The Joy of Working It Out

I’m a recovering workaholic. Correction: I’m a recovering good girl who has used work as a way to try to prove to everyone around me what a good girl I am. I have chosen work countless times over my friends, my family, and worst of all…myself.

You know what puts work quickly into perspective? Death. Your own.

When you contemplate the question ‘if I were to die tomorrow, how would I spend today?’ I bet work isn’t at the top of most people’s lists. It certainly isn’t on mine. In fact, it doesn’t even get a mention.

Work is sneaky though. It distracts you from your mortality with coffee and deadlines and video conference calls. You get caught up in the regular pay cheques (feels good to be a responsible adult paying ya bills and putting a little aside for the future too, doesn’t it?), the recognition of a job well done, the hard-earned beer, chips and kiwi onion dip shared with your colleagues at 5pm on Friday.

It’s only when it’s the fifth week in a row that your timesheet adds up to over 50 hours, when you feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to get anything done, when your colleague points out a typo in your report and you get defensive and yelly, that you start thinking again ‘what am I doing this for? Is this how I want to spend my one precious life?’

When I decided that I was going to start putting my own needs ahead of the needs of the company I work for, I thought the easiest way I could achieve that was by quitting. Take some time off then pick up a part-time job in a cafe. Drop all career aspirations. I still sometimes think that. But I couldn’t shake off the reality of living in this world we live in – eventually I’d need a job with more hours or better pay in order to cover my bills, save a little for a future I may or may not be lucky enough to have. And if I started working again, really working, I’d hit the same point as before, the place where the needle always get stuck on the record: am I happy?

It seems to me that the happiest people I know try to make peace with whatever is going on in their lives. They don’t quit anything, but instead commit themselves more fully. Not for the sake of others, but for the sake of themselves. They try to use everything they do and experience as tools for their freedom.

So I didn’t quit. Instead I’ve committed to enjoying myself at work instead of stressing myself out. I was putting myself under so much pressure by insisting on being a good girl all the time. No one else was demanding that of me. It was my own expectations, which means I can change them. So I’m trying to take lunch breaks, ask for help or just say plain no, do the tasks I like first and procrastinate the rest. I’m trying to stop working overtime, stop acting like I’m too busy to say good morning to a colleague, stop worrying that staying up late to do something fun will make me less productive at work the next day.

The more I relax and enjoy myself, the more my colleagues enjoy working with me, the smoother our projects go or at least the calmer I react when stuff goes wrong. Who would’ve thought, huh?

I’m starting to be able to admit that I don’t really care about writing reports, preparing PowerPoint presentations, or creating charts and graphs.

I care about showing up as myself, my best self, with everyone I cross paths with during the day. That’s the real work I do – we all do – at the office. That’s the kind of work I’m interested in. Which is just as well because it seems that’s the kind of work life keeps giving me.

I’m learning on the job.

So what will I do today knowing I could die tomorrow? Be love.

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