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I have zero life outside of work right now

I’m betting that at the crux of my career, the way to get through is to make less of my life about work.

The turn from 2020 to 2021 will make or break my artist’s journey. It’s an essential span of time, requiring resolution.

This challenge exploded in my face with a panic attack on Saturday, February 13, 2021.

But first, let’s go back to March 7, 2020.

My email followers received a video in early March 2020; the recent Vimeo upload through the link here is just for the purpose of this article.

It’s about a depressive episode, and you might find the whole video relevant. The information that supports the story coming up in this article, though, is that I have a lifelong struggle with negative feelings after positive events—like great live gigs.

But on top of that, one quote foreshadows exactly what happened this weekend:

“it’s […] unsettling that that’s what it takes to get me out of feeling this way […] that the way out of feeling this way runs through work, it’s not necessarily sustainable.

Between then and now

Zooming in from the broad view of what has occurred between filming that video and today, two things have juxtaposed in my career:

  • Over 150 unrealized live gigs representing a loss of over $50,000 in unrealized revenue; struggles to cover cost of living all year through to now
  • The release of my first album and other projects, through which I’ve become the second most-streamed Vancouver jazz artist (though nowhere near #1) in recent months

I’m hopelessly convinced that the Canadian music industry is a value-destroying planned economy, and that a thousand careers like mine will be made by re-imagining it. So I still love the game!

But I have zero life outside of work right now, and that’s harming not just personal life but also the work itself.

The panic attack this weekend

I’ve been spending one day a week with all my computing devices turned off, most weeks in 2021. It’s been going well when it’s found its way onto the calendar.

On Saturday, I had that intention. But there was a contact database of 100 playlists staring me down through the laptop.

I hadn’t slept more than two hours the night before, and had opened up the computer with my morning coffee. The slow progress on filling out the database frustrated me.

Friends and longtime colleagues know that I scan constantly through time. I’ve never said, “Wow, time goes by so fast!” or, “Can you believe it’s been that long/short since x?” The timeline of life is in my quick access memory always, so there’s never that sort of surprise.

With progress still slow that morning while finishing the coffee, I scanned across the past year and thought about the failures. One more failure, and that’ll be it—can’t afford a misstep anymore.

I was feeling down, and there was no good news about work to pull me out of it like before.

That thought made my heart rate and breathing accelerate up to a rolling boil for about an hour. After that, I cried for another two hours. Too many failures, too far gone now to have any chance.

So isolating was the mental wrapping of my work that I didn’t even interrupt what Anna was doing at home to ask for support. I took myself into another room and stayed there.

That’s probably the worst way to deal with it. Fortunately, I slept better that night, but the problem remains: work runs my whole life. And I’m betting now that, at the crux of my career, the way to get through is to make less of my life about work.

Not sure yet how to pick the right tactics to make it happen, but I’ve run out of denial about this issue. Wishing that if you’ve encountered it yourself, this article can resonate for you.

And if you’re a friend whom I’ve never talked to about anything other than work for years: consider this the apology letter and lesson learned!

By Will Chernoff

William Ross Chernoff—known as Will to friends and colleagues—is a Canadian bassist, composer, entrepreneur, and writer. As jazz artist William Chernoff, he released his first album Aim to Stay in 2020.

2 replies on “I have zero life outside of work right now”

Hey Will, your story relates to so many in this time.
I can honestly say that in being a musician for over 40 years, there has never been a time when I was not fighting self doubt, wrestling with the doubt of being able to make a living in music or feeling that a complete overhaul of career and goals was necessary.
Music has managed to follow me through all of my redirections and for that I am eternally grateful.
I’m not sure if there is any other answer than to follow one’s heart and to just stop asking oneself so many questions.
All the best. Cheers

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