Confessions of a Recovering Workaholic: You are not your job

Monday, October 05, 2020


I remember joking with my significant other once, that if I ever had to choose between my job and him, I would choose my job.

 

The funny part of that ‘joke’ at the time was that I was not joking. 


I meant it. Every word.

 

With me, there did not used to be a work-life-balance struggle. It was work, work, and more work. Anything left was for life.

 

To be fair on me, my background up to that moment had largely contributed to that point where I placed my work and my career as a lawyer above everything or anyone else in my personal life.

Growing up with only brothers, my father required that I do as well, if not better, than my brothers (despite me being the only girl, and the last child).

 

When I chose Law as my career choice, it was naturally expected that I had to excel in it as well. My brothers all turned out to be over-achievers in their chosen fields, and they set the precedent for me to happily tag along.

 

The moment I finished law school, I hit the ground running. While my peers enjoyed the mandatory youth-service year in Nigeria as a period to figure out one's life choices and catch a breather before the realities of adult living, I dived right into the job market, and was lucky enough to secure a full job in a good, mid-sized law firm.

 

That was the foundation of my work life.

 

I would see myself rushing out to work by 6.30 am, and creeping home at 2am. Sometimes, staying over at work the whole night because it did not make sense to do the whole commute for just two hours or so of sleep.

 

At first, I died a million times getting into this routine. I would bawl my eyes out intermittently in the ladies room, bawl on my way home, or bawl on my bed.

 

Was this what being an adult was about?

 

With time however, I began to ‘get used to’ being addicted to work.

 

Misunderstanding with the sibling? Work was the consolation. Bad breakup? Work was the rebound.

 

Bored to death on the weekends? I would find myself drifting around town... until I ended up at my desk in the office. And when a volunteer was required to come in for urgent work during the Christmas or New Year holidays, that was me.

 

 

Work was my confidante, my best friend and companion. There were many things I was not sure about in life then. But my career and my job (at any given time) was not one of them.

 

Work was the only thing I did even outside work. (Except that time I had to take up Cuban salsa, because I had put on too much weight from sitting behind the computer for long hours).

 

I prided myself in not just having a thriving career, but establishing excellent quality to my work. I derived satisfaction in watching my (then) boss's face as he tried to objectively critique a given assignment, and would issue his grunt of approval of my work, without a single amendment.

 

It is now that I look back and realise that work filled many holes for me. If I sought affirmation, rather than consciously develop myself from within to cheer me on, I would turn to my work for that affirmation. Work gave me the validation that neither other humans nor self could give me.

 

***

 

The first curveball life threw me with regards to work was in 2013. I had finished my graduate studies, and had quite abruptly found myself with nothing to do.

 

From the preceding eight months of intensive research and writing, to a complete stop, with no brain-cracking activities to throw myself in.

 

I began to question the very meaning of life. Nothing tasted good anymore; everything tasted sour. Even water tasted different.

 

I re-ignited my love for writing, and started a personal blog to keep me ‘busy’. Alas, it was too leisurely for my hitherto extremely busy brain: my mind kept wandering to soulless, dark place.

 

I withdrew into my shell. It was only after I had gotten another job that I slowly began to return to life. As my conscious state got more engrossed with work and activities, the light returned to my eyes and my subconscious began to clamber back into a sunnier place.

 

I was happy to be “back in the game” of the hustle and bustle of life as an overworked lawyer. But it had begun to hit me at this point that I had developed a dangerous addiction, which when not being fed, could swallow the essence of who I am:

 

I had become addicted to work!

 

Unlike most other addictions however, it was only I who could help myself to end this addiction, while ensuring that I did not lose my excellent work ethic.

 

2016-2017 threw me another curveball that jolted me to a conscious re-awakening. It required me to revisit the dangers of my addiction, and the need to make life changes in order to get cured.

 

 

This period taught me to appreciate work-life balance, as well as welcome work as a means to an end, rather than as the beginning, the end, and the definition of who I was as a person.

 

Through a combination of what I now realise as (1) a lapse in judgement on my part, (2) naivety hinging on over-reliance of mere work abilities (3) miscommunication and (4) sheer ‘bad-luck’, I temporarily found myself pseudo-redundant.

 

Work had always being my solace, my answer to all of life’s problems without the need to consciously deal with the particular issues. How was I to now deal with this situation, when my comfort was in itself my problem?

 

Withdrawal symptoms began to set in, and I found myself again being drawn into that dark place. But this time, I refused to fall victim.

 

I realised that I was forced to confront my addiction: that while it was important to excellently execute my duties, I could not hide behind the ‘stress’ of work to not face life’s issues.

 

I had to consciously work through the issues at hand, while simultaneously building a healthy outside-work lifestyle. I taught myself to understand that the only validation and affirmation I required was inside me, and not from the barrage of legal research and opinions I worked on.

 

I dealt with ‘slowing down’, yet, performing excellently. And in that time, I took on personal development activities, which I balanced perfectly with work, eventually resulting in a promotion at work.

 

Which is how as life threw me subsequent curve-balls, I have caught them without flinching.

 

In the time between when I finished writing my Canadian licensing exams, got called to the Ontario Bar and (finally!) landed a job, I did not struggle with the symptoms of my (now receding) addiction.

 

In that time, I happily rested, binged on Netflix, travelled, added three chapters to my book, wrote regularly on my blog, threw bants on my social media platforms, did ‘lite’ research for job interviews/case studies, ate, smiled, slept, danced, and generally LIVED.

 

I did not have to question myself again on the very essence of life: life is love, family, sleep, food, work, and all that comes with it at various times.

 

This is not to say I have entirely conquered my addiction of working at odd times, when I should be doing life. These days, I now welcome being busy as much as I welcome just chilling. And when I have to choose between the two, I objectively make my choice, depending on the particular circumstance.

 

I am still in the journey of perfecting the mastery my work, rather than let my work master me. Yes, I am still (and will always be) much in love with my career. I do not however tether my personal worth as a human being to a job.

 

While I will always value my work and its quality, I have learnt the need to not solely weave one’s personal identity as a human and sense of self-worth to a job, or a given career. There IS much more to life than just work.

 

After all, work was created for woman. Woman was not made for work. 😉

 

Paz,

 

Meg.

 

 

 

 

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