The Endless Chase For Work-Life Balance

In 2015 I worked as an assistant editor on two seasons of Empire, I assisted on a pilot during my hiatus, and I also got married (after I had planned a 300 person wedding). It was a pretty packed year. Most of my time was spent at work, and the remaining 15% was spent with friends and family. This complete work/life imbalance caused a lot of stress and anxiety for me. I felt guilty at home for not being at work, and I felt guilty at work for not being at home. It was unhealthy and made me feel on edge all of the time. I didn’t want that anymore. I wanted to take my life back. When season two of Empire started I had just returned from my honeymoon and was ready to make a fresh start.

A long held goal of mine has been to complete the Los Angeles Marathon with a finishing time I can be proud of. I’ve attempted this before but I kept hitting two massive obstacles: Time and energy (I never have enough of either one). It’s difficult to set a goal for self-improvement while working in post-production. The goal doesn’t have to be “run a marathon,” but even just taking the time to leave the office for a fifteen minute walk can seem daunting. There’s so much work! All the time! And it’s always ASAP!

We all fall into this trap. You work so hard for a successful career and to make your producer/director/editor happy that you forget about your own personal needs.

Achieving and maintaining any sort of work/life balance in this business is hard. No, actually, it’s REALLY hard. I did the math once:

  • 1 hour to wake up, shower and eat breakfast (if you don’t have kids)
  • 2 hours for commuting each way
  • 10 hours of work (and that’s being generous)
  • 1 hour for dinner
  • 7 hours for sleeping  
  • 3 hours for leisure time…

Add everything up and we’re talking about two to three hours for myself…tops. Theoretically a lot can be done in two or three hours, but after the “typical” day I just described, where would I find the energy?

I asked myself this question every day once I started working in scripted television and it took a very long time to figure out the answer. There’s a way to survive the crazed world of post-production while making the most of those precious hours.

Therefore, my goal is set: I will run the LA Marathon again.

In less than 4 hours.

While working as an assistant editor on Empire.

natalie marathon

WAIT, WHAT WORLD ARE YOU LIVING IN?

I swear I’m not a crazy person! I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “you know what’s a good idea? Marathons!” I have a very strong background in athletics, especially running. I used to run Cross-Country and Track for the varsity team in high school. I stopped training in college because my film production classes took up way too much time (shocker). This trend continued into my professional life. I was fresh out of school, bright-eyed and ready to take on any job someone would be willing to give me. (You know that feeling, we’ve all been there)

I worked as much as I could. Sometimes I had two jobs, sometimes I took on friends’ projects, sometimes I took on terrible projects —  I did whatever it took to gain more experience as an editor.

This all came to a grinding halt in 2012. I did some reevaluating and saw that I had barely done any physical activity in almost ten years. How did I go from running six days a week at 6:30am to sitting all day long and doing nothing? I had friends running races all over the country and competing at the professional level and what was I doing? Sitting in a dark room staring at a screen. Nope. Not anymore. I was happy in the progress I had made in my career at that point, so in late 2012 I set a goal of finishing the LA Marathon with a respectable time.

Training for a marathon is incredibly time consuming and difficult to maintain with a busy schedule. During the training season from 2012-2013 I had a steady 9am-6pm job cutting featurettes and promos. I didn’t have to hustle or find new clients. I didn’t have to put in long hours to make sure a cut was complete and sent to online in time. Sure there were some long days, but not many, so finding the time to achieve my goal wasn’t really an issue.

Staying healthy while training though? That was an entirely different story…

Even though I was enjoying my time training, my body was breaking down. I wasn’t sleeping enough, I wasn’t eating the right food, and I wasn’t doing enough physical therapy, so my body suffered the consequences. I injured my knee about a month before the race and it completely hindered my ability to run. Actually, it completely hindered my ability to walk is a more accurate statement. I didn’t let that stand in the way of my goal though. “I sit all day, who needs to walk? I’ll have plenty of time to recover.”  

THE JOB IS MIGHTIER THAN THE PERSON

In March of 2013, I ran about one mile of the LA Marathon and my knees and legs just gave out. They said nope, we are done with all this and you need to stop. I didn’t stop. I hobled my way to the finish line thanks to lots of stretching breaks along the way. It was pretty devastating to put in all that time training only to fall very short of my goal. I thought, “there’s always next year…”

The next day I began my job in scripted television as an assistant editor on season 7 of Burn Notice and my whole way of life changed.

I no longer had those extra hours to train, to see friends, and to catch up with family. I was trying to impress my producers and editors so I worked a lot of hours and was incredibly stressed all the time. My health and well-being deteriorated and my aspirations for becoming a healthy, well-rounded person living a life of balance took a back seat to a much loftier goal: My career.

When I first started working with Zack Arnold (way, way back when) he asked me to clarify my goals . I immediately answered, “to cut for scripted television.” Television is a time capsule for American popular culture. It captures our society’s values at any given time in history and helps chronicle the changes in culture from decade to decade. I always wanted to be a part of that. Working on a groundbreaking series like Empire has fulfilled that dream, and I can’t express how thankful I am to have finally achieved that goal. I’ve come a long way since my first season in scripted television and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and the career I’ve built. In doing that though, I stopped caring about anything except “making it” — and those long hours start to really weigh on a person. Three hours of free time a day and all I could think to do with that time was watch television until 1am? Really? Is that all there is to this life?

MY PLAN TO SUCCEED (THE RIGHT WAY THIS TIME)

Running a marathon in less than 4 hours means I need to stay at about an eight minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. That requires a tremendous amount of training and discipline. There will be days when I have to run eight or more miles before going to work and then do additional physical therapy after I get home. I can do short fitness and physical training exercises at my desk, but there’s no time for marathon-level training at work. It’s going to be tough, really, really tough, but this is very possible. I just have to go about it the right way.

STEP 1: The late night television binges HAVE to stop. As much as I love television, going to bed at 1am makes for a terrible morning run at 7am. Also, when you train for a marathon, you can’t mess around with sleep. The amount of energy you exert to get through a workout let alone get through a workout AND THEN an 11 hour day is off the charts. The only way to recover from a brutal training day is to sleep! If this goal is really that important to me, I need to realign my priorities just like I did only a few short years ago when I started working towards my career as a scripted television editor. Using some of Zack’s handy-dandy tips for good sleep, I have created my own nightly and morning routines. It’s been going well so far and I’ve managed to move my bedtime up from 1am to 11:30pm. It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully it will only take another month to get myself used to being tucked in and dreaming by 11pm.

STEP 2: Keeping my anxiety levels down. The running helps, but if I start to get anxious at night, I won’t sleep and that will throw everything else off. Plus, I won’t be able to do my job well, and that’s not acceptable. To solve this I’ve been doing lots of yoga which is a game changer for high intensity training.

STEP 3: If I’m going to use two hours of my free time per day for training and keep my marriage in tact, I need to really hone in on time management. This entire season Zack and I have worked hard to come up with an editorial workflow that’s organized, efficient, AND gets us out of the office on time (usually early). For instance, I’ve started using the pomodoro method to organize dailies in half the time I used to. Since I implemented this I can literally get through 5 hours of dailies before lunch. Amazingly, using time management skills like this has a compounding effect: Producers get their cuts faster, we get out of the office earlier, and I get one more precious hour of time to either sleep, spend quality time with my husband, OR maybe even sneak in an hour of television. Everyone wins!

WHY I RUN

Training for the LA Marathon with my overloaded schedule is no small task. Completing the LA Marathon in less than four hours? That’s a little insane, but possible. This is all very possible.

In working towards this goal (the right way) I’ve created a framework for self-improvement. This training is going to force me to get more sleep which will in turn make me a better editor and a more pleasant person to be around. I’ll be forced to deal with my anxiety and find ways to stay calm at work and at home, which will make me a better friend and wife. And I’ll be trying my damndest to get out of the office on time and keep my requests for overtime to a minimum (which will make my AP a very happy person). And heck, once I’ve completed the race and achieved my goal, I’ll have taught myself how to live a more healthy and balanced lifestyle!

 

I have been working in post-production for eight years as both an editor and assistant editor on trailers, featurettes and television series and am currently working as an assistant editor on the hit series Empire on Fox. My fitness journey began when I was very young. I had always been active as a child and into high school. I ran both varsity Cross Country and Track but decided to focus on academics and film production in college. Since then, It’s been an uphill battle to bring athletics back into my life, but I’m trying little by little by setting goals and building sustainable routines to properly manage my time. In my “free” time I enjoy running, Beachbody training, hiking and yoga.

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