All Work And No Play
When I was in my first year of law school, a career panel spoke to us about life in the real world. I remember sitting in shock as the attorneys discussed who had worked the most years without a vacation. Did you get that? Years without a vacation! This sacrifice was worn like a badge of honor. Instead of being impressed, I was calculating the amount I had already spent on law school to determine if it was too late to change careers.
For some crazy reason, in America, we tout our long hours of work as if we have earned an Olympic gold medal. We brag about pulling an all-nighter at the office, never taking a vacation, and working all weekend, despite the toll that it takes on our physical and mental health. However, studies have shown that taking time off would actually increase productivity.
So why do we do it? I could speculate and write at length about why I think many people do this, but this blog is about what I know. And who do I know best? Me!
Although I have never bragged about how much I work (if anything, I have lamented the times that I had to work long hours), I have recently realized how much of my self-worth has been wrapped up in the arbitrary feedback that I receive from my career. In fact, I have been so concerned with "doing a good job", that it has taken a tremendous toll on my mental health, my physical health, and my families' well-being.
For me, an unhealthy relationship with work started in Kindergarten. I have always been a child that appreciated order, and I am a people pleaser. When I started elementary school, I quickly learned that school was something that I could control. Where life was filled with chaos - a family member's cancer diagnosis, death, emotions, and other uncontrollable events, school was formulaic: listen to my teacher + study + hard work = good grades. Good grades = people are pleased with me + I receive instant positive feedback in the form of grades + I feel in control.
When I graduated from school, I began to look to my career to fill my need for control and to please people. When I was in private practice, I could bill the minimum billable hours for the year (or more) to receive positive affirmation. When I began to work in-house, I would receive positive feedback for my work. I felt like I was failing as a wife and a mother, but at least I was good at one thing - work. However, as you all know, pleasing people is an unachievable goal, and receiving positive feedback in your career can be arbitrary at best.
As my dependence on work to fill my need for control and pleasing people grew, I had no choice but to work harder and work longer. However, I slowly realized that it is impossible to please everyone. As my career progressed, the positive affirmation became less and less. When I finally reached the point that my stress level was so high that my hair was falling out, I was physically sick, and I was mentally depleted, I began to re-evaluate my skewed relationship with work.
I wish I could say that I have it all figured out now. I don't. But the first step is admitting that you have a problem, right? I am also looking to find my value and self-worth in other things. I am reading scripture, talking to encouraging friends, and relying on my family to remind me that I am loved and valuable because I am me, not because of what I do. I am continuing to cultivate interests outside of work (kayaking, biking, photography), and I am striving to do these things for the pleasure that they bring in the moment instead of striving for an end-result or unattainable goal.