How It Feels to Be On Hold (When You Put Yourself There)

Some people hit pause on a movie, I hit pause on my personal life.

At first, the idea came from the relationship I was in. It was a long distance relationship born out of my moving for graduate school, and it felt as if we were just putting “us” on hold until the next step when I would graduate. That was all fine and dandy, until it wasn’t. After that, I kept thinking to myself “I have no idea where I am going to end up in the job search, so why even try dating?” I didn’t want anything to hold me back from taking a perfect opportunity that might come up. So, I ignored dating in general.

That’s just where it started. Now, when I say “personal life,” I mean family and friends as well. There is the myth or reality (I can’t decide which one it is yet) of the always talked about work-life balance, which I clearly do not have (if it is a real thing that real people achieve). I have heard many professionals talk to me about this, but it was never something I really considered thinking more about until I realized that my entire life was work.

Here are a few things I have learned about ignoring your personal life for work or a job search, which turns out is a pretty draining thing to keep up with:

I had a hard time opening up.
When I said it enough, I ended up somehow incorporating it into my personality while at work. The culture in the office I work in is very close and we know a lot about each other, including knowing what everyone enjoys doing out of the office, and stepping into that space once in a while. For example, I have Doctor Who and horror villain figurines at my computer, freely inviting anyone to totally and completely geek out with me when needed. I know I can count on my coworkers to listen to me and vice versa, but for the most part I became very work-centric. Personal life or personal problems became a little like the saying “out of sight, out of mind,” only it was more of “out of my priorities, out of my conversations”. It definitely stalled a few professional relationships as well. They started to feel manufactured after a while.

My “Personal life” involves other people, too. Whoops.
It’s completely fine for me to be selfish and make my own decisions and focus on my career. Not going to lie, I got a lot of work done ignoring my personal life and trying to be emotionally unattached from things, but *saying* I am putting my personal life on hold doesn’t mean it actually stops, because it involves other people. My family is a part of it, as are my friends and the communities I am a part of. I have found new communities that I value, but the ones I had originally aren’t going to magically disappear. They are still a part of my life, I still value them, and they are not currently stuck in a vacuum waiting for me to reanimate them. That might be a cool episode of the Twilight Zone though.

I felt guilty.
Occasionally, I found myself feeling really down, because I am a very sentimental person, despite my attempts to hide that for some reason. Some may have felt the guilt I am talking about often, because I am talking about guilt for not physically being near your family. For me, both sides of my family grew up on the same street in the same town and went to the same schools. I keep in very close contact with my mother and I travel back often, but occasionally I will see guilt in a Facebook photo of my sister’s 30th birthday which I missed, or in a text message update on my grandmother who has been in the hospital for months. It was in these times that I just wanted to ignore it. A simple switch from the word “ignore” to “put on hold” seemed to satisfy me. I wasn’t ignoring my feelings, they were just on hold, right?

I should have let go of that idea way earlier.
This entire experience has been definitely taken a strange hold of my mental health at times, but what finally got to me was a recent outside perspective, someone outside of any community I am apart of. They asked me what I see for myself in the next 10 years. Heavy question, but I gave it a shot. My response was a long one, a possible timeline of my career and what kind of impact I wanted to make in my field by then, acknowledging that it could very well change the next day. Then they proceeded to stop me and ask about family life and children and what I wanted in that respect. I couldn’t believe that I had left that out. I DO have a lot of goals when it comes to my personal life, ones that I’ve had for a while. It was like I was repressing a big part of my life, in that love and belonging section of Maslow’s hierarchy specifically, if we want to bring it there.

I started to feel more comfortable talking about it, and actually thinking of my personal life as a part of me again, because it is. It still isn’t my first priority on my job search list (I know it can be #1 for some), but it’s at least listed, and it needed it to be.

Now, I recognize that when I said I was putting my personal life on hold, I was really just ignoring my feelings, stuffing them down, and slowing turning the handle of the jack-in-the-box.

Written by: Amber Danku