By Dawn Frederick
Life, as we all know, happens. Sometimes it’s due to things in our control, other times not so much. Either way rolling with the punches or hugs (of life) means a willingness to accept that both will happen. This is often handled by setting clear boundaries in the various areas of one’s life. Not only does this help one to empathize and appreciate those around them, but it’s a sign of respect by setting those boundaries.
To give you a bigger view of why I’m this way, I have a cadre of relatives back home, who gave me the love that made me today. Yet, one thing I quickly learned in life was to draw invisible boundaries. This was due to the many disagreements over various things between the adults in my life—usually over dinner at Granny’s house, usually about politics and/or religion, or worst-case folks not seeing eye-to-eye on someone’s life choices. It was not fun. Sound familiar? I can’t be alone.
I made a promise to myself that as an adult, in my professional life, let alone my personal, that would not happen. And since social media seemingly took over a huge part of our daily lives, I have tried my best to maintain those boundaries. This even includes not listing everything I do: from where I play, what food I’ve eaten, or certain topics around religion/politics/etc. The goal is to have less drama versus more.
Taking this another step further, I’ve also learned to recognize the need for boundaries in professional partnerships. Here are some things that I guarantee will never happen:
1. I will never criticize one’s life choices. Unless something is life threatening or dangerous, it’s not my job to mold a person into my belief systems, I can only live my life and let that speak louder than words.
2. I will never downplay whatever is happening in one’s life. I will step back when life (outside the book) takes precedence in an author’s life. I know way too well what happens when life gives a punch and it stops a person in their tracks. I will be there for support, but I’m not going to criticize if someone needs to take some time to deal with real life.
3. I will never discuss religion or politics (to cause disagreements or arguments) with anyone, unless we are both ready to have a colorful debate and we hug afterwards. Debate is healthy but arguing to have a fight is not permitted.
4. I will respect one’s life schedule; there’s no need to tell me every single minute detail about that schedule. It’s their schedule; I have my own and we shouldn’t have to justify why either of us is busy or not available.
At the end of 2016, I faced burnout, as this is a job that will take over one’s life (we work all the time it seems) to the point where one’s personal time—let alone time off—gets put to the side way too often.
While many agents aren’t writers (there are some who are magical and can do both and you are the unicorns in my world), it’s easy to find oneself overwhelmed due to the large workload. The more tired an agent is, the less likely things will be done (like reading a manuscript, answering queries, and more).
I decided to draw a line when that burnout happened, as it was affecting my job satisfaction, my sleep, and my ability to maintain relationships outside of the agency. I made a promise to myself to take ONE day off a week. (Crazy, huh?)
I also promised myself to enjoy holiday weekends like the rest of the corporate world. You can guarantee that if there’s a holiday weekend, I’ll be participating too. Gone are the days of working on Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, Labor Day, July 4th, and Memorial Day. I’m taking those days off and bringing that honey badger sense of fortitude along with it.
Importantly, if there’s a major book event (writing conference/BEA/ALA/etc), I also take the time off to recover as there is no time off at these events. An agent is “on” the entire time and rest is needed mentally after these events. The work will continue to pile up even if we’re at professional conferences, and it takes a good week to get back into a normal pace again.
Lastly if life happens—death, illness, supporting friends in times of need—I also drew a line, making these a priority over my personal workload. The work will be fine, it will still be there . And when it comes to my own health, being the owner of this agency, let alone the agent for many authors, taking care of those health needs will take priority. No one will benefit from a sick Dawn trying to agent. It will mean I’m not operating on all engines and this doesn’t help anyone.
We’ve hit a phase in our very public lives as agents where it seems as if our lives are under some kind of microscope. And it’s not the same type of microscope that a celebrity has (thank goodness), but it’s almost as if we have to justify how our time is spent. None of this was intentional by any means, it happened when we all started over-communicating in social media. Now it seems we have to set clear boundaries as a precaution, which would have been common sense in the “old” days before Facebook and Twitter.
I know we’re all doing the best we can with the same twenty-four hours in a day. A happy and healthy agent will do more than an agent who feels the opposite. This is a work of love. We love our authors, or we wouldn’t work with them otherwise. But boundaries are a good thing, and if I have any fellow publishing friends feeling that same challenge, take the time and draw those lines. It takes time to adjust to, but in the end it’s worth it.