YES, YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL. BUT YOU WILL GO INSANE.
THE Four Burners Theory says life is like a stovetop, burners firing hot and bright. The first burner is your family, the second your friends, third your health and fourth your work. The theory is that "in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two."
To be honest, all this talk of stovetops and burners gave me a strong craving for a coffee. While I fired up my stove and tamped down some grinds, I thought a little more about this theory, and how it translates to my working and social life. I'm notorious for biting off more than I can chew. I work late - both for my newspaper and on numerous side projects. I'm terrible at responding to emails and messages from friends, and my sleeping schedule is all over the shop. But I get a lot done.
So how do I function? Or really, how SHOULD I function? Should I adhere to this theory, or keep on trucking the way I currently am? Perhaps I need to turn some burners off? Or just fizzle out completely like a bright party sparkler.
I've thought about it, and here's my list of ways to get more out of your day:
Exercise. Do I hate it? Yes. Does it make me feel better? I guess so. Is spending an hour moving my disgusting bloated body around until it turns red and sweaty good for me? Who can say. All I know is that if I do a gym session or a yoga class, I really feel like I've earned that glass of wine on the couch and reality television session. It's all about balance. And not dying of cardiovascular disease aged 40. There are some writer stereotypes I'm happy to perpetuate. Dying young is not one of them.
While you're there, be more productive with your physical exercise routine. I've recently taken up yoga as a way to stretch out my muscles after a long day sitting at the computer, and to also zen out and suppress my homocidal feelings towards idiots. I tend to nap during the relaxation, 'meditation' section of the class. Last night at Yin yoga we had to focus on our breathing and chakras or some bullshit for about five minutes, and in my mind's eye I swear I saw a small dog running around in circles. So unless I somehow managed to pass through fatigue and break through to Nirvana and subsequent enlightenment, I'm pretty sure I had a tiny nap. And I felt great. Which leads me rather neatly to my next life tip:
Grab sleep where you can. On the train, on the toilet at work with your head resting on a toilet roll, or in a yoga class. Grab them z's when you can. Just sleep anywhere but bed. Because that's where you do all your emailing and social media and writing, right? I'm writing this post in bed on an iPad because why would I use my home office and desktop computer?
While we're on the topic of sleep, try and schedule your existential crisis for the middle of the night. I find I achieve more during the day if I wake in a blind panic at midnight thinking about all the wasted opportunities in my life and the fact that one day I'm going to die. It's much more productive than having a meltdown in the middle of a work meeting. Leave your anxiety for the night time, and you'll free up your days for work, writing, exercise and catching up with friends and family. It's simple!
Combine socialising with drinking. My preference is Wine Time with an old housemate in pubs across Melbourne's northern suburbs after work. Frequently my 'dinner' on these occasions is two or three glasses of Sangiovese and I always walk away feeling as though my inner cup has been refilled. We sit clutching our glasses, cackling like old women and complaining about all the shitty people in our lives, occasionally peppering the conversation with talk of our favourite (read: most hated) housewives from The Real Housewives of Melbourne. Wine Time, for me, is a chance to debrief with a friend, check in on their lives, and stop being a selfish, introverted creative for an hour or two. Never mind that I stagger home slightly buzzed on a weeknight, my head heavy the next morning with regret. At least I made the effort to be social.
Become addicted to coffee. Just do it. Surrender to that sweet, sweet bean. I credit my work ethic and ability to turn out a newspaper every week to the multiple cups I consume before midday, every day. My mornings start with me stumbling into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and tousled, reaching for the percolator and beans. I'll repeat this process two or three times until I've regained the ability to tolerate other humans and string a sentence together. Sure, there may be a correlation between the five cups of espresso I'm consuming each day and the fact that I'm relying more and more on yoga naps, subsequently leaving me plenty of time in the evening to panic about death but let's not focus too much on that. The productive benefits of severe caffeine consumption surely outweigh the heart palpitations and the ominous cloud of pessimism that shrouds me in my sleep?
Overall, I think we can agree that in order to be successful - or at the very least, productive - one has to be willing to hit the stimulants hard, before reaching out and pulling hard on the handbrake to slow down. I'm so jumped up on caffeine and the fear of not fulfilling my potential that I need to force myself to a grinding halt by wearing stretchy clothes and lying in a hot yoga room several times a week. I'm surprise I haven't got whiplash from the violent oscillations between FAST and SLOW in my working week. But I can't deny that I get stuff done. I make a lot of things. And the price of that is burning the candle at both ends.
You really can have it all, including a mental breakdown, red wine teeth, and angina at age 40.