back pain, working from home
Comments 3

How to Succeed on Your Terms When Life Interferes

Success is only what you put into it. The harder you work for something, the better the success will be. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.


Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

I Googled “stupid quotes about hard work and motivation.” How pithy are these quotes? How out of touch with reality are they?

My reality, anyway. I think about quotes like this often, especially now, because I thought I was done with this blog. I thought it had taught me all I needed to know.


I had another MRI that shows degeneration above and below my two fusions, which explains the pain down my arms and up into my head that grows with intensity every day. Breakdown isn’t supposed to happen after a fusion for at least 10 years. My surgeon said that, unfortunately, I have “bad connective tissue.” Yay. This could lead to what is called the “ladder effect,” which is when you have fusion after fusion, laddering up and down the spine until there is, presumably, a pole of metal inside your body that holds you up.

Pair this fact with my tendency to work as hard as I physically can, and it’s a recipe for guilt-ridden disaster. Each day I try to work, and my pain or brain fog or a migraine interferes. No more eight-hour workdays, that’s for sure.

I refuse to give in to lethargy and despair. So how can I balance my physical problems with my desire to work? And, you know, help pay the mortgage?

I’ve distilled my approach down to two bullet points:

  • Be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Work in spurts, whenever you can. 

Nothing other than this works for me. No To-Do Lists, no calendaring, no time blocking, no Kanban-ing, no bullet journaling. I’ve tried them all, and I keep coming back to this. I’m not happy about it, but I also can’t sit for a full day anymore, much less half a day.

Be realistic about what you can achieve

I can’t work eight hours straight anymore. Hell, I can barely work four hours. That is the limit I decided to try upon my therapist’s suggestion. She said I was still putting too much pressure on myself. I calculated exactly how many hours per month it would take to pay my bills and then divided that by week. I weighed that number against my physical capabilities and landed on four hours per day. That seems like nothing. I feel awkward and like I’m leaving work early each afternoon.

We are so hardwired in this culture to work, work, work, all the time, as much as we can. I realized that other cultures, like Sweden, had it right when they limited workdays. (Though I know that in the end, the experiment proved too expensive.) But if it’s just about the work, not the cost, then the argument still applies. The work still got done. You just prioritize your time better. Instead of filling my day with trips to Facebook or Instagram, I hunker down and get things done. Then I can set it aside for the afternoon and focus on yoga, stretching, podcasting, whatever. “Fun things.” Things for me, the ones that don’t require as much brainpower.

Work in spurts, whenever you can

This is why I work seven days a week and don’t have a weekend anymore. I’ll take days off whenever I need them, as many days as are necessary. But then I’ll work every day if I can, knowing that those off-days are likely coming. And it doesn’t mean I’ll work for a full day (ha, “full day”) on Saturday and Sunday. It means finishing an article before spending time with my husband or editing a few pieces before seeing my friends.

I have come to understand that my lifestyle no longer reflects the traditional workweek in any way, shape, or form. I can’t let that guilt weigh me down. Guilt comes from within, and I have no reason to feel guilty when I am meeting all of my current obligations. There’s just this overarching feeling of “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

Why not? Why not, when it’s literally all I can do?


  1. Martha Dee says

    Dear Jennifer –
    Thank you to the Moon & back, for continuing your blog. Sorry, but unfortunately for you…and good for the rest of us, you are not done with your blog! You may be done ‘learning’ from it, but you are needed here to ‘teach’ the rest of us. You are a coherent, succinct voice for the rest of us. I am sending this from my phone as I can no longer sit at my computer. This too, will hurt my neck & shoulders – but I want to express my sincere thanks to you. I appreciate and applaud your effort. Now, on to educating Senate & Congress. We are not lazy, nor are we losers. We are survivors dealing with invisable, crippling pain, do the best we can, hour by hour.


  2. Donette Meyer says

    Dear Jennifer,
    I’m newer to following your blog- I am sorry to hear about your latest MRI findings. You have been through so much already. I’m sure you’re angry and so very frustrated with your body. I maybe projecting how I feel about mine, if so I’m sorry. I guess I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone, and that there are others that understand. When I have good days I tend to overdo to try and catch up with everything that has piled up around me…..and of course, I feel guilty for not keeping up in the first place. After pushing myself I end up having to recoup and do practically nothing for days…..and the cycle begins again. I am trying to learn to pace myself. I recently started reading “The Pain Survival Guide How to Reclaim Your Life”, by Dr’s. Turk and Winter. I like it so far- maybe it can help. I wanted to say that I truly appreciate your blog, you’ve helped me handle my pain. Please take care.


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