When I first got the email about returning to my office in July, I was overwhelmed with emotion, both negative and positive.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I am a twentysomething living in NYC. I’ve stayed here throughout the entire pandemic thus far. I stay inside, I wash my hands, I wear my mask, I respect other people’s space, and I do my part to keep myself and those around me safe. In other words, I’m not an a**hole.
So, that being said, when I found out I was headed back to the office on the first day of phase 3 (July 6, to be exact), I was kind of shook. COVID had (has) made me quite an anxious person over time, and this felt like my worst fear coming to life. Public transportation? Sitting in an office with 50 other people I could not control? WEARING JEANS AGAIN? A lot of scary stuff here.
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On the contrary, sitting in my apartment day in and day out had also been quite an unhealthy habit. I made every excuse not to go outside, washing my hair became a task, and I had literally become one with the couch. Going to work meant I’d have an excuse to focus a bit more again on self-care and to get up and do something.
Here I am almost two months later, and I am here to spill what it’s actually like to be back in an office in the midst of a pandemic.
I take one subway and one bus to get to work. The first day I went all out and prepared for battle in the form of a mask, gloves, paper towels to hold the handles on public transportation (yes, even while wearing gloves), and a big bottle of hand sanitizer in my bag. The subway was fairly quiet, with some essential workers, and some others in suits who looked as nervous as I did. The bus was even quieter. Quieter as in, I was the only human on the bus and therefore it was a straight shot to work, with no stops in between. As time has gone on, the subway has gotten a bit more crowded, but the bus remains empty. Public transportation overall hasn’t been scary, but when someone gets on the subway without a mask (which is obviously against the rules but nothing I can do much about), my stomach still drops.
When you arrive at my office, the first thing you must do is have your temperature taken. Of course, if you have a fever, you will be sent home immediately. Upon entering the building there is a mask, glove, and hand sanitizer station. They are also set up throughout the office building. Most people wear cloth masks, but should you have a paper mask on and want a fresh one, it is available. The little things, ya know?
The elevators are limited to four people per ride (which I think is pretty standard across NYC now), but typically I opt to ride solo even though that means waiting longer for an elevator. We have an open floor plan in our office, with rows of tables as desks. As you can imagine, we are limited to one person per row, so there is forced social distancing in place. In some ways, it’s so distant that it’s lonely. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the luxury of being able to turn and chat with someone next to me.
During the workday, in fact, there is little to no human communication at all. Despite being in office, meetings are held via Zoom to avoid any large groups. If you’re reading this and thinking “sO wHy ArE yOu BaCk In An OfFiCe”, the answer is… unclear.
In terms of further safety precautions, while a mask is not required when sitting at our desks, it’s encouraged. You can bet my paranoid lil self has one on all day. All community snacks have been taken away (sad), so has the coffee machine (sadder!!!). Safety > coffee, obviously, but I know you all feel me on the heartbreak there.
We also can’t leave for lunch. Once you’re in the building, you are in for the day until you go home. This one hurts the most simply because I take my lunch hour seriously, but again, I get it. I did reach out to the few friends I have who are also back in the office, and they have similar limitations. On the bright side, I’ve saved money by packing my lunch daily, something I didn’t know I was even capable of! (Only half-kidding).
The best (and most important) safety precaution/perk of the office is weekly COVID testing. Once a week we are required to take both a COVID and antibody test. A team sets up right in the common area, and we have to walk a maximum of one flight of stairs to get there. As someone who lives with a roommate, this is a huge relief for not only myself but for him as well. Given the fact that he is working from home and did not sign up to be put at risk, the fact that I can come home and show him a negative result each week puts us both at ease. And even better, the antibody test has only a 15-minute turnaround time, the COVID test only a 24-hour turnaround time, so we don’t have to wait long for our results.
Being back in an office has forced me to make small but important changes. I set my alarm for 8am now (instead of 8:59am). I wake up and actually have to CHOOSE an outfit (remember that???). I style my hair. I wear makeup. I use time management skills to give myself a work-life balance. All of the things that gently slipped from my mind during my four-month quarantine period. It’s had a huge impact on my mental health, and a good one at that.
While the world is still gloomy AF, and the news cycle hasn’t gotten any better, at least leaving the house daily has provided a healthy (and easy) change I didn’t know I needed. Despite the fact that I have essentially left one room where I work alone to head to another room where I work alone, there has been something very refreshing about the act of getting outside and doing something daily.
Since I started going back into the office, I’ve been valuing my weekends and nights in a new way. Aside from sleeping, I’ve also used my downtime to capitalize on more *important* hobbies (like binging Selling Sunset, obviously).
So, in all seriousness, being back in the office isn’t so bad. It feels good to get back into a routine, and even if I am still questioning “the point” of putting myself at risk to travel to work and be in an office with others, I do believe there was some method to the madness.
Images: Marina Andrejchenko / Shutterstock; whenshappyhr / Instagram; Giphy (2)
Work, life and balance? The memes say we can only pick two, and even that’s hard to maintain at times. Like, going to work, having a social life, being caught up on every TV show, going to class at Barry’s, and being mentally sane? As Cher Horowitz from Clueless once said, “As if!” Not so fast. Even though “having it all” might be something of a myth, because you can’t have what you want all the time without some sacrifice, you can still find some semblance of it through proper work-life balance. Samantha Ettus, writer for Forbes and bestselling author of five books, has tips on how to actually do it.
So, WTF Is Work-Life Balance?
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Ettus describes work-life balance by explaining, “We talk about a scale, and for a scale to be in balance, you have to spend equal time at work and equal time at home. And if you have a thriving career, you’re failing at that. So, you have no healthy framework for how to think about it.” Most of us can’t imagine spending equal time at home as we do at work—I mean, how would we make money, right? Wouldn’t we get fired for like, not checking our work email constantly?? In short, no, you don’t have to be in work mode all the time. You’ll have to work at it, but you can work on improving your work-life balance.
How Can You Actually Find Work-Life Balance?
ate six slices of pizza for dinner. Feel like I finally accomplished something good in my life
— chey ♡ joong ? (@jngluvr) July 29, 2019
So now we’re left wondering, how to achieve this elusive balance between work and life. Ettus says, “the most successful people are those who play in 7 slices of their lives. And that’s what leads to fulfillment. It’s not just doing two things really well, it’s being part of 7 different areas.” She explains, “Those areas are your health, your career, your family, your relationship (or your quest to find one), your friends, your hobbies, and your community.” The only slices I’ve thought about making time for in my life are those in the form of pizza, so these seem quite daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Ettus advises, “it doesn’t mean that you have to spend equal time in each of those slices, it just means that they should all exist in some way even if they’re a sliver today. Just having them there helps you manage your life better.”
How To Slice It
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Ettus says, “I think if you look at the seven slices and you have a commitment to make a goal for each of those slices, it really helps. So if you look at the friend slice and you’re like, ‘wow I haven’t actually seen my good friends in a month,’ that’s gonna change the way you look at what’s important: to have dinner with a friend every single week or to call a good friend on the way to work or whatever it is.” Making goals is necessary in order to achieve them, which seems kind of obvious but still needs to be said. You have to take a realistic look at your life to assess what needs to change, and then implement those changes. Ettus also says, “Similarly, if you look at that slice in your life, and say, ‘I want to be in a relationship but I haven’t gone on a date in six months,’ that’s not good.” She jokes, “Like, he or she is not gonna fall on your windshield on your way to work—you have to go find them. So, a lot of it is just being intentional about those slices and being intentional about being a part of all of those.”
How Do You Actually Balance Work And Life?
I just wanna know what genius turned leftovers into “meal prep”
— IT’S KENNIE NOT THE DUMPLING BAO BABY (@KennieJD) July 26, 2019
Just like anything important in your life, Ettus says, “a lot of it is preparation. Things will happen unexpectedly every day. So, for example, I am a big believer in the night before. The night before you want to pick out your outfits so you’re not having a wardrobe crisis the next day. The night before you want to pack your bags. So I always stick a Premier Protein Shake in my bag just so I’m gonna make a healthy choice when I’m having a really crazy morning the next day.” Remember when we used to do this in middle school? You’d lay out your outfit the night before school and your lunch would be packed and ready to go in the fridge? Why did we stop? Ettus says, “no matter what, you’re probably going to wake up and something unexpected is going to happen. A meeting canceled, or someone is sick or something happens, there’s a work crisis, something you didn’t anticipate. So the more prepared you are, the easier it is to deal with that kind of bump in the road.” There are always emergencies (no matter how big or small) that can crop up, but you can’t let that derail your entire day.
Why Are We Suddenly Struggling To Maintain Work-Life Balance?
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Ettus surmises, “I think that it used to be that we could rely on our companies to give us work-life balance because we had a 9 to 5 schedule and that was it. And today, if you left work at 5 o’clock and didn’t check your email until the morning, your industry might’ve changed or you might’ve been fired.” Yikes. Ettus suggests, “instead it’s up to us to create our own boundaries, and if you’re waiting for other people to create those boundaries for you, you’re never gonna live a happy life.”
Can You Have It All?
Ever since the days of High School Musical 3, we’ve been taught to always “Want It All.” But is that really doable? Ettus says, “The way it’s always presented in the media is you can’t have it all: you can’t have a great career and a great home life. And I completely disagree with that. I think it’s just about setting boundaries. I’ve worked with thousands of women at this point, and the happiest and most fulfilled are those who maintained a career in some way, throughout all the stages of their life.” So, yes, she does think it’s possible to have a career, have a family, and be able to juggle the two. Just refer to those slices and make sure you’re divvying things up in a way that brings you fulfillment.
Be Present And Eliminate Guilt
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So how do you actually get the balance part? It all comes down to guilt, Ettus says. Guilt can disrupt your sense of fulfillment at work and at home. She says, “At the end of the day, when you are focused and doing the best you can wherever you are, it eliminates a lot of the guilt. So if you know you’re at work, you’re totally present, you’re giving it 100%, you’re not gonna go home and then feel guilty that you didn’t do a good job. If you’re at home and you’re totally engaged with your family or your friends or your boyfriend or whatever it is, you’re not feeling guilty because you know you gave them the best of yourself. So part of it is just giving the best wherever you are and that eliminates a lot of the guilt.”
Taking a break from technology is another way to be more present. Ettus says, “One of the things that’s really important is to have two to three hours that are tech free every day, whether you’re reading a book, doing sudoku, whatever it is. Even just the presence of the phone on the table takes away the meaningful conversation. When there’s a phone on the table, the conversation is less deep because people always fear an interruption. It just gives you that anxiety.” So if one of your friends gets mad at you for not answering her, just explain to her that you and your phone were on a break!
Good Vibes Only
It’s written on every gas station T-shirt, but for good reason. Ettus says, “You want to spend time around positive people, and the people that are really genuinely happy for you when things are going well in your life. And there’s a lot of people that kind of gather around us when things aren’t going well but then when things are going well, they’re sort of envious.” She adds, “I’m also a big believer in that the grass is not greener. If you envy someone else’s relationship, or their body, or their money, or something like that, there’s always some other story that you don’t know. Every single person struggles with something, so you’re much better off just trying to figure out how to live your best life given what you have, not envying other people’s lives.” Lastly, she insists, “It’s just better not to think about other people, and think about how you can live the best life you can.”
Ettus believes that a lot of times when people are unhappy at work, they blame their job first and foremost and look for a new job right away, instead of evaluating what other areas of their lives they are neglecting. So, if you think you need a new gig, maybe try taking a look at your seven slices first and examining if your work-life balance is to blame for your unhappiness.
Samantha Ettus is a national bestselling author of five books, and the founder and CEO of Park Place Payments, a payment processing company focused on women’s financial independence. Since earning her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Harvard, Sam has devoted her career to advancing and supporting women in the pursuit of their dreams. Sam’s most recent book is The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Images: Instagram/whenshappyhr (3), girlwithnojob (3), Twitter/jngluvr, KennieJD
For more amazing career advice, buy our third book, When’s Happy Hour?
2018 is the time where it’s f*cking cool to be a woman who’s killing it in her field of expertise and living her life. There is no better example of that than Dr. Lara Devgan, a board certified plastic surgeon, the Chief Medical Officer for Real Self, CEO of Scientific Beauty and oh, a mom of six. Casual. Dr. Devgan shared her best tips for work-life balance with us on our When’s Happy Hour podcast. Here are some of her top tricks for getting ahead in your career and living your best life.
Work Hard And Be Patient
Being an “overnight success” is not a real thing. Even Kim K had to work for years to get from sex tape status to cover of Vogue. Dr. Devgan loves the saying that “every overnight sensation is a decade in the making.” You need to be dedicated and patient, because success does not come all at once, especially for us ladies. “As a woman in a male-dominated field, you’re working twice as hard to prove yourself and maybe getting half the credit,” Dr. Devgan explains. She also says that 90% of plastic surgery clients are female, and 90% of plastic surgeons are male. So obviously that’s daunting and not fair. But that’s life. And no one can change it but you. “If you work really hard you’ll be able to change the paradigms that are holding you back,” says Dr. Devgan. If you don’t like the game, change the rules yourself. Besides, Nice Girls never make history.
It’s Okay To Not Have It All
Even someone as successful as Dr. Devgan doesn’t see herself as someone who has it all. In fact, she thinks it’s a totally false concept. “You don’t have it all every minute of your life.” She explains. “You have the things you need overall, but some more at certain times and others more at other times.” Too often, the media makes us think “having it all” comes in this cute little Tiffany box your husband leaves on your bedside table after a hard work week. Like, no. The real world is not black and white. Most women are living between in the grey area of being a supermom and a killer career woman. “The way I reconcile it is that my kids are getting something out of seeing me working. They’re learning things by observing me,” says Dr. Devgan. So, you don’t just get to have everything. As Britney says, you better work, betch.
But Know That You Can Be Beautiful And Intelligent
There’s a lot of stigma around Dr. Devgan’s field, but she wants every woman to know, “You can be a person of substance and also care about your appearance. Beauty is not a zero-sum game.” Just because you want to be a CEO doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to care about how you look. Society likes to demand us to look a certain way, but then shame those who try to achieve that. Like, what’s wrong with Bella Hadid getting a nose job? There’s legit no winning, so you need to do what makes you feel best. If getting a breast reduction makes you feel beautiful, go for it. Just make sure you do it for you, not the guy in your office who suggested you get some Botox. If you want to be a boss, you have to have confidence. And it’s great to have confidence in the way you look. If you have the ability to change something you don’t like about yourself, go for it.
For more career advice, order our book, When’s Happy Hour?, and check out our When’s Happy Hour podcast. To follow up on Dr. Devgan’s astonishing life, follow her on Instagram.
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