Finding Work-Life Balance And Still Breathing

By David Weissman
The York Dispatch, Pa.

Working numerous jobs for multiple years to help make downtown York a desirable destination, JJ Sheffer found herself in the hospital earlier this year, told she was working herself “to death.”

“Everything just fell apart because I’d been only focusing on work and running just to try to keep up with everything I had gotten my hands into, and so I lost all concept of time,” Sheffer said, thinking back to her state of mind just before her hospital trip. “The doctor started asking me how long I’d been having trouble breathing and sleeping, and I started thinking back on the landmarks and was like, ‘Oh, it’s been a couple years.'”

Sheffer’s asthma was so poorly managed that she was rarely able to draw in a full breath, she said. Ignoring the issue and continuing to work seven days a week left her in bed, unable to work on any of her many jobs for nearly a month.

Son Carter Grimm, 15, remembers it was very tough to see his mother in so much pain.

“Especially because she was working so hard, not only for the community, but for me, too,” he said. “I just felt helpless.”

With the help of the Affordable Care Act, Sheffer was able to get back to regularly administered shots of medication for her asthma, leaving her feeling better than she has in years. She’s no longer taking breathing for granted, she said.

But while that time off hurt Sheffer financially, it also taught her a valuable lesson.

“I couldn’t get out of the bed the first couple weeks, not functioning at all, and the world didn’t stop spinning,” she said. “I missed all that time, and it didn’t matter, so that was a humbling and liberating experience.”

However, that financial strain — compounded by the hospital bills — has her right back in the rat race just months later.

No rest: Sporting red high heels, Sheffer schlepped tables and chairs to the outer corners of Central Market on a Thursday afternoon, revealing a green and white checkerboard pattern on the floor where Beer Ace would host a tasting five hours later.

She admitted heels weren’t the best choice for this grunt work, as she would soon be required to help move a piano, but acting as president of New Muse Entertainment — her event planning firm — is her third role of the day after working as alumni relations coordinator at Leadership York and a partner at a shared office space downtown.

“Sometimes, it’s an hour-by-hour basis, so I look at my calendar like ‘Where am I supposed to be right now? What building am I supposed to be in? Who am I talking to?'” she said. “It’s probably more a function of my personality than anything else.
As soon as I carve out some time to not be doing something, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, there’s a block on my calendar not filled, I can throw this project into it.'”

As the Central Market floor was becoming clearer, Sheffer got some help from Philip Given, a photographer and owner of York City Pretzel Co.

The duo’s association stems from Given and his wife being original members of CoWork 155 when it opened. They ran a photography company when they joined, but being around like-minded entrepreneurs spurred numerous other business ideas.

Despite no official titles within each other’s businesses, Sheffer and Given are often seen helping each other out in a “blurring of professional lines” that Sheffer said has become prevalent among business leaders downtown.

“I made a conscious decision a few years ago to remove the distinction between my personal life, my professional pursuits and my community involvement,” she said. “There a number of young, emerging business leaders in York who are doing this, whether consciously or not. I think this gives us a greater potential impact.”

And perhaps no one is better at linking this community than Sheffer.

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