I used to have a life. I gave it up 6 and a half years ago. What happened 6 and a half years ago? I went freelance. Do I regret this? Not at all. I am way more content in my work, I absolutely love my job, but it has come at a price. Is this price worth it though, to no longer have a balance in your life? That is what I want to discuss here. This is a quite different personal blog, quite emotional and very honest.
January the 1st 2013. An apt time for a post like this and no this is NOT a new year’s resolution type post…well it is kinda… Just something to get you thinking and figure out what matters to you and how you can manage your time better.
If you visit my site often, you will have noticed my lack of posts in December… I am really sorry for that. I try to do two a week if I can. It’s important for a number of reasons. It keeps the site alive and current, gives people a reason to keep checking in, and I really enjoy writing them even if my typos are frequent…David Kong (Thanks David!) does copy check them after a day or two, but early readers have to put up with much sloppiness!
So why nothing new last month? Well, I tried to take a truly relaxing time-off holiday in Hawaii just after Masters in Motion on the 6th of December. I needed it so much. My first holiday of this kind in a very long time. Due to awful personal reasons, it ended very abruptly after two days, and I had to rush to Australia. Whilst I was there, no work was really possible. I managed to get the Movember draw done and get the 180 emails or so done, but there simply was no time for posts, for shooting, for pretty much anything work related apart from 3 hours one evening doing a meet up/ shoot-out. More important things took precedent.
Then on Christmas Eve morning whilst in Sydney, a bad month became an even more terrible month. I woke up to a message that devastated me. My best friend of 20+ years, Mark O’Leary, suddenly and unexpectedly lost his battle with cancer. When I say best friend, I mean it. Mark was like my brother for so many years. We went on holiday countless times together. Went on the pull constantly, never succeeding! We were simply the best of friends. Teenage girls would say we were like totally BFFs… but work got in the way of friendship, and in his last years we saw each other so little, even when I found out he had cancer. That time we could have spent together has now past, and I can never get it back. All I can do is treasure that summer afternoon last year when we sat for hours catching up, talking super hero, fantasy, SF movies and TV shows and promising to see much more of each other from then on. Not because he had just been diagnosed with cancer because we had missed each other. We didn’t. Work got in the way. Constantly travelling with barely a few days between gigs, I simply never found the time.
I was so happy though that he appeared to be doing so well in his battle against it. How wrong that turned out to be. Now Marko is gone and in just over a week’s time I will be speaking at his funeral about the man with whom I had the best times of my life with. Marko also was a great example of a man with a perfect work/ life balance. A great job, successful, with an amazing wife and two beautiful children. I aspired to him in so many ways.
So what has this got to do with work/ life balance? Well in simplistic terms, this is just an example of how I let my work get in the way of the important things in life, and for the past 6 years or so this has gotten worse and worse. So if ever there was a time to change it, it’s now. It was not that I didn’t have time to see Marko. I just spent more time in my edit suite when I really should have gotten my priorities straight. I could easily have done both. I am guilty as hell now he has gone, and if you are reading this, Marko, wherever you are, sorry bloke. Just know this has taught me a big lesson. It is time to stop putting off sorting out my work/ life balance. I will also promise to stop mocking Chelsea mate.
When I was staff at Sky News for 17 years, I had a life. A very nice life, I worked hard but in a different way than now. Holiday pay, days off etc… Sky was a great place for me. I learnt so much there, and my experiences of my time there will stay with me forever. They took a chance on an 18 year old kid when every other broadcaster said sod off. I was lucky enough to be taught by some amazing cameramen.
When I moved to the documentary unit near the near end of my time at Sky News, I was often in the Avid suite editing until god knows what time whilst my girlfriend was alone in bed at home. Silly. But I always wanted my work to be the best possible, and I was and still am a true perfectionist so nothing was ever good enough. Sometimes I would work all the way through to the next day. I never was a clock in/ clock off kind of guy. I always said that the moment I was no longer challenged by my job was the time to leave.
Unfortunately in my last years at Sky, there were quite a few cameramen who really didn’t care anymore about shooting, and that was truly sad. They had no passion anymore, and for them it was purely a salary. I understood, they had families, but my love of filming made me terrified of getting to a point where I fell out of love with my passion. I never wanted that to happen to me. There were lots who did still care and love their job thankfully!
For the first 14 years or so, I did a lovely 5 days on 5 days off shift pattern. Truly lovely. I also had 6 weeks annual leave and, to get 2 weeks off with my shift pattern, all I needed to do was take 5 of my shift days off and there we go, 2 weeks. I also had sick pay! Hoorah! So when I had a terrible hangover it was OK (kidding!) I had a life. I had time to play around when I was younger, and I had time for a relationship or two when I was a bit older. I had time for XBOX, for movies, for family, for friends. In my last years at Sky, I moved from the shift pattern to do the doc unit which was 5 days a week. It was good though, as the work I did was so much better and way more satisfying than the previous stuff that it was a dream come true. Screw the having a life nonsense! Yes I ended up having less of a life, but compared to what I have now that was like 7 days off a week.
I do remember one day on the doc unit, an older cameraman came up to me very pissed off and said that all the extra hours I was doing were making him look bad. Yep. He said that. But, this was from a guy who had arranged for tickets on the London Eye for himself, wife and kids DURING his work hours one day and was going to slope off….somehow. When I needed him to go shoot some B-Roll as I was stuck editing he was VERY unhappy and got very angry with me as he wouldn’t be able to use the tickets. This guy was a great example for me, for everything I NEVER wanted to become. He also shot me some pretty shitty B-Roll!
Now you may feel at this point I am becoming a bit of a whiner. I am not. I regret nothing in regards to my work choices to do this, but I have not found the right balance yet, and this is what I hope to achieve this year. This post is therapeutic, I hope a blueprint for what I want to achieve and I hope a good read/ advice for you!
Let me ask you some questions and see if any of this sounds familiar.
Your office is your home and you end up editing till stupid O’Clock as the computer is just THERE.
You lie in bed answering emails, making notes, drawing storyboards etc…at midnight whilst ignoring the gorgeous naked woman wearing stockings & suspenders with a little negligee (is there a male equivalent? Can men wear sexy underwear? I have tried and always failed!) or perhaps dressed up as Return of the Jedi Princess Leia next to you or, if you are a lady, maybe he is dressed as er…Han Solo?!
You talk about your work with your partner. All the time…when you don’t you show her your work!
You are on twitter/facebook etc for WORK reasons throughout the day, often between mouthfuls at dinner!
You wake up in the morning and check your emails, twitter etc BEFORE shower, brushing teeth, breakfast or morning rumpy pumpy!!
Weekends are just another day.
You are constantly late for things as you just need to render one more shot…
Friends stop asking you over to dinner or parties as you are always too busy/ away and they can’t be bothered asking anymore!
You chose NAB as your annual holiday as it combines both! Work and pleasure!
You are writing a blog post on this subject when you have a gazillion more fun things to do like watch your new Blu Ray Moonrise Kingdom!
The list goes on…
So…what is wrong here and is this the only way you can succeed?
NO…you can succeed and have a life, and what I am going to suggest is hopefully a plan for how I get my life in balance. Because as much as my work means the world to me, my family, my friends are the most important thing to me and often get forsaken…you need to show them that work is NOT the most important thing and that you can be a great husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, father, mother etc…
When you are freelance, you do generally end up working more. You accept most jobs thrown your way as you are worried things could dry up. You stop taking holidays, as that is lost earnings. Insecurity needs to be worked on here and an acceptance that you MUST take breaks and breaks are not costing you money!
When I first started freelancing, I took everything thrown at me, sometimes 7 days a week. No matter what it was…I didn’t care! I was terrified work would dry up and I would not be able to pay the bills.
I am unfortunately a naturally very insecure person, so really I am a terrible person to be freelance! I eventually had to take chances with the nonstop bookings and stopped taking everything, as I was burning myself out. So I got some solid bread and butter work that guaranteed me 4 or so days work a week. Lovely, but not what I truly wanted as a freelancer, even though I enjoyed it and it did challenge me. I wasn’t able to do the really exciting jobs that usually came in at the last minute… often in genres I had always wanted to try out. The bread and butter was holding back my ambition in a way, I also wanted to do more projects that I had way more involvement in, from pitching, to pre-prod through to delivery. If I had zero ambition and no desire to stretch myself and push myself, I would never have left Sky! I would have just sat back and been the guy who clocked in and booked tickets for my family to go on the London Eye during my work hours! So after 3 years of doing this, I took another gamble and cut right back on them…a shame in a way, as that security and work that was over at the end of the day with nothing to think about afterwards gave me much more of a life. The most I have had as a freelancer to date.
That is the problem. One off 1 day shooting gigs are easy-peasy because of that. Take as many of those, as you want to pay the bills and cut back if you are working too much and not having enough time off…It’s when you take on more roles, producing, directing, editing that suddenly you go home and you are still working. You stop leaving work behind when you leave work! You are up all hours planning, writing emails, editing. That is what eats up your life, but often you have no choice. It comes down to managing this in a different way and most likely delegating. I know one man jobs are common. I do many of them myself, but sometimes bringing in extra help takes that strain off you and gives you a chance to recharge and be more productive. Bringing in a producer, an editor…someone who can take the pressure off…working your arse off won’t mean you will succeed, it will mean you will burn yourself out, end up hating your work and having no life still!
Working at home vs working away from home
There are strong arguments for both here. Renting office space, even for one-man operations costs dosh. BUT that separation could be key to maintaining that work/ life balance. You are more likely to stop working at a reasonable time if you have an office than if your office is at home. If you do have an edit suite at home, it’s quite likely you will go back into it after dinner and carry on until stupid o’clock. How likely is it after dinner for you to get back in the car or maybe even get on a train and go to your office to carry on? I have to be honest, though. I work from home. Why? I spend 90% of my year working abroad, and therefore office space would be a daft waste of money. BUT if I chose to do more UK based work I would absolutely rent office space. It’s a no-brainer for me. One of the best ways to separate work from your life. I actually want nothing more than to have children to be honest. There I said it. I envy all my friends with their beautiful kids…I know if that day comes everything will HAVE to change. There is no way I would carry on this way of working in that situation.
Dating/ marrying someone in the business
Bit of a cheeky one this, but utterly serious. I have been out with an indeterminate number of women in my life BUT the only ones I have had long term relationships with are ones in the business. Why? Partly because 17 years working for one broadcaster meant I did dip my wick in the company ink…BUT it was also mostly because they understood why I had to work so hard….but that is the problem! They GOT why I had to work so hard. If they were not in the business you would have to make concessions to them..also you would most likely not be talking about work the whole time. Which would be a nice respite!
Of course you can’t help who you fall in love with. When I eventually do marry Zooey Deschanel, I will try to not spend too much time at the in-laws asking her dad every question under the sun Seriously though PLEASE do not dump your partner because of what I have said here (would people really take me that literally?) The point I am making is actually a lot simpler. Just because your partner is in the business don’t let that be an excuse. Treat them like they were not. Go home at a reasonable time. Take them to dinner, take them to the movies, take them away to Paris for the weekend, make proper couple time for them…for both of you! Romance them, make sweet unselfish love to them Late edits can mean quick shags or generally nothing at all. Quickies are fine but if that’s all you can offer then again you will suffer in the long run
Working abroad vs working near home
Another really tough one this. I am a TERRIBLE example of this. I work away from home as mentioned earlier, so much that I am pretty sure I can stop paying UK tax now! My cats don’t know me anymore. I don’t bother getting food for the fridge anymore, just the freezer and if it wasn’t for Debbie my neighbour, Bert, Percy and Noodle would be pretty damn skinny!!
So why do I work away from home so much? It’s where most of my work comes from…I do enjoy travelling. I don’t enjoy it as much as when I was 23. It isn’t glamorous I promise you…it truly rarely is. Even if you are flying biz class and put up in a nice hotel, which is of course really lovely. It’s just not home and very rarely, if ever, will a hotel be better than your home, although last year I stayed in 2 places in South Africa that I would happily never leave! A big part of the reason that it won’t be as nice as home, if you have a significant other or kids, is they won’t be there…then again maybe that’s why you like to travel! It is also damn lonely to be utterly frank, the amount of nights I have spent alone in a hotel room with just my laptop for company (fine if most hotels had decent internet! They don’t!)…if you are away with a crew then you can socialise with them, but often I go to places where the crew live there and they go home to their families in the evening. You go back to the hotel and the 24 hour room service menu! YUM!
This year already I am booked up until June more or less, and I have worked out that I will be home for around 33 days between now and mid June. Not a lot. I am sure that will decrease too! SO why am I accepting these jobs? Because it’s what I do and, as I said, I do love them! But, this will change…these jobs were taken in 2012 before my 2013 decision to change things up. Yes, I can’t really change much until mid 2013 BUT I will. I plan to take more UK jobs. I will take shorter and less foreign jobs. I will see my friends more. I will see my family more. I will make time for the people I love and get that balance back into my life that has been missing for years.
Above is a picture of myself and my beautiful niece Jaime. I adore her and her brother Dan. I saw them for 2 days in 2012. That is disgusting. These are two kids I would give up my own life for, yet I cannot find time to see them? They are only 2 and a half hours drive away. I see work friends on the other side of the world more often! It’s a similar thing I was talking about at the start with my late friend Marko. I am not saying stop working or totally change your life to spend time with your family and friends, but don’t let work take over to the point where you don’t see them at all. It’s all about balance. Finding it and maintaining it.
I love my family and friends, but if I gave up what I love to do because of them, then I would be a very unhappy person. You MUST still live your life and do what makes you happy! After all, happiness is what we are striving to achieve more of here. Happiness should bring better quality of work…but not necessarily. I have done some of my very best work whilst in a deep dark depression, seriously…I just wasn’t a pleasure to work with!
A few hours ago I got off my 23 hour flight from Sydney. The 1st of January is my mum’s birthday. I was lucky enough to be home so I could see her and my dad. It was great not to miss it. My dad though? I have missed about 18 of the last 23 birthdays. Atrocious I know. Mainly because my mum’s birthday is around a time of year I don’t normally work! Does dad care? Not at all, he knows I love him and I do see them both whenever I can. A house actually came up for sale two doors from them recently….I joked I should move there. I got a very stern response. DON’T YOU DARE!!! Live your life where you are, don’t move here just because of us! Actually I think it was a concern I would get mum to do all my laundry and be round for dinner every night! It took them 18 years to get rid of me and get some peace and quiet!
Incredibly important this. When I was staff at Sky I was fit as a fiddle. I went to the gym 4 times a week and felt and looked great. I was Brad Pitt’s body double in Fight Club and the number one underwear model for Calvin Klein (this may not be true). When I went freelance and started working all hours, I slowly got fatter and sicker. I had no time for the gym anymore and I ate late and I ate crap. Eating late is such a common thing in this business and a really bad thing to do for your health! So in February last year I decided enough was enough and I started a health kick. I do exercise more, but I still have no time for the gym, but I am more active and I eat a hell of a lot better and now look after myself. I feel a million times better! Don’t let work make you ill. I see friends and colleagues almost work themselves into an early grave. Don’t let that happen. Work/ life balance also means living a nice long healthy life!
I mentioned it earlier briefly, but a really bad work/ life balance can also bring about more than physical ill health. Depression and anxiety is common in so many people, not just workaholics. More common that you may think. I can vouch for that having had more than my fair share of this. I certainly am not the constantly super happy, charming, lovely chappy I was in my 20s…from the time when my staff job changed to the very long hours in the documentary unit to being freelance, I changed a lot and not for the better. Stress and exhaustion affects you in so many ways. If you find your personality changing due to your stressful workload and you have no release, it is imperative that you make urgent changes. Please take this advice from someone who has been through this. The simplest of changes could help you. It is not guaranteed of course and sometimes it can become so bad you need professional help. This goes for this and everything mentioned in this post. Never be embarrassed to ask for help or seek help!
So in summary…
If you are relatively new and not working much, a lot of what I am saying won’t mean much to you…YET…but it may. We need to work so we can live and have a life. Earning money is of course very important BUT it is not the most important thing! The more successful you get the more danger you will have of falling into this trap. I couldn’t cope with not doing what I am doing, I love my work, I am not advocating giving up your passion, far from it…my work is a HUGE part of me and I adore it…please just make sure the rest doesn’t get forgotten about. One day you might just wake up alone and realise you let the most important people in your life slip away. Trust me. You don’t want to be there.
Marko’s death was not the reason I wanted to figure out a better way to live my life. I had been planning to do this since September when I realised where I was heading…but I hadn’t actually started. His sudden passing and other very hard things to deal with last month made me realise…enough talking…time to do it. So I am. No more pre-production, script re-writes etc…time for the cameras to roll!
A wise lady from a land far, far away once said to me “no one ever said on their death bed ‘I wish I spent more time at work.’” wise words…just ask Charles Foster Kane.
Shooting is my passion, but I am more passionate about my life.
So happy new year to you all. Hopefully 2013 will be a year we will all remember for the right reasons.
One last thing to leave you with. I made a short doco about a guy who had a life I envied. Is it a glamorous life? No. Is it a wealthy life? No. But it’s a truly happy fulfilled life. Please watch this below. I find him so inspiring.
It is unlikely that I will be able to put together the below “beach bum shootout” that I shot below due to what happened after I started shooting it. A real shame as I had some lovely content in there. It just needed more and I only had the cameras for a short time