Work vs. Life: What is the Right Balance?

"I have my dream job and I'm dealing with it." Is how I described it at one time.

Like Andy, I can remember exactly when I fell in love with mountains. I was with my family in Maine hiking up Mt. Katahdin. All my life we'd spent the weekends hiking or skiing in Vermont, but this trip was different. We were above the green of the mountains and I was balanced on a two foot wide ridge crest bordered by cliffs. We had to actually use our hands to scrambling up the trail. It was amazing.

When it came to choosing colleges my dad said it simply. "You can ski in the Northeast, Midwest, Mountain West or Alaska." (I'm just now realizing that this leaves out the Pacific Northwest and the Lobos nordic powerhouse in New Mexico. I don't have an explanation for that.) Alaska was out. My parents met while skiing for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and I didn't want to follow in their footsteps. I grew up in the Northeast and wanted a change. On the advice of an older biathlete, I applied to Montana State University in Bozeman.  When my friends asked about Montana, I said it was, "a square state somewhere around Colorado." My geography needed some work but I only cared about three things. The school raced Division I nordic; its motto was "Mountains and Minds." And all of the brochures featured impressive imagery of skiers and riders dropping large cliffs in the backcountry.

work vs. life

A month before school started I snapped my collar bone and skiing went out the window. But it didn't really matter. A couple days after orientation I replied to mass email that asked if anyone wanted to go climbing. Through the fall my roller skis sat unused as I wore through a pair of rock climbing shoes. That winter ice axes replaced my skis. I graduated from MSU and moved to Austria. Everything I needed for that year was in two checked bags and two carry-ons. Those bags contained seven dress shirts, two pairs of slacks, some socks, nine books and everything I'd need for rock climbing, ice climbing, and telemark skiing. I was teaching English 13 hours a week. The rest of the time I was in the Alps. When summer break (unemployment) arrived I returned to the states and an internship with a climbing magazine.

Despite a visa, plane ticket, and girlfriend I became the Assistant Editor of a climbing magazine. My life was climbing. My work was climbing. How perfect was that?

I rose up the small organization acquiring a larger workload but never significantly larger pay. Climbing had once been an escape from school and the world. A secret society I could cloak myself in to relieve stress or pressure. Now I got paid to write and talk about my passion. I could take pictures out climbing and use them for a story. Work wasn't really work, because it was climbing and climbing was my life. I got free gear. As long as I had my netbook with me I could work remotely. Opportunities arose, I could have a place to stay for a week in Chamonix if I could get there to cover a festival. Out came the credit card and I packed my netbook. I climbed in France, Italy, and Germany. But something in the "Work is climbing; Climbing is Life" equation was changing. Every time I touched a piece of gear its review began to coalesce in my head. I couldn't pack my rucksack without mentally cataloging every facet of technical detail about its contents. The line was blurring between what was work and what was life. Climbing had once been an escape from stress and school. Now it was the source of my stress. Working in print is for masochists, as is mountain climbing. We prided ourselves on our twelve-day deadline work weeks. I There was honor in not leaving the office until after 21:00 hours. Who cared? After the deadline we would be climbing ice over the lunch break.  Heck, we had a kegerator in the office. The staff was cool. I sucked down Red Bulls and typed my tendinitis into a monster. Work is climbing, climbing is life became abbreviated. Work was life.

work life balance

The "Living the dream" phrase is as common to the outdoor community as sandal tans and Subarus. But those who have been there know the corollary, "Nightmares are dreams too."  So I left my dream job. After an elbow reconstruction and cross country drive I work in a cubicle. My office doesn't have a kegerator. We have set hours and set vacation days. I schedule my posts on Friday for the weekends when I'm not thinking about work.  With my friends no one talks about the gear or gossips about certain brands. When I take pictures they're mine. I don't have to share them, or find a printable anecdote from the weekend's events. I have a savings account. And, when I go climbing now I do it for myself and not for anyone else. Work is work. Climbing is climbing and my life is mine.

-Keese Lane is a climber, skier and outdoor enthusiast. He is a freelance writer and Twitter Ninja behind @SierraTP.

Andy has shared a totally different view on work/life balance. Read his post then join us 4pm June 5, 2013 for a Twitter chat on this topic. We'd love to have you share your thoughts. Join the discussion at #STPLive.
Andy Hawbaker
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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.
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