It took me actually realizing that I was probably a recovering work addict to realize I was ever really addicted to work at all. Because let’s be honest, we don’t see these kinds of things with ourselves. And being addicted to work is sort of tricky. And sort of rewarded.
Focusing on your career, and being all about the hustle are celebrated. Society looks well upon it, and it's almost as if it’s a milestone you have to hit - letting work consume you. I not only hit that milestone once, but I hit again and again and again over the span of nine years.
In my senior year of college, I applied for jobs very early on for post-graduation. I got a job offer in November of my senior year, and accepted it.
Once I began that job, I poured myself in to that role. This became who I was. My friends and family congratulated me as I moved through and up the ranks, and I felt a sense of deep pride that when it came to my career, “I had made It.” I was always quick to figure out a way to make It through any challenge placed in front of me. When I got the validation from a boss, I was satisfied and was in a cycle - work hard, while neglecting my life outside of work, get recognition for overcoming a challenge, and then repeat.
It was a vicious cycle, yet, I didn’t see it as vicious. And it was almost as if I had been trained to stay engaged in this cycle my whole entire life.
But this cycle came at a cost. It cost me my time, because I easily spent 65+ hours a week at work. It cost me my connections because I didn’t have much time to spend with others. And It definitely cost me my peace of mind - I was hesitant to ever make plans with others or even for even myself, because I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to make it, because odds were high I wasn’t going to leave work on time. I felt like my life was at the mercy of my job.
It was literally not until 8 years into this career that I started to acknowledge how tired I felt.
Scratch tired. I was exhausted. Any days off were spent sleeping in, and “relaxing.” I was anxiously looking forward to any vacations, only to have to spend the first 36 hours calming down. I’d even have to scramble my password to my work email, so I wouldn’t log in while I did take time away.
I didn’t know how to break free from this cycle that I was in. I was pouring myself in to a system, that I allowed my self worth to be captured in. I didn’t know how to separate myself, and my own wants and needs.
It was when I truly took the time to be curious about why I made work the highest priority in my life. I got a sense of pride from work. I defined myself based on my position, and the time It took me to achieve the level and title I had attained at my job. And in a lot of ways, there are certain things that I felt like you should go after in life - and society rewards career ambition and creating a family. If I had the career ambition nailed down, I felt It would overpower the lack of a relationship in my life.
As much as I saw the problem though, and as much as It bothered me, it was that much more difficult for me to shift. How do I break out of a pattern that has seemingly served me so well?
Looking back now, It was so difficult because there was a deep sense of my self worth tied up in my job and career. If I didn’t spend all of my time and energy in this area of my life, then what? On the other hand, this is what people do - they work really hard to advance. And here I was, advanced through my career, so who was I to want something different? Wasn’t that ungrateful? It took me a full year of desperately wanting something different but staying in the same pattern. For that year, I wasn’t even brave enough to actually express I wanted more balance in my life out loud.
Finally, enough was enough. And I decided I needed to take control, in my own way.
So many people look at work life balance as if it’s this meticulous tight rope walk. And it’s absolutely not that, at all. It can feel messy, and in order to truly achieve this balance, it took me getting really honest with myself. It wasn’t a matter of prioritizing myself or things other then my job. When I thought It was as simple as that, I would just revert to the pattern I was in - work was first priority. Looking back, this was deeply ingrained in me.
Achieving work life balance meant getting real with myself. I had to acknowledge I was getting deep validation for my job and at the same time, there was a deep void when It to my fulfillment. My needs simply weren’t being met, and there was no way any job could meet the needs that weren’t being met. Once I got clear on what I did want in my life, I slowly started to integrate pieces of It in to my life. I decided work would be a high priority but not the top priority in my life. Over time, I was able to integrate my health, connection, true down time that felt rewarding, and even some dating.
Achieving this balance in my life is now a present flow in my life. But It didn’t always come with such flow. It took time, of trying things out. Of giving myself space. I even made work not such a high priority at all for a while (Side note : not necessarily recommended), and eventually learned how to let the two co-exist.
The biggest lesson is this - work can’t over power your life. But life can’t overshadow work, either. There are responsibilities on both sides. And there are times I give more energy to work, and I don’t have any resentment around that anymore.
It’s easier to point out addiction when It’s a substance, and it’s easiest to point It out when It’s someone else. But when you’re addicted to something that provides benefits, and is wrapped up in what society celebrates, It gets a bit more difficult.
It was well worth the effort It took, the guessing and checking my tactics, and It was never really time wasted. Now there are people who knew me before this shift took place, that cannot even imagine me NOT living at my job. And the people that work with me now cannot imagine me any other way.
Here is what I know for sure - It’s difficult to break out of a pattern that you’ve likely been in for your whole career. Shit will come up that you will have to work through (and you can). And while your career is likely important, you’re worth way more than you job. But the freedom on the other side is worth It.