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Work is demanding!

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Today marks 3o calendar days since I had my last day off at work.  It has been 15 years since I worked that many consecutive days without a break.  This is not a complaint about the awfulness of my employer or being unfairly treated.  The employer isn’t awful, and I am not being treated unfairly.

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This  just my way of trying to place this minor insanity in context.

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Why have I worked 30 days in a row, you may ask?

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I am heavily involved in a project that requires my presence in various places on weekends, and entails a fair amount of preparation and research during the week.  This means that it is difficult to take alternative days while pulling the weekend duty.

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What happens when you work 30 straight days?  I don’t know about you, but I have tendency to become obsessive, cranky, and my personal bandwidth narrows tremendously.    It becomes difficult to think about anything but the project, and I lose pretty much anything resembling a personal life.

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This is tremendously unhealthy on an emotional level.

Once upon a time, an unhealthy workaholic

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Looking back fifteen years, I didn’t just work 30 consecutive days a lot, I worked 6-7 days a week for months on end. Nobody was twisting my arm.   Much of the work I was doing in these extra hours was just busy work.  I was at the office because it was the only place that I was allowing to have any space in my life.   This period of my life was not the best time I have ever had.  I rarely get depressed, but for reasons that are still not clear, I become very morose about my life and my place in the universe.  I was suicidal, but I didn’t like myself, or anyone else very much at all.   No matter where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else.  No matter what I tried to do, I lost interest almost immediately.   I had no focus in life outside of two things, going to work every day, and doing what I needed to do to support my family.

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The sad part is that while I was working to support my family, and spending 60-70 hours a week at the office, I also resented the obligations, and frankly hated most of the hours that I spent doing what I believed I had to do.   I didn’t do bad work. I actually was pretty successful during this time.  But inside, I was unhappy and sinking deeper into unhappiness every day.

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I had only myself to blame.  I failed to realize that in order to enjoy life, you have to be a balanced individual, not just some work obsessed stiff who was unable to have an iota of fun.   Fortunately, I finally decided to talk to someone at our EAP about my frustrations, and general anger with life.    He turned out to be own personal Yoda.  We went through several sessions of typical shrink psycho-bullshit which pissed me off and left me unenthusiastic about the process and any prospects for success.  And then one day, halfway through a session, he asked me this question:

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“What do you like to do for yourself?”

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I didn’t have a clue.  The best answers I could come up with were “read books and see movies”.   It was at that moment that Ted gave me one of the most significant pieces of advice that anyone has ever given me in my life.   He wrote the following single line on his prescription pad and told me not to come back to see him until I could tell him how I had solved what he had written.   His prescription for my issues was as follows:

Find something that you want to do just for yourself and go do it

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It took me quite a while to really figure this out, but I was able to use this advice to get the process started.

I had always wanted to travel, but could never really afford it, but I decided I was going to figure out how to do some traveling.    I did some camping.   I planned short weekend trips to places I had never been.   I stopped going to the office 7 days a week.  I began to invest time in myself, and this helped me to become a much healthier and well rounded individual.  I began to appreciate my family again.   I changed jobs into a position that met my professional needs much better, and offered me a chance to travel.  I changed a long standing personal policy about never socializing with people from work, and actually began to develop personal friendships at the place where we spend the most time.

It took some personal effort, but I learned not to spend time at the office on the weekends unless it was absolutely necessary.  I began to use all my vacation every year, instead of turning days or weeks back in, or getting paid in lieu of time off.  I actually went out and got a life.

Tips for getting your own life back

  1. Never forget that you are your most important personal asset.   You need to make sure that you are providing yourself with sustenance on a physical, profession, emotional and spiritual level in order to have a fully rounded life.
  2. Make time to relax.  Use your vacation.
  3. Don’t sublimate.   Follow your passion. Don’t let work and obligation derail from some time with those things that nurture your soul and spirit.
  4. If you find yourself growing resentful and angry, take the time to reflect on why this is happening.  It is impossible to work your way through this if you are imbalanced in your personal and professional life.
  5. Analyze your self-established limitations.   Are you living up to impossible rules and standards for no good reason?  Stop it, now!
  6. Are you staying in a bad situation because of obligation?  If so, evaluate it carefully.  It could be literally killing you.
  7. Go get help if you need to. I did, and it paid off.
  8. Find something that you want to do just for yourself and go do it

My project will be taking a pause on December 6th.    I will be taking some time off starting December 7th.

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