Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work – Chuck Close
As I set about getting ready for the last content tier of the Cataclysm expansion, after spending a year being taunted by elusive achievements like [Stood in Fire], it’s time to mark another milestone in my little corner of the world—the second anniversary of Life in Group 5. Yes, it’s been two years since I started creating a blog to call my own, since I started taking my theorycraft beyond the information found on Elitist Jerks, and since I started trying (emphasis on “trying”) to become a Resto Shaman yoda for … well, everyone. Let me tell you, it’s been one hell of an adventure.
Over the past two years, I’ve written 121 posts, shelved at least 30 others that I couldn’t bring to fruition, and authored multiple boss and resto shaman guides. I’ve covered a litany of Resto Shaman topics, writing about everything from being benched on HM Rag to how to review healing meters, gear up for your first level 85 heroics, and giving the full story on Resto Shamans’ Mastery. But today I didn’t want to talk about any of that; today, I want to take things a little bit off the rails, answer the question “how do you strike that balance between WoW and real life?”, and candidly talk about what exactly went on in those 30+ days in September/October of this year, when LiG5 went quiet.
A Little Background: Vixsin’s Life
It’s arguably a little hard to talk about WoW-life balance if you don’t know the other side of the equation, so before I launch into the meat of this post, I wanted to set the stage a bit and give you an idea of who I am when I’m not spamming Chain Heal or yelling at guildies who stand in Fiery Tornadoes. Outside of the game, I am a Senior Associate at a Financial/Construction consulting firm, a position that ties me up for around 50 hours (on average) every week. On top of that, in addition to the 20+ hours a week I spend raiding, I fit in time for blogging, spending time with my SO, spending time with friends, managing my own personal investments, spending quality cuddle time with my precious furry little ones, and occasionally playing SC2 or the latest console/PC game. I think it’s fair to say, my days are pretty packed.
The problem with my schedule is that, because I’m a consultant, my work can sometimes take a turn for the worse and spike up to 60, 70, or even 80 hours in a given week. I can’t plan for it, I can’t mitigate it, and more importantly, I can’t get out of it. Some weeks it’s easy to manage everything that I have going on, but other weeks are downright stressful ordeals, where I manage to only get 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It’s one of the downsides of being a raider and a working professional, but it’s a challenge that I knew I would face when I got into hardcore raiding. And, more importantly, it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make because of the sheer enjoyment I get from the game and from being a part of a successful team.
So now that I’ve given you all a brief background on “a day in the life of a very busy Vixsin”, let me tell you why I’m writing about this on the second anniversary of my blog.
Making the Decision to Raid, Work AND Blog
When I made the decision to start a blog, back in November of 2009, I was a shaman in Aftermath on Mal’Ganis, looking to find a place in the WoW community. I had, just 6 months prior, joined up with the firm I’m currently with, and was recording some relatively easy 45-hour work weeks. Combined with Aftermath’s light(er) raid schedule, a mere 16 hours a week, I had some extra time that I thought I would pour into helping the WoW Community and making a name for myself. After spending an inordinately long time settling on a name for my blog, (some of those discarded names included: “The Blue Square”, “Dual Spec Resto”, “L2HPS”, and “Stories of a Chain Heal Turret” … no laughing!), I got to work. I set the easy goal of publishing 5-7 posts a month, which although I didn’t know it at the time, would help keep me from feeling overwhelmed by an ever-growing task list in the times ahead.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your view on work-life balance), my hours continued to increase as my tenure with the company grew. By my one-year anniversary of employment, those 45-hour weeks turned into 55-hour weeks, and last October, right after I returned from my first Blizzcon, my firm picked up a project that essentially required me to work over 70+ hours a week, for around 3 months. I struggled to keep my same posting schedule in those months, but thankfully was saved by the fact that we were clearing HM ICC in under 2 hours each reset. And, even though I took a week off of work for the release of Cataclysm, my hours stayed at the same level well through the end of December.
But, I gritted my teeth and got through it, happy to see the other side where my schedule dropped back down to manageable again, and content was cleared. Then came the guild change, from FH to Pie Chart, which actually dropped my raiding days per week down to 4 (although I was still committed to 20 hours in the smaller timeframe). I settled into a new routine with a new group of people, and tried to carve out a place in their raiding world all while working fluctuating hours and dealing with multiple trips from coast to coast.
Fast forward seven months to Firelands release, and things had turned into a much different story. Professional demands and circumstances created some of the most stressful days I’ve had all year. I was at work at 8am in the morning, stressed all day about mounting deadlines, and being thrown under the bus by colleagues who I was working extra hours to help, and then participating in a 5-hour raiding session almost every evening. On one night, a pretty bad blowout with my SO, coupled with the fact that I had neglected to run logs for that attempt (‘cause NM parses matter!), had me very close to the end of my leash.
I think there’s a reason that you don’t see many working professionals in high-end / progression guilds, and it’s not because they lack the skill or the aptitude for the game that these young tykes have. In reality, I think it’s because managing a career, a real life, and the demands of raiding is oftentimes too much for one person to handle. And that really didn’t dawn on me until just a couple months ago, when I almost threw in the towel for good.
The month that LiG5 went silent
All the above being said, I don’t bemoan my busy life or the sacrifices I have to make to honor my commitments to friends, family, the game and this blog. If anything, I find the stress of it all slightly exhilarating, and the constraints of a compacted schedule are oftentimes easily offset by the feeling of accomplishment I get from readers, fans and fellow players. And to date, there has only been one time where that simply wasn’t enough to sustain me.
Although I’m sure a number of you might have seen the signs when I made my infamous “Life in Group 6” post, I don’t think anyone, least of all me, had any idea about the sheer amount of emotional shaman baggage that I had been accumulating since the start of the expansion. I love my class, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s a downside to being one of the only people out there blogging about Resto Shaman and their issues—people come to me for help. And as much as I love helping my fellow Resto Shaman, with each and every email from someone who was struggling to keep up, from someone whose raid leader was threatening the bench, or from someone who felt that they were at their wit’s end, I took on some of those shaman issues as my own.
The more emails I answered and questions I fielded, the more motivated I felt to be a beacon for Resto Shaman, to be the one who shattered the mold and who everyone could point to and say “See, [idiot raid leader / teammate / PuG / random noob]. Vixsin can do it, so I can too”. I fed on that idea to keep myself going through all of the frustrations (HM Baleroc, I hate you), and when I did finally get benched like so many Resto Shaman on HM Rag, I felt all of that baggage settle firmly down on my shoulders. It felt like a failure of epic proportions—not only had I let myself down, but I’d let down each and every person who had believed in me.
Even though I did manage to earn a spot on the HM Rag kill team, by that point, the baggage was too heavy to simply shrug off. The joy of having managed to endure one of the most grueling encounters out there (if not the most grueling ever), was offset by the anxiety of being reminded, farm night after farm night, that I wasn’t measuring up. The mastery that propped me up on HM progression kills started to lessen in contribution, and over several months I watched my HPS slide ever lower. Despite the fact that I, above almost anyone else, know the math behind the slide and knew it was because we didn’t want to drop healers, it still ate at me. Logging onto my shaman slowly became something that I didn’t look forward to, and every raid with the ever-present resto shaman jokes (although they were supposedly made in good humor), reminded me of the class shortcomings that I couldn’t fix.
Then, as fate would have it, I hit another one of those 70+ hour work weeks, one in which a long-time client decided to use my work as a punching bag for her frustrations on an entirely unrelated issue. I don’t remember precisely what tired and oft-repeated Resto Shaman joke it was in the following night’s raid that became the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I do remember that everything came crashing down. In that moment, I was beaten, and for the first time, I looked at my shaman with disgust.
For the first time, I felt genuinely angry with the Blizzard developers who had enabled every “Resto Shaman are bad” joke by letting our class underperform for almost an entire year. I wanted to send them every email, every whisper, every post, and every anti-Resto Shaman piece of crap that I had collected over 10 months of raiding and tell them that I was done trying to sugar-coat their failings. I was done trying to be the loudest voice about why people should love their Resto Shaman; that it was time they stood up and apologized for letting their “model healer of Cataclysm” continually be the underdog, tier after tier. Okay, maybe “angry” is too tepid a word … I was incensed.
And so I wrote—heated, caustic posts about Blizzard’s shortcomings, fiery rants about the failures of a healing model that was supposed to be more fun, and downright venomous diatribes against developers/blues who sat on their hands instead of fighting the misconceptions about shamans’ limitations. They were the kind of posts that I’ve never written before for LiG5, and after reading them, it became very apparent that they were also the kind of posts that I should never publish. Unfortunately, in not publishing them, I managed to make myself feel even more constrained and cut off. I stopped logging onto my shaman except to raid (grudgingly), and I stopped replying to the emails that people sent me, which marked the first time in 2 years that I intentionally let readers’ questions go unanswered. And, as melodramatic as it sounds, I went to bed almost every night wondering if that day was the last time that I’d ever log into WoW. (In other words … the care cup |__|P was empty).
Regaining my Balance
In the end, I don’t think it was one thing in particular that provided the counterbalance to all of that shaman baggage, nor was it a concerted effort on my part to get back to even keel. My work eased back up, lessening the strain on my time; PTR testing began, giving me glimpses of fights in Dragon Soul that actually played into shamans’ strengths; friends stepped in, to try and make my time in game as enjoyable as possible; I went to Blizzcon, and for the first time in the last year felt like shaman concerns had been heard; and despite the fact that I had disregarded the role that I worked hard to build, players still kept sending me emails looking for guidance, help, or just my two cents. Gradually, my world started to right itself, and playing my shaman stopped feeling like such a burden.
When I look back on it now (and I may not have the complete benefit of hindsight, given that all of this is so recently in the past), what I’m struck by is how appropriate it is to say that managing to raid, work and everything in between is a balancing act. Managing those things isn’t something that you can do with a static level of effort—some days will be hard, and some days will be easy. Some days it will feel like I am artfully spinning a variety of plates or juggling a handful of priorities with the skill of someone who eats stress and deadlines for breakfast. Other days, it will feel like I’m on the verge of dropping everything. It will feel like I’ve tripped on a rug and am trying to forestall the inevitable with those last few off-balance stumbles, right before I faceplant into the Berber strands (artfully taking a lamp and a coffee table down with me).
But it doesn’t just extend to balancing priorities, because as I realized in that one month, being a blogger (at least one with the goal of helping players enjoy their characters more) is about balancing emotions as well. Some days I will be in love with my shaman, while other days I may need to seek solace on my druid and WG my ego back up to full (or my paladin, in 4.3). Some days I will come charging out of the gates in defense of Blizzard’s design choices and other days I will want to rant and rage about how they screwed the pooch when it came to Resto Shaman healing in Cataclysm.
Finding the middle ground in all of that, and getting a hold on it despite the stresses of work, the demands of family, and the issues in the game—that’s the true challenge of being a blogger. That’s the balancing act that I didn’t know existed when I plunked down my money to start my own site. It’s so easy to use those outlets that we (bloggers) have developed to make ourselves feel better without thinking of the larger consequences to the game and its community. It’s easy to level my crosshairs at Blizzard and take fire because I need a little stress release. Just like it’s easy to always argue one side of the argument—that Resto Shamans are grossly underpowered and thus deserve buffs and sparkly ponies. It’s the continual efforts at balance that are hard.
It feels inadequate to me now, to talk about WoW-life balance without talking about everything else that goes into it. But having come out on the other side, having realized that I can represent a class without bearing the load of its issues, that I can be a voice without having to drown out all the hecklers, that I can maintain a balance between my personal investment in a class and my higher investment in game balance, it’s a good place to be. I might have wound up face down on the carpet, knees bruised, but I did get back up. And what amazes me more than anything is that when I went to stand again, to regain my balance, there was a community there with outstretched hands to help me back to my feet.
So to all of you out there, whether you’re just passing through or you’ve been here since I posted my first few words … thank you. Because if there’s anything that can help me find that middle ground, and keep me going despite the days when there is no balance to be found … it’s you.
Thank you for helping me see the end of Year 2, and here’s to a better year to come.