No room to breathe

By Maisha Maurant

I knew it was a bad idea. But I did it anyway.

I had to be at the airport the next morning at 4 a.m. I was flying to Maryland for my sister’s 40th birthday celebration.

I was really looking forward to the trip – family and friends hanging out for a long weekend at the National Harbor. Plans included a wine tasting at a Virginia vineyard, a dinner by a private chef and lots of down time for everybody to catch up.

But I knew the road to getting out of town was going to be rough. I had big hurdles to clear at work leading up to my trip.

To manage everything, I took precautions. I found a semiformal dress and my sister’s present a couple weeks in advance. Took the day off before my flight.

Then I negated all of that. Hours before my flight I decided to stop by the office. Even though I was off, I had gone in earlier. I was going back because I left my laptop there and needed “just to wrap up a few things.”

And here lies the problem. When it comes to my work life, I have a big problem setting parameters.

DavidAllenQuoteIt’s not a new issue. For years, my managers, colleagues, mentors, parents, family, friends – even the housekeeping crews – have told me that I need to draw a line between work and home.

I’ve known that they’re right. But I never really did anything about it.

So it’s no surprise that I found myself rushing home from the office to finish packing. I was running late for the airport. I hadn’t slept at all.

I was a mess. I’m the person who is typically at the airport two hours before a flight. At this point, I was pretty sure the plane would leave without me. But I had to try to get there.

Because I was late, I couldn’t park in my normal spot at the airport. So I’m rushing and trying to read the parking signs so I wouldn’t drive in endless loops around the airport. I didn’t have that kind of time.

I find parking and, thankfully, the shuttle for the terminal is pulling up. I take this as a sign from God that this is all going to work out. But I still run. I jump out of the car, grab my purse and my bag and just make the shuttle.

I take a deep breath, think positive thoughts and try sending a telepathic message to the driver to go faster. As soon as the shuttle stops, I jump out first. After a few minutes of speed walking, I experience absolute horror.

I got off at the wrong terminal. I have to wait for another shuttle.

I wasn’t going to make the plane. So I reach into my purse to call my sister. And that’s when I realize that I left my cell phone in the car.

I let loose a string of curses in my head. But I couldn’t be mad at anyone but myself. And I was. (Mad, too, at the shuttle driver who showed up and turned on his “not in service” sign.)

I had sabotaged myself. As I stood there waiting, I ran through the last 24 hours.

I knew I’d do whatever it took to still get to Maryland. But what should have been fun had turned into a sleepless, stressful journey.

This wasn’t the first time that I prioritized my work over my personal life. I’ve canceled dates and skipped social events. I was used to operating this way.

But, finally, it seemed ridiculous. It didn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t have been this way.

maisha maurant

Maisha Maurant: Striving for a better work-life balance.

I’ve been using responsibility and work ethic to cloak an unwillingness to change. I need a life outside of work. And I need to stop creating obstacles to that.

The shuttle eventually came. Rather than go back to the car for my phone, I decided to go on to the terminal and figure out from there how to get on another flight.

Thanks to a shuttle driver with a sense of urgency and TSA Pre✓®, I was able to quickly get through security. I made my flight.

Still, the whole ordeal stuck with me. I can’t say for sure why this particular incident made such an impression on me.

Maybe it was knowing that I would have disappointed my sister. Or maybe I’m finally tired of feeling like I’m always at capacity with little breathing room.

Whatever it was, I’m starting to take steps to better balance work with everything else in my life. I love my work, but I also need to make guilt-free time for the other things I love: traveling, books, concerts and spending time with my family and friends.

Is it going to be easy? Nope. In the past week, I’ve left work when I normally would have stayed. And I still felt torn about it.

But at least I’m working on it.

David Allen quote:


Maisha Maurant manages a team of strategists, writers and designers at a health care insurance company in Michigan. She is also the chief corporate editor. In the past year, she’s been making time to fulfill her bucket list of live performances, which has included Janet Jackson, Sting, Culture Club, Brian McKnight and Boyz II Men.

Editor’s note: When I think of Maisha, the words “sunny” and “sparkly” come to mind. I had the great pleasure of meeting Maisha at a job fair in Detroit when she was a Wayne State University student and I was a wet-behind-the-ears recruiter for The Oregonian. She came to Portland for a summer internship in 1995. We reconnected earlier this year when she returned to attend a national convention here. It’s so gratifying see how a young writer with potential has become a professional editor and manager.

Tomorrow: Patricia Conover, My movie star mother


6 thoughts on “No room to breathe

  1. I create my own form of personal havoc, but thankfully I’ve never been more driven to work than to time off. I’ve always joked that I work for time off, and it’s true.

    My brother, on the other hand, was a workaholic. He traveled constantly for work, often taking the red eye so he could be home for some activity one of his children was in. He complained to me one day about it, and I reminded him that his kids would only be that age once. Sadly, one Saturday morning in December 1998, while playing his favorite game of tennis, he collapsed and died. He was 47 years old. I will always blame that work ethic of his.

    So listen to your inner self. It’s OK to not always be at work or thinking about work. Life is way to short to have work matter so much. Oh, and btw, you have a beautiful smile! Your face entirely lights up. 🙂

  2. Maisha,
    I so appreciate your intentions to make the necessary changes. I have family members and friends who operate like this. On the other end of the spectrum, as a super-organized, leaning toward OCD person and witnesses this, it can cause a lot of anxiety for those around you. Often it infringes and another’s time and I cannot imagine that you feel good when all of these extenuating circumstances occur – especially when you are headed to something that should be relaxing. I always like to leave “cushion” for the unknown.
    This will not be an easy process. But I so admire your recognition that this does need to change. That’s the first step!

  3. Maisha, after another 10 hour day and e-mails piling up on my phone, I know where you are coming from. It is hard for me to take time off, because the e-mails just keep coming. Turning off the phone is a good start, and dinner hour is sacred. 4:00 a.m. On Saturday morning is a wonderful time to be up and about, no one else is…

  4. And using Facebook instead of having a network of actual, physical friends. You did the right thing. Took a breath and realized what your priorities were and lived according to them. I hope you had a great time with your family. No job will ever be as great as them.

  5. Maisha, I so relate to your story! I’m guilty of this, too. We are constantly torn between our work responsibilities and our time with family, friends and community. It’s a tug-of-war that is, in part, due to our culture’s emphasis on the importance of work as opposed to health, happiness and well-being. I wish you luck and courage in your search for fulfillment and purpose outside of the office. It’s a worthwhile endeavor and you are most definitely on the right track.

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