Balance

This week the project that I had been working on for the past nine months launched to an open prototype. It was a huge undertaking. It may be the hardest project I’ve worked on. It’ll easily be the most trafficked. I’m incredibly proud of the work my fantastic team and I did. And I’m proud of myself, but for slightly different reasons.

In July, when the pace of this project began to peak, I signed up to run a 10K with my friend Charles Wood, a shared personal goal we’ve both wanted to conquer for a few years now. Charlie and I spent the past three months training, and on October 19th we ran the race, both completing it in under an hour and exceeding our own expectations.

Why was running the 10K so important to me? Beyond allowing me to cross off one of the items on my about page, it forced me to prioritize my health and my personal time while work was at its busiest in a way I never had before.


Historically, I’ve had problems with keeping healthy habits while at the peak of a project.

My first job was at an ad agency, where we constantly pitched new projects and were up against seemingly impossible deadlines. I was fresh out of college and loved the thrill of it: Photoshop and beers late at night with coworkers, staying at work until 2 am, and showing up early the next day to do it all over again. Sometimes it even felt like an unspoken contest to see who was going to end up staying the latest. Late nights tend to equate to bad habits, like junk food and the endless coffee/beer cycle. And exercise? It wasn’t even on my radar. My time wasn’t my own.

Inevitably, the junk food and the drinking and the lack of sleep caught up to me. I was sitting at a desk day and night. My metabolism wasn’t what it used to be, and slowly but surely I gained a lot of weight for my 4’11” frame. I didn’t really do much beyond work and hang out with people from work and drink to prevent myself from thinking about how much I was working. The projects we were doing were great, but the cost started outweighing the benefits. (No pun intended.)

Ultimately, training for and completing this race was about proving myself wrong. I’ve never felt like my time was something I had control over when there was a lot of work to do. I’m not sure if it’s my type A personality or a learned behavior from my first job that I never fully corrected, but prioritizing my job over everything else happens like clockwork. Giving myself another deadline, but now for a personal goal, forced me to take my personal time seriously (over-preparer that I am).

For most of August and September, I ran 6 days a week in the mornings before work and built up my mileage. I couldn’t run a full loop around Prospect Park (~3.3 miles) at the beginning of the training. Four weeks later I could easily do 3 miles and would often show up to work already having run 5K that morning. I cut back on drinking (sorry, Marg Mondays) and felt healthier than I had in a long time. Meanwhile, I kept fairly regular hours at work and was still able to complete everything I needed to do.

Of course, things didn’t always go perfectly. I wasn’t able to avoid late nights or early mornings entirely. There were a fair share of weekends or evenings where I’d catch up on work; sometimes there was just too much to do outside of the regular 10-7 period. Likewise, my training slipped when I traveled for half of September and got sick in October. But for the first time that I could remember, I didn’t beat myself up about it. I didn’t plan on never working late. I also didn’t plan on training every single day. I just wanted the two to coexist.


There can be a mentality in this industry that if you’re not working late you’re not working hard enough. That if you leave the office at 5 your job is just a job to you, which is sacrilegious. Doing this work is a privilege, and we should all be so lucky to do it day and night, right?

I’m not the type of person that can design 24/7. I can’t work more than 8 hours a day without twitching. I don’t do good work when all I’m doing is working. I work my ass off while I’m at work, and then spend the rest of my time doing things that make me a healthy, happy, well-rounded human being. For awhile, I thought if I wasn’t working all the time then my heart wasn’t in it or that I didn’t deserve my place, but I’m finally comfortable with needing a balance.

The whole trick-myself-into-taking-care-of-myself thing will only work so many times. The best case scenario is that I am able to balance work, health, and my social life without one compromising the other. Running the 10K took me from the illusion of feeling like I had no control over my time to realizing that how I spent my time was a choice.

Posted 2014-10-22 16:22:00 +0000

Jessica Harllee is a product designer at Etsy in Brooklyn, an avid crafter, and an amateur writer.

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