — the magazine publishing world.
These were all 9-5 jobs (more like 8:30-7, but you get the point). Working typical office hours makes it easy to differentiate when it’s time to play and when it’s time to work. I got into the office, put my phone on silent, and focused solely on my magazine duties. Then, around 6 p.m., I could pull my phone out, touch up my red lipstick, and figure out where to meet whoever I was meeting that night.
Once I left my office job to become a freelancer, though, the line between work time and play time blurred.
There was one Wednesday back in September, right after leaving my job, that really put things in perspective for me. It was two of my best friends’ birthdays. So the three of us (they don’t work 9-5 jobs either) decided to spend a day at Riverside Park in New York City. We packed our bags with chips, beer, a football, and speakers, settled in on a big blanket around noon, and cracked open a few bottles. We relaxed on that blanket, listening to music, drinking all day until 5… on a Wednesday! It was strange for a person whose typical Wednesdays consisted of meetings and coffees, not music and beer.
It was such a wonderful day.
But there was this other part of me — the workaholic part — that felt incredibly guilty.
What was I doing wasting a Wednesday afternoon just hanging out in Riverside Park? I could have been looking for a job or pitching ideas. But instead, I just hung out with my friends. It took weeks, maybe even months, for me to let it go and not feel guilty. Eventually, I realized that my current life wasn’t the problem. The problem was my expectations and inability to let go of former priorities. I had always pictured things differently for myself. But life happens, plans change, and priorities shift. Which is okay!
I stopped looking at my social life as secondary, and began accepting it as a top priority. It’s actually something I should be proud of. I look back on that day in Riverside Park as one of my favorite days of 2016.
My friendships are my proudest accomplishment — and for many different reasons.
First off, my friends are incredibly talented. I may be a bit biased, but just hear me out. My boyfriend works 12 hours a day as a construction project manager; he’s finishing his second building in Manhattan. Another friend, at only 25 years old, has edited — on her own — like, too many books to even count. My roommate just started directing and already has multiple projects lined up. I could keep going, but it’s boring.
To paraphrase, they all do cool things, and do it well.
They’re also really good people. Kind, generous, funny, personable, intelligent, and loyal. And I believe there’s a lot to be said of yourself when you look at your friends.
I always imagined that my career would be a vital part of who I am, but I’ve come to realize that it’s my friends who are vital.
They positively influence how I think, and how I make decisions. That’s not to say I don’t have strong opinions and thoughts of my own — but my conversations with these people help me figure out who I am as an individual. After all, I believe people can only grow by listening to others, whether they agree or disagree with them.
As a wannabe writer, it’s these conversations and moments that are valuable. It’s the experiences I’ve had with these people that have allowed me to think differently, to create more, and to write. And what more could a former-workaholic-turned-freelance-writer ask for?
I am proud to be a part of these relationships, proud that this is the life I’ve created for myself. I am still figuring out my career and identity, but at least I’ve formed an environment full of amazing people to do it in.