We had the good fortune of connecting with Natasha Marie and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Natasha, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Balance (noun) 1. a state of equilibrium or equipoise;
2. mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.
1. to have an equality or equivalence.
Balance is an equal negotiation between two diametric things. We use the colloquialism ‘work-life balance’ to indicate a compromise between the personal and professional. What struck me as odd about the definition is how the professional and personal are considered oppositional. The very definition of ‘balance’ assumes the two parts being measured cannot fully exist simultaneously but that one must suffer the existence of the other.
Perhaps I found this odd due to the cultural gap between the generation that coined this standard and our present work culture. As a millennial entrepreneur, I had a fundamentally different concept of balance. I had not understood why there was a need for that type of compartmentalized balance; it was incongruent with my reality. My journey with understanding balance was punctuated by the digitization of my generation and the mythology of ‘should.’
I grew up in the digital era where the world is constantly rendered smaller and people more accessible. I grew up wanting to be passionate about my career. I watched the disassociated existences of my guardians in their steady but stagnant careers, wasting their waking life in seemingly quiet agony.
Every generation’s problems begin in earnest to fix an inherited issue. Millennials wanted to be the generation that embodied “do what makes you happy.” My generation wanted to do away with the days of 2+ hour commutes, cubicles, and corporate offices. And we succeeded. We broke away from the previous mold of stability in favor of imagination and creativity. We empowered an entire generation to create, uninhibited by space and scope. However, along the route through idealism, we stumbled into capitalism. We discovered an unspoken caveat to our generational slogan, “do what makes you happy… as long as you can monetize.”
The technology invented by millennials, such as social media, initially intended for entertainment, had many unintended consequences. They became tools to market and monetize ‘entrepreneurial’ endeavors; the definition of entrepreneurial now encompasses far more than its traditional connotation. Millennials integrated these monetization practices seamlessly into their daily ‘entertainment’ rituals. It developed into its own identity and culture, which was neither personal nor professional but an amalgamation of the two.
Under the current iteration of capitalism, everything can be commoditized, and everything should be. Everything is an opportunity; hobbies, vacations, pets, significant others. There isn’t a single sphere that cannot be commoditized.
“You make jewelry for yourself? You know, you could sell this on Etsy and make so much money.”
“You take nudes of yourself? You know, you could create an Onlyfans and make a killing.”
“Your cat is so cute! Have you considered making him his own Instagram page? People love following cute animals; if you post frequently enough with the right hashtags, you could make a lot of money.”
“You started learning belly dance? If you made a Tiktok, you’d blow up and be able to make money.”
I will give my generation credit for resourcefulness. We are creative in our approach. But in our inventive zeal to secure our financial legacies, we became the brand. Friends are followers. Posts and stories are marketing tools. If you have a presence in the digital realm, you have a brand, whether you are conscious of it or not.
Personal and professional are the same when you are the brand. Everything we do and think must be a means to an end. We curate our lives for profit but catalog it in an undefined gray space, which is exempt from monitoring and balance. The commoditization of self and experience is encouraged. In fact, it’s seen as negligent to leave any potential resource untapped. The product or service you are selling, if that’s applicable, becomes secondary to the personal brand association.
What are we sacrificing in this new work culture? The balance in question is a spectrum rather than an absolute. There has been a reimagination regarding work culture following innovation. Work has encroached into personal spheres to the point where the lines are completely blurred. When everyone is accessible all the time, the expectation is that you should be accessible all the time. Congruent with this mentality, I felt a strong sense of obligation to constantly work on my ‘brand’. Desire became mistaken for societal responsibility. The ‘I want’ became ‘I should want.’
What else would I work on if not my company and my brand, which are one and the same? What else do you do when your hobby is your career? Does it qualify as ‘work’ if it motivates and inspires? Because work should feel draining, not motivating, right? Working for myself is my dream. If it’s my dream, shouldn’t I be doing it 24/7? Shouldn’t I be thankful?
Ours is the burden of balancing a new work culture, one that bends the boundaries between personal and professional and our mental health. Balance is achieved when the ‘should’s’ fall away.
I didn’t conceptually understand what balance looked like and how it applied to my generation’s democratization of time, space, and inspiration. Balance felt like an obligation or a defeat. Balance felt like a narrative necessary for someone else who wasn’t motivated to pursue their passion. It’s hard to discern where something begins and ends when you grow up with boundaries on an ever-sliding scale. It’s a cultural ideology that, in my opinion, is capable of suffering as much as success.
Balance is understanding how to take care of yourself and how you work best, even if it defies societal and cultural standards. In our productivity-obsessed economy, everything transpires quickly; there’s an innate urgency to everything we do. Even thoughts feel rushed. When someone cannot keep up with the fast pace of the economy, news cycles, and pop culture, it elicits shame. No one wants to be shadowed by shame, so instead, we deny. We have an entire generation denying mental health imbalances exacerbated by our new work-life culture. We assume this dissociative narrative that mental health issues happen to someone else, not me. With such an emphasis on efficiency, we have to remember to give ourselves permission to be human.
My personal and professional growth has been recognizing and respecting that my capacities are limited. There’s only so much I can do and sustain within a given time frame. I had to learn to cater my expectations of myself. I fundamentally misunderstood an integral part of the human condition. Even though I have the capacity to produce and create because of machines, I am not a machine. Creating and producing is not my primary function. Seduced by capitalistic tenets, I had forgotten my humanity, traded it for output and productivity. And like every other generation experienced, we have a phenomenal burnout rate.
Balance is learning – or unlearning – that productivity does not define you. Breaking away from the toxic mentality of measuring my success by output and monetary gain has been the most challenging. Money is not the only metric of success. Growing up in poverty and being a millennial struggling with student debt, cost of living, and lower wages, this thought process can sometimes feel like a luxury not afforded to me. As much as we all need money for survival, it becomes less efficient and less fulfilling when we approach anything frantically and desperately. I’ve had to learn patience, which does not come easily in a time where instant gratification is glorified.
The need to establish and respect boundaries is something wisdom teaches you. It is possible to burn out on a good thing. It is possible to burn out pursuing your dream. It’s a precarious balance, this balance, in the digital era, but necessary. Careers take a lifetime to build. “The sun doesn’t rush to rise” has become a mantra, a meditation, and a measure for balance. I want each step in my journey towards success to be taken with measured mental steadiness because, for me, that is balance.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My name is Natasha Marie. I am a writer who provides content for sexual technology and wellness brands such as Lora DiCarlo, Rosy, Sx Tech Eu, Lee London, and Osuga. Sexual technology, or sex tech, is an industry dedicated to elevating and improving the human sexual experience through technology. Tech has failed women and minorities in so many ways. Mainstream sexuality and technology are pretty exclusive. Sex tech is the only arm of the tech industry that addresses and includes fundamental rights and experiences that deeply affect our identity and everyday lives. The entire aim of sex tech is to advance sexual wellness, to move us collectively into a space of inclusiveness & empathy for others’ lived experiences. Before we can make our sexual experiences better, we must first acknowledge the differences in our experiences. By acknowledging differences, we normalize the spectrum of experiences.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My mental health would still be precariously wavering and volatile if not for the saintly support from my best friend, Jeia. We both underwent the Odyssey of a journey through mental health together. It was messy, chaotic, and terrifying. Her empathy and understanding validated my experience. She was the first person to make me feel like what I was experiencing was ‘normal’. She sincerely has the patience of a saint because I certainly pushed (and continue to push) every trigger and nerve, and she is still with me. Together, we are healing and growing, and succeeding. Thank you, Jeia.
Mark Dektor & Matt Sklar