Fresh out of college, I was eager, well-caffeinated and passionate about my first job. Packing a lunch (and dinner) to the office quickly became a habit. I loved my job. At that time, I was a graphic designer for a nonprofit that gave me full rein of their branding and product development. They trusted me and I was up for the challenge to transform their brand into something new, beautiful, and modern.

A few months later, I was finally closing my laptop around 2 a.m. after shipping the monthly magazine to the printer. I got home and without thinking made some popcorn, grabbed a hoodie and fired up my laptop again to catch up on the other work that had been pushed aside to meet the deadline. At 3 a.m. I finished emails, and at 4 a.m. I realized I was killing my joy.

Day after day I eagerly put in long hours because I genuinely enjoyed it. It was my passion. It was my obsession. It was my lil monster.  My job was the only thing I was focusing on, and like a child tightly holding a precious ladybug... I was unknowingly killing it.

I would like to say the next day I made a huge life shift and became a balanced healthy person, but I didn’t. The need for change led me to the one thing that brings peace to my chaotic brain — I started making lists. One year goals, five years goals, ten year goals, life goals, goals for the company I was working at, career goals, etc. A grande mocha and scone later I had a dozen or so lists of things I wanted to accomplish and then I planned out steps to make it happen.

“There is much more to life than money,” “A successful career isn’t all there is to life,” — these sayings have been swirling around the working world for a while but I never thought of them as pertaining to me. I wasn’t working for the paycheck or the title, I was working because I enjoyed it. But just like driving because you enjoy driving, you still must fill up the gas tank, change the oil, and put air in the tires or you else your road trip might be short lived. Being passionate about what you do is awesome, but not taking time to fulfill other areas of your life will eventually kill the passion driving you.

A month after the lists, I talked to my boss and made a huge life change. I went from a full-time employee to a freelance contractor, rented out my house, and moved to Chicago for a summer. Determined to find a job that would pay me to travel, I searched the world (literally) and found a travel ambassador job with an Australian nonprofit. Two years later I had been to over 30 states and 18 countries. That includes a trip to Cambodia where I got to walk through the jungle to a sanctuary in order to have a water fight with a few elephants (yes, that was on the five-year list).

But I didn’t forget about my first love of design. In fact, developing other areas of my life improved my career. Throughout my travels, I contracted work with several companies and even started taking online courses to further my design education. I had more passion for my career and more creativity because I was filling all areas of my life rather than just focusing on one.

Establishing what I wanted my life to look like and setting boundaries on each section of it ensures the health and longevity of my career.

Ironically, I am sitting with a cup of coffee in a colorful (home) office very similar to the first job I had. I am still well caffeinated, but am also well rested, enjoy a developing community of friends, a few hobbies, and an overall balanced, happier life.

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