I work too much. Period.
At least twice a week someone says to me, “How do you find the time?” or “Where do you find the energy?”. My token answer consists of “This is just how I am…” or similar responses. I decided that this year I would investigate what that really means and decide if this can, and/or should, continue.
At my day job I work in strategy for a large insurance company. In the evenings I teach at a local private college. Let’s face it, I also do both on the weekend. EVERY weekend. Is it worth it? Why do I do it? Both of these questions are really complicated. I won’t get into the childhood stuff because no one wants to open that can of worms. But as I see my youngest daughter exhibiting similar behaviors, I now find the motivation to figure out the why. I’ve also logged 124.5 volunteer hours Jan – Nov 2017… partial humble brag but also something I feel incredibly guilty if I cut back on … ya know?
In the 5th grade my teacher had a board for successful students called the “Laurel Wreaths”. You basically had to get every single thing on earth correct to earn this title. He would call students to the front of the class each month who achieved this status and would praise them in front of the class. The peer pressure was actually to make fun of the “Laurel Wreaths” but I was never one to care about peer pressure. This was a reward for excelling, so I made sure I got it every month.
Another memory I have is working as a waitress at Friendly’s Restaurant. This is a family style restaurant serving burgers, ice cream and other 1950’s-esque specials. We had about 10 tables on each side of the restaurant and 5 in the back. I insisted that I handle the number of tables that were normally assigned to 2 waitresses, because that would maximize my tips. And… let’s face it… it wasn’t a hard job. If you hustled, you made money. This is my sweet spot. At my request, they gave me a double set almost every night so I made double cash. My peers thought this was stupid, and meanwhile I thought my peers were stupid.
I think we’ve established a tendency to over-work my self from an early age and also a lack of understanding for those who didn’t. This is not a compliment to myself, it’s an insult to myself. That said… How could you not want to maximize your potential praise and/or income? That was insane… amirite?
Another problem with Achievers is that we feel like failures if we don’t accomplish something every day. This is a REALLY hard concept for others (aka happy, normal people) to understand and even for us to understand. So… about 6 months ago I was trained to teach an agile mindset/self-awareness type orientation course at the college I work for. I’ve subsequently become quite bored and exhausted with the class-set, but that’s a story for another day. As a part of the class, each of the professors was required to take 3 psych assessment tests. We received the results and we had to review them with our peer group. The person who found the results to be most helpful was… Not-Tom-Brady.
So… I showed these results to Not-Tom-Brady. He laughed, he cried, he sat in the fetal position for a while… I digress. It was actually interesting. As crazy as this sounds, it helped our relationship a lot. I almost wish he had access to these tests so I could read HIS outcome so I could understand him a little bit better. He no longer says “Why can’t you relax?” or asks why I’m completing some random task(s) on my only day off. Now he knows, this is something I’m required to do in order to be sane. It could be researching how to become a board member of a non-profit organization or it could be hanging a painting that’s been sitting there unhung, or practicing a new recipe for a future potluck dinner. I set the achievement(s) for the day and they have to be completed. End. Of. Story. What I need to get better at, is understanding that not everyone has this need, and understanding that their needs are just as important as mine. The need to unplug, and relax, for example. Which idiots like me view as a waste of time. The fact that I’m Gen X is clearly not helping either.
This is all well and good, right? I support my family of 4. I feel a sense of achievement. Life is good! The problem is that there is no gauge for people like me of when we’ve gone too far. How is it possible to achieve too much? I’m always in a pretty consistent state of discontent, and constantly disappointed in my lack of progress. This is a motivator, but also makes it so people like me Never Stop. Ever. Never. Ever. Never. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right?
When I was at UMASS in 19-ought-6, I started out just focusing on my studies. Then I decided to tutor athletes in the mornings from 5:30 – 7:30am. (Some of them are now in the NBA… but that probably had nothing to do with me, or did it? haha) Then I got a work-study job at the Dining Commons washing dishes during the lunch shift every day. Of course (shocking) I always did my homework as soon as I got home from class every day. But how about all of this “down time” between finishing homework and sleep? I opted, of course, to work delivering grinders (aka sandwiches to non-Mass people) and cigarettes from 8pm – 1am, 5-6 days a week.
Wasting time is the work of the devil and shit needs to get done right? So alas, my college years are a blur of working, studying, chain smoking and falling asleep in random places due to lack of any attention to my health whatsoever. “Wasn’t UMASS fun?” … Me” “Define fun”. I once woke up in a pool of blood on the 22nd floor of the library, in a bathroom stall. It turned out to be an intestinal issue that I still deal with today. I have a feeling that the girl who found me is probably still waking up in the middle of the night wondering why/how/what? and also what the fuck?!!!!
At UMASS I worked about 42 hours a week and went to school full time. This is healthy, right? Oh I forgot, I also type 125 WPM without errors (Not a typo: ACHIEVER MF!) so I typed papers anywhere from 1-4 hours a day depending on the time of year. Most people back then had typewriters. I had a word processor. The primary difference between the two machines was that I could type an entire line THEN hit enter and it typed it. It gave me the option of correcting errors BEFORE they were typed. It was brilliant. Remind me later to tell you the story about the time the typing test company came to my office because they didn’t think my typing speed, without errors, was possible at the time. Achiever MF’ers.
What have I learned since those days? How have I changed based on my 27 years of corporate experience and knowledge? Up until now I haven’t learned SHIT. I think I’m so fucking smart but I’m actually a complete idiot. I’ve been a complete maniac focused only on attempting to move past discontent and achieving as much as possible in every category. Failure, and having a life, are not an option. I may be the most boring person on the face of the earth. Does playing drums and having super interesting friends help? Dear god, I hope so. I have some very interesting friends… they keep me in touch with reality.
My life now. I’ve learned nothing… essentially.
So, I love teaching. It’s so so so rewarding. BUT I’ve taken on classes I don’t enjoy simply because I need the money. I say “yes” to everything they ask me to do because of a stupid fear that they may offer me less classes if I turn one down. This is all in my head, of course. I work about 50 hours a week at my day job, which is my absolute priority. If I teach one class on top of that, it’s doable. It’s almost enjoyable. Since I’m so busy, teaching is pretty much my hobby and that’s ok. But this semester has pushed me to reconsider my choices. I’m teaching 3 classes at one time. Think about it.. I just recently expanded my role at my day/real job, and am teaching THREE FUCKING COLLEGE CLASSES at the same time.
Here’s where I’m at this year: When someone asks me what grade my youngest daughter is in, I’m honestly not 100% sure when I answer 4th or 5th grade. I am just not sure. I have cancelled my last 4 mammograms because they have been at times where I felt one, or more, of my bosses may be disappointed if I was not available. I still have not rescheduled this. 2 weeks ago I woke up at about 3:30am on the stairs of my sunken living room. Granted it’s only 4 stairs, but I have no recollection of even sitting on the stairs. I have almost no time for the gym (which I TOTALLY need in order to control anxiety). I’ve been eating terrible food just to stay low calorie. That’s NOT me. But here we are right? When you work 50+ hours then add in THREE classes… what options do you have?
I work in a finished basement at my home and sometimes go down there when it’s dark and come upstairs when it’s dark. I generally don’t even have natural light anymore. I started wondering if I should get one of those lights people in Alaska use so they don’t lose their fucking minds due to lack of sunlight. So where I was at is that my plan A is ordering a light instead of finding a way to see actual light. This is not normal. Achiever.
Years ago I tore a muscle behind my shoulder blade putting a suitcase in my trunk on a work trip. I mildly re-tore this muscle this week after another business trip. As someone who drives a manual transmission and takes boxing lessons, I can tell you that having a tear in your right shoulder blade is not good. I can tell you for sure that this would not have happened if I was getting enough sleep, if I was eating the right foods, if I was paying attention to my health and my body and my life. But yet, here we are. Achiever.
I made a commitment this semester to my family, to my friends and to myself that I will never do 3 classes again. I have a strong commitment to my day job and that will continue, but I have to let go of the “extreme teaching” as a friend called it this week. Why can’t I just do 3 classes a year? For context, most adjuncts do 2 classes a year. This year I will do 19 plus writing 5 classes. This is not normal. Achiever. NINETEEN teaching and FIVE writing… plus real job = unrealistic bullshit.
As a start, I’ve told my boss at school that I no longer want to teach orientation classes. They bore me to tears, the students aren’t invested, I’m unchallenged and TBH it’s killing me slowly. Just saying this out loud has helped. Second, I’ve said I can only do one, face to face, class per semester. My life, my marriage, my sanity, my relationship with my children and friends, my day job, and most importantly, my HEALTH depends on it.
So, it appears that as of 1/1 I’ll only be working a 50+ hour a week day job plus teaching one class a semester. Feel free to yell “SLACKER!!!!” at me as you drive by my house. While I will secretly be disappointed in my need to scale back to 175% instead of the 250% – dead by 60 plan, it’s a baby step toward doing what I need to do to be a human being that lives past age 60 and has something to show for it.
Lesson for me this year and commitment to my friends, family and co-workers for 2018: Without my health I can’t provide you with the things you need from me. I will still be an Achiever, but a 60 hour a week achiever, not a sleeping on the stairs and forgetting what grade my daughter is in achiever. I commit to being a better employee, a better wife, a better friend and a better mother. And one thing we all know about Achievers… when we say we will do something, we do it.
I quit smoking (just under 5 years ago) cold turkey after 25 years of smoking over a pack a day just because fuck cigarettes… so this should be a fucking breeze compared to that shit show. Stay tuned.