When I was abruptly laid off from my last full-time job, I did all of the usual things one does in this situation. Being an Old Millennial, this was hardly my first rodeo in the lay-off department. Just for reference, I’d thought I’d matured, career-wise, in 2008. Then came the financial crisis and apparently it was my fault one of the largest media companies in the world wasn’t making its expected shareholder payments.
Ahem. I digress.
I started reaching out to recruiters and setting up networking lunches and applying to new full-time jobs in my industry. But one thing was nagging at me, time and time again: were any of these jobs going to give me the flexibility to ride? I needed work-life-horse balance, and I didn’t know how I was going to manage it with a new job. I was barely managing it with this one.
I’d only started riding again in the past year or two, and I had only been just managing to fit a few rides a week in alongside my demanding job and the Orlando area’s punishing sprawl and traffic. (All of Central Florida is dead-end subdivision entrances connected by six-lane roads with six stop-lights per mile and a network of toll roads. There are no shortcuts, there are no grids, there is only gridlock.)
I managed to ride after work two or three times per week only because my job was so flexible. With most of my team in the U.K. office, I could easily justify working from 7:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, jetting out with mere seconds before traffic started piling up on the roads between me and the barn.
Not many businesses will let you make your own hours, though. While there are start-ups and disruptors out there making noise about why the 40-hour workweek is a construct of another age that no longer makes sense in the digital age (I firmly agree, check out this article at The Observer for a ton of good reasons) most offices are run by bums-in-seats managers who see presenteeism as productivity. But how can you have work-life balance (let alone work-life-horse balance) when you’re spending two hours a day in your car, eight to ten at an office, and still would like to see your family, ride your horse, and maybe even read a little in the evening before you pass out, exhausted?
I was looking at a lot of corporate marketing jobs that would expect me to keep my bum in my chair between nine and five, at least. If that were the case, I’d never manage to ride on weekdays. It would take me at least an hour and a half to get to the barn if I left work at five, especially since most of the jobs were in the congested tourist districts.
I was facing a reality that even if I found a great job, I was going to lose riding.
This seemed insane to me, especially as the weeks went by and I found myself feeling better and better, loosed from the confines and cortisol of my old desk job. I was doing some freelance brand work, writing some articles, and writing the novel that would become Forward — extremely quickly! — and suddenly had enough time in the morning to run farther than a mile and a half before I had to rush home to get ready for work. I was losing weight. I was gaining muscle. I was depressed about my job but other than that, things were actually going really well for me.
I decided I simply couldn’t lose that.
So I dropped all of the networking for a new marketing job and started chasing something completely different: a part-time job as a front-line manager at the theme parks. Although it would be demanding and involve talking to people way more than I preferred, a job like this would offer me non-traditional hours (perfect for avoiding traffic) and three-four days off each week, rather than two. And while it wouldn’t pay as much as a marketing manager salary, I could use most of that extra time I wouldn’t be at a desk to write, bolstering my writing career and building up my backlist royalties. Plus: no sitting at a desk for eight hours a day! Much healthier.
I ended up getting the theme park job and I’ve held it for almost a year. It has been really hard at times, but I don’t regret the decision. On good weeks, when my schedule is light, I can ride three days, write every day, and go running a few days a week, too. On difficult weeks, I might only ride once, but I still fit in writing and running. I’m a lot healthier now than I was a year ago, and although I admit sometimes I long for a steady schedule and fewer days on my feet, I think this was the right compromise for me.
Finding your own work-life-horse balance
Everyone has a really unique set of needs, and fitting a horse into that work-life balance? Well, that’s almost impossible. Sometimes I think desperate measures are the only way to do it. The set of circumstances that led to my current balance of freelance work, theme park work, and fiction-writing? I’d say they called for desperate measures and I’d say what I’ve got right now qualifies as such. My schedule can really kick my ass, if I’m being totally honest. But at least I know that one bad week will probably equal a good week in short order, and I’ll eventually be able to fit in the things that went undone.
I couldn’t do that if I knew my schedule would be the same every day, week in and week out, into infinity. And I’d definitely have a hell of a time finding the hours I need for the barn!
Have you had to go to extreme measures to make work-life-horse balance happen for you? Are you still looking for that secret sauce? So many people are trying to make the impossible happen every day. If you have a story to share, let me know or post in the comments! You could inspire a rider, help someone out, or just let a fellow equestrian know that hey… you’re not alone.
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Natalie Keller Reinert is the author of more than a dozen bestselling novels about equestrian life. Learn more at nataliekreinert.com.