Interviews / Writers

Balancing the Grind with Shalene Gupta, Writer, Journalist & Author of The Power of Trust

Shalene Gupta is a writer, journalist and author of The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It.

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

I’m a writer and journalist. I recently co-wrote a book on business and trust with a Harvard Business School professor.

Today, I’m working on a book on severe PMS for Flatiron (expected 2024), revising a novel so it’s ready for submission to editors, and doing some freelance journalism. On the side, I’ll teach classes, do speaking events, and do consulting. I feel very lucky because I’m really loving my life right now.

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

I usually wake up at about 8:30 am (mornings are not my friend), chug some chai, and go through my emails so I can figure out what my priorities are for the day. I probably spend too much time sifting through the emails, to be honest. I’m working on it. 

I’ll work on any outstanding freelance stories I have, and then try to either go to a yoga class or go for a run to switch gears. In the afternoon, when I’m at my sharpest, I’ll work on my book. When I’m in the research phase this means doing interviews and reading papers. In the writing phase this means writing 1,000 words a day.

When my husband comes home, we’ll have dinner together, and then in the evenings when I’m sleepy enough that the inner critic is mostly gone, I’ll work on my novel for a couple hours. I’ll also try to read for at least half an hour before bedtime to stay inspired.

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

Work-life balance means getting to do the things you want to do and that are important to you. I think of it less like work-life balance and more priorities. I have one life to live, and time is the only non-renewable resource.

How do I want to spend it? I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make sure the things I spend the most time on are the things I care the most about: my books, family, friends.

It’s a challenge because I’m a people pleaser who is motivated by deadlines so it’s easy for me to sink hours into a large freelance project with lots of team members, instead of working on my novel, or getting dinner with a friend, or going to yoga.

I have a New Year’s ritual where I go over the past year and think about where my time went, what I want to be doing the next year and what projects I’ll need to say no to, in order to have time for the projects I care about. 

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

Prior to the pandemic, I always prioritised work figuring there’d be enough time for fun later. Then the pandemic happened, and the world shut down except for work. I really regretted all the weddings and birthday parties I’d missed.

I really try to prioritise friends and family now. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, gave a speech about the youth mental health crisis, and in it, he talked about how the pandemic has chipped away at one of the best tools we have for mental health: connection.

He said in the past, if a friend called and he didn’t have time, he’d let it go to voicemail. Now, he tries to pick up the phone and even if he can only check in for a few minutes, he does it because the benefits to his mental health are so good.

I’m also trying to be diligent about setting aside an hour for exercise. It clears my mind and I find that my back starts to go if I don’t work out. Human beings weren’t meant to spend eight hours in a chair. I recently signed up for yoga.

At first, the forty minute walk it takes to get there and back felt painful on top of the hour long class, but I found that I spent less time procrastinating, and was sharper once I’d gone to a yoga class.

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

I’ve recently started reading Trung Phan’s newsletter. I got hooked with his explainer of why LinkedIn is so cheesy but so addictive. He’s smart, funny, and deeply analytical.

I’m also a huge fan of the Paris Review interviews because they get into the nuts and bolts of famous writers’ routines and thoughts about writing.

And I love the Economist’s obituaries. They’re wry, tender, and profound. Call it morbid, but they always make me think about what I want my life to look like and what my priorities should be. 

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

Jane Austen. Legend has it that she wrote in slivers between social calls and had to hide her writing as soon as the door opened.

Yet, she wrote six beloved classics. She must have been the master at making every minute count. Truly, the epitome of work-life balance and a reminder that it’s a privilege to be able to get to do the work without hiding.

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

If you aren’t happy, there’s no point. Cut out whatever it is that’s draining you—whether it’s a job, project, person, or commitment. 

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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.