Balancing the Grind with Paola Merrill, Author & YouTube Creator of The Cottage Fairy

Paola Merrill is a new author and the creator behind the popular YouTube channel The Cottage Fairy.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

Absolutely, and I have to admit my career background is quite varied – I certainly was not following a linear path before settling into life as a content creator and business owner. After completing a degree in English Literature, I worked at a bookstore while freelance writing and editing on the side.

After a couple years of floundering, unsure of what career I wanted to pursue long term and finding few opportunities in my location, I applied for a job as an alternative preschool teacher in a small town several hours away. Immediately upon moving I fell in love with the beauty of the cascade mountains and stunning wilderness.

After a year of settling in, 2020 came around and my life, once again, shifted drastically. Finding myself with greatly reduced hours, I put my focus on selling my art at farmers markets and on my Etsy shop. I was seeking a sense of stability in my life, and it occurred to me that many people must feel quite isolated and alone right now, particularly in areas where they did not have access to nature.

So, I decided to start creating YouTube videos, hoping to offer some peaceful escapism to those feeling anxious and lonely like myself. I also wished to bring awareness to wild lands, hoping to inspire people to get outside and, hopefully, be involved in the conservation of beautiful places.

After an unexpected explosion of interest in the channel, I was both shocked and elated. One thing led to another, and I slowly transitioned into a life as a full time business owner, selling my art on my Etsy shop and creating content full time. My most recent endeavour has been writing The Cottage Fairy Companion, and the process has been rewarding beyond measure. 

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My workday varies quite drastically. I certainly fall into the category of ‘slightly scattered artist’ and am constantly shifting around my schedule depending on what needs completion. However, I usually start my work day in the late morning, as my Labrador demands several hours of exercise.

I usually begin with my Etsy shop, answering messages and packaging orders. I may work on any writing projects or art pieces for several hours, wrapping up any tasks that might get in the way of ‘film days’ – which are the several days each week I dedicate to the creation of my videos.

This involves planning out the “story” I will tell in the video, and acquiring materials for any craft projects or recipes I will be attempting. I like to describe my videos as “dreamy, nature-focused escapism” and so I often film at dawn or sunset in order to get that warm ‘fairytale’ glow of golden hour. 

 3) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think as many self-employed creators would admit, the pursuit of work-life balance usually arises from a tendency to blur those lines to the point of finding yourself completely burned-out.

It is my life-long pursuit to fight my tendency to workaholism, which can be difficult to address when you’re building a business from the ground up and feel the pressure to give it your 110%. I cannot speak for all successful content creators, but for me being able to make a living from YouTube felt like winning the lottery.

It seemed like such a privileged (and unexpected) career option that I felt a drive to work more and more every day in order to feel like I ‘deserved’ the incredible blessing of being able to do this. I would ‘validate’ my own worthiness of having such a rare opportunity by making my workday an hour longer than average, then two hours, three hours.

Suddenly I was working seven days a week full-time, having let go of all the hobbies and personal interests that had initially inspired me to share online. This was an enormous wake-up call, and after getting some counselling and addressing my need to validate my own worth through overwork, I had to replace my pattern with balance and gratitude.

I think anyone struggling with workaholism might benefit from asking themselves: what is it that’s keeping me from accepting the health and happiness that comes from balance? What is it that is making it difficult to value my own well being? I am so much happier now, and while I still struggle to find that balance, I feel far more creative and excited about life, and that is a priceless feeling. 

4) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I have always loved reading books, but found myself reading less and less as adult life got more busy. I was still reading regularly, but found it harder to quiet my mind enough to really get immersed. Last year I made the point of reading for an hour a day, with few exceptions.

When your mind is buzzing, and business notifications keep popping up, it can be hard to concentrate completely on a single task. But after a few days of willing the focus, it started to get easier and easier to disconnect. Now, it is a holy time, when I shut off my devices and remind myself that these objects do not hold power over me, and that the ability to enjoy quietness and focused tasks are crucial to my happiness. 

5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Absolutely, I am a huge fan of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, it helped me start down the path of building my self-worth as a person on social media who also needs time to recharge, and the importance of setting boundaries on what I do and don’t share for the sake of my mental health.

I love any books that help address not just how to change your behaviour to benefit you, but the reason behind why you do what you do. I think the ‘why’ behind who we are is so important, and cannot be overlooked when we try to improve our lifestyle. 

6) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

The late Thích Nhất Hạnh, legendary for his beautiful writing and peace activism, is an individual I greatly admire. Not only was he a prolific writer, but no doubt had a lot of responsibilities to juggle, particularly as he grew in fame. While the opportunity is now lost, I would have appreciated listening to an in-depth interview of how I nurtured his spiritual life throughout an incredible career.  

7) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

We can tweak our schedules, force ourselves to take vacations, and do any amount of typical self-care (exercise, eat well, relaxation) in order to improve our work-life balance, but I think it is crucial not to forget to encounter your inner self and ask those tough questions.

The experiences we have internalised, positive and traumatic alike, have a large part to play in who we are. Perhaps this is where a therapist can guide you, but I think it is fruitful for everyone to take a little time each day to sit in their own company and nurture their interior life. Becoming your own best friend means valuing yourself as much as others, and therefore realising that balance is necessary to find that deeper fulfilment and purpose in daily life. 

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.