7 Tips For My Recovering Workaholics

So, you’ve probably diagnosed yourself as a recovering workaholic? If not, then read the previous post to make sure. If so, you are in good company.

Before going any further, let me ask one important question.  Why have you taken this very stressful “corporate” role and why do you work so many hours at it?  Here are some common thoughts and answers:

You: I need the money.
Me: But you have no time to spend it.

You: My parents expect me to.  They love to brag about how their child works for that biiiggg (*spreads arms wide to illustrate*) Accounting firm /law firm /investment bank.
Me: ha! Like a true ‘Naija’ parent. Lol. That same parent will complain and guilt-trip you everyday because you never call or visit and tell you, you don’t care about them.

Here’s one that usually lurks beneath the surface but no one wants to say out loud.

You: I have to work longer hours to prove to them that I can do it…that it was not a mistake to take a chance on a Black woman.
Me: I need you to take a minute and mentally high-five yourself right now. You are the sh-t! You are the best person for the job and you have more than earned it. As much as Corporate America likes to fill their diversity quotas, they will not sacrifice performance, trust!.

I remember when I got my last promotion. I was (and still am) the youngest person to hold that position, not to mention the only Black woman…and my goodness, the rumors! I felt I had to work four times as hard to prove I could do it. I was putting in late hours like you cannot imagine. Because I kept doubting and second-guessing myself.  Until I realized that the harder and longer I worked, their expectations kept increasing, and my personal life suffered. So I stopped and recalibrated. You are smart, capable and quite frankly more so than many of your White colleagues.

Last one…

You: It’s the company culture. Everyone works these hours. I need to do it to survive here.
Me:  You need to decide what’s most important and put that first.  If you claim family is the most important thing to you, then make quality time for them. If your health is important, take care of you. A few years ago, a coworker was admitted into a mental institution from the tough environment at work. He’s still there now.

Unfortunately, many companies who claim to support work-life balance are only paying lip-service. They want you chained to at your desk for as long as possible.  If you work for one of these, you may need to make a tough decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to go above and beyond every single day? And more importantly, is this sustainable? How long can I continue to work for this company in this capacity? You have to be honest with yourself and decide.  If you choose to stay here, then understand that it’s a choice.  A sacrifice. And be sure it is what you want.

Luckily though, you may not have to. More and more companies are starting to ‘walk the talk’ on work-life balance. They are the ones who allow you to work from home, have day care centers in the office, and let you take whole summers off. These companies are finding that allowing their employees to take care of their personal lives really does pay off and does not compromise the bottom line. Seek these companies out in your job search.  When comparing offers, do not only look at salary, but evaluate the company’s culture and how closely their values align with yours.

I trust by now, you are evaluating whether you want to stay here, at this job. While you decide...

Practice Mindfulness. I know this is easier said than done. When I first started dealing with this, I would tell myself every morning that I would stay in control of my thoughts, emotions and actions. I would listen to inspiring words by Joel Osteen on my way in to work.  And then I get that annoying email or phone call from a coworker, or that crisis arises at a customer throws me into a panic and it all goes out the window.

There is no easy fix.  Just practice. One technique I used was to actually set alarms on my phone…little reminders every 3 hours to “check in” with myself. I would go to the ladies’ room, stare at my reflection for several seconds to compose myself, drink some water and take several very deep breaths with eyes closed. It might sound corny but I used those few minutes to acknowledge and then rid myself of negative energy and just be…self aware and centered. Bikram yoga, running and regular massages helped me become better at this.  Before long, you’ll find you no longer need the reminders and your body will let you know when you feel out of sorts and need to “check in”.

Move. You are sitting at your desk for hours on end everyday. When you don’t have to be, move. Walk. Run. Hike. Bike. Skate. Dance. Something. I know you are so tired after work and you  want to lie on that couch and pass out. Get up and move. Don’t think about it too much. If you prefer, go in the mornings. Wake up 30 – 60 mins earlier and just go. Trust me, it makes a difference. It relieves stress by flooding your body with endorphins and replenishing awesome energy to replace the negative energy from the day’s work. And you know you need to replenish. So you don’t snap at someone at work, or worse yet, at home.

Remove those sugary, salty snacks from your desk drawer and replace them with healthier versions. No, really.  Get rid of them now. I won’t even bother to explain why. I’m sure you know. So just do it. If you don’t see it, you won’t eat it. And stay away from that vending machine. I wish someone would just ban those evil things! The mistake many recovering workaholics make is that they forget that they spend most of their time at work. So they spend all this money buying healthy food to keep at home but they don’t eat it and it just rots.  If you have a fridge and microwave at work, store your healthy meals there. I now make a habit of keeping snacks like carrot sticks, oatmeal, granola and fruits at work for those extra stressful days when I can’t eat my jollof.

Say No sometimes. It’s ok. You are a professional woman. You know your worth and what you bring to the table. After you’ve spent some time there, they know it too. As you climb this ladder, know your limits. Know when you cannot get on a recurring conference call with China at 1am. Know when you cannot go to Australia for 2 years.  Know when what they are asking for is not only humanly impossible, but when it doesn’t not fit your plan for your life. If you find yourself constantly saying no, then you need to get out of there.  But it’s ok to manage expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Maximize the times spent alone or with friends and family. You are a dual citizen remember?  You have a fulfilling life outside of this place. You have friends, boy/girl friends, husbands, parents, kids, mentees, pets, hobbies, passions.  There are things you love to do that do not include ratchet tv after work.  Think about what those things are and rediscover them. Discover new ones. Dedicate at least 1 hour a day to those things. Luckily for me, I love the gym so I can kill 2 birds with one stone. Lol. So I’m there most days. I love traveling so I take quick weekend trips. I love reading so I try to read at least a chapter a day. And I love writing this blog ;).  So no matter how busy it gets, I must dedicate quality time to these things or people I love. It’s really what keeps me going.

Oh, and part of this is knowing how to separate work time from your time. Don’t be checking your work email when your boyfriend is trying to connect with you emotionally. Don’t be responding to work email when your young children are craving your attention. You prayed long and hard for that partner, for those kids. Now enjoy them. This is not the time for multitasking.   I refuse to check my work phone before bed. I even make sure to keep my work devices (phone and computer), very separate from personal ones.  Don’t worry. If you don’t respond to that email at 2am, the building will not collapse. It will still be there waiting in the morning.

Do not drown your stress with excessive alcohol and club hopping. This one isn’t that hard for me to abide by. The older I’ve gotten, the more I abhor the club scene.  I found that clubbing was really not the best use of my time and it seemed to make the weekend fly by even faster!  I do not see the point of being in a drunken stupor, losing track of those precious hours when I should be aware and savoring every minute. Not to mention the morning-after hangover when you then spend the day in a haze trying to recover.  No bueno.

Please take your vacation days and sick days.  This is currency. Not using them is like handing back part of your paycheck to your boss.  Not to mention it helps you relax and take care of yourself.   Ideally you should go away. Somewhere far and fun. But if you can’t, then take a stay-cation and get yourself together. Use this time to clean out your mind or even just clean and de-clutter your home.  Use sick days to make your doctor’s and dentist appointments. I even use mine to take “mental health” days once in a while. I know a lot of us International Black folks sometimes shy away from using these days. We want to go above and beyond. Stop it. Take your days and rest. You are a Black woman, not super human.

So… until the day comes when you are able to select the job you truly are passionate about and it doesn’t feel like work, try these tips which have proven effective for me.  I hope they help you too.

Do you have others I may have missed? Please follow and share your thoughts.

10 Signs You Might Be A Workaholic

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  1. You work 10 or more hours a day in a job that is fast paced, highly demanding and stressful.
  2. No matter how much you try, your boss demands more. Maybe nicely. Maybe not so much.
  3. Like a prisoner, you are confined to a small cube or office space that barely receives any sunlight or fresh air. That small plant or framed picture of a loved one is your attempt to make it more…liveable. And why not? You are after all spending most of your waking hours here.
  4. You leave home with hair and make up freshly done, however the stress of the day has made you chew off your lipstick. Remnants of your eyeshadow give away how often you have rubbed your eyes from staring at your screen. Your hands, like mine, have been in your hair all day, so it’s now a tangled mess. If your condition is acute, you may have given up trying all together. It’ll get messed up anyway. Why bother?
  5. On particularly stressful days, you may forget to eat a proper lunch. You may, however have a secret stash of candy, chocolate bars and chips that you mindlessly throw into your mouth as you stare at that computer screen.
  6. You don’t even know how you got home. You must have gotten in your car or waited for the subway or bus. You must have taken the usual route. But do you remember anything you saw? Nope. Completely zoned out.
  7. You drop everything at the door once you get home. Coat, shoes, laptop bag, purse, bra, maybe even clothes. Everything. Your doorway is starting to look like a flea market or thrift store.
  8. On one or more occasions, you may or may not have done something completely stupid. Like forgotten to take your keys out of the keyhole as you let yourself in (I am not admitting to anything! Lol), leaving the keys outside all night! (This is how you know someone back home is praying for you!)
  9. You eat everything in sight. Haha. Over the weekend you told yourself you would be “good” this week. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on green veggies but they are all rotting away in your fridge and you will have to throw them out next weekend. Oh well. As for today, only fat, grease, sugar and carbs will do.
  10. Lastly, you plop yourself in front of the TV. Doesn’t even matter what’s on. Could be “ratchet tv”; in fact the more ratchet, the better. This way you don’t have to think too much. You are in a vegetative state. Brain dead till you fall asleep. Before long, the TV is watching you. Lol. And you know what? You get to do it again tomorrow! Oh joy!

Okay, if you checked most of these boxes, you may be a recovering workaholic, like me. Don’t worry. This is a safe space. We can talk freely.

If you really think about it, this is very concerning. Kinda scary. We have such a short time on this earth, is this how we really want to spend it? Especially when you think about the fact that by traditional American workplace standards, we have another 20-30 years left of this before retirement?

I know work is important, don’t get me wrong. I want my shot at CEO as much as the next woman and I’m working hard to get there. I have bills, too. As is characteristic of “good ol’ Naija upbringing”, I send money back home, too. I like to take the occasional vacation, too. I want to make sure my future children have more than enough, too.

But at what cost? So many illnesses are linked to stress – heart disease, headaches, Alzheimer’s, GI issues, depression, anxiety and obesity. Are we taking care of ourselves physically? Or are we sacrificing our short term well being in the hopes of some long term gain? Even if we are physically ok and not at risk, what about our psychological health? Have we really sat down to think about those “issues” we keep sweeping under the rug? Or maybe we work this hard so we don’t have to deal with “it”? What about our relationships? Do we nurture them? When was the last time you truly connected with a friend? I mean really listened and shared? Or do you just make the half-assed phone call, maybe while heading home, simply to pass the time? I know I’m guilty.

Bottom line is, while we need to work, it should contribute to our essence, not deplete it. We should still have plenty to give ourselves and loved ones at the end of the day. We should not be irritated when our phones ring and it’s mom calling to check in. We should not be upset when our young children ask us a million questions because they just want our attention. We should not be too tired to pick up that book we’ve always wanted to read. These are the things that should give us joy and yet we dedicate so little time to them.

Notice earlier, I said “recovering” workaholic? I say so because we are going to beat this together! 🙂

Check out my next post on suggested tips I use currently to address this.

I want to hear from you. Please follow, leave a comment and share other symptoms you’ve experienced and let’s learn from each other!

“Come. Sit. There is Room For One More.”

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I am not competing with you. Actually, I barely know you. We cross paths in the hallways to and from the ladies’ room and have mumbled the obligatory, less-than-heartfelt “hello”. We have attended the same meetings and conference calls, representing our very different departments, and though we have been quite vocal and involved in those meetings, we rarely address each other directly. You have been here much longer than I have. I suspect you feel like a “dual citizen” as well, but that is a mere speculation because we have never had a real conversation. Actually, strike that. I stopped by your office within my first week to introduce myself.  You were the only other Black female face I had seen around, and we looked to be somewhat close in age. I didn’t expect we would be best friends.  I know how annoying it can be when White folks expect us to be joined at the hip simply because we share the same skin color.  But I did think we would at least have more than “hello” to say to each other.

Our first encounter was so…cold. You were unfriendly, though polite and professional. Standoffishly, you did not welcome me into your office,  ask where I was from or if I needed help navigating the area. I did catch you do the double take when you glanced at my short twist out. The same look I recall getting from my White colleagues as described here, although it struck a nerve when it came from you. Perhaps you think my kinky curls are less professional that your perfectly straightened, side-part look. You told me you had worked here for 12 years and enumerated the prominent posts you had held within the company during that time. Your final words, (a not-so-subtle hint to end the conversation) were “Ok. Nice meeting you. Thanks for stopping by.”  I had never met you before so it couldn’t have been anything I said or did.  I thought perhaps you were swamped at that moment and it was just a bad time, but you made no future attempts to reach out afterwards.   It almost seemed as if you were going out of your way to distance yourself from me.

Honestly, I haven’t given you much thought since then.  Although we have continued our polite hellos, I have been buried in my work. Trying to prove myself. Trying to be good enough.  Maybe you too?

More recently though, you crossed my mind. I thought to myself how helpful it would have been to draw on your expertise.  To share my experiences with you and learn from yours. It has been tough here.  I have been passed over for promotions I have not only earned but have been promised. I have watched others, less qualified, promoted in my place. Have you ever dealt with this? Yours is an equally White, male – dominated department, much like mine.  How have you lasted so long? How do you continue to motivate yourself when borderline sexist, racist comments and behaviors are flung around so casually?  While I have friends and family who may try to sympathize, they are not here. They do not know the specific nuances and context. You are and do.

I am not your competition. Yes, there are more and more of us Black women graduating college and choosing a path in Corporate America. And yes, we are being conditioned to believe that there is not enough room for all of us at the top. The unwritten message is that we can all be interns, analysts and first year associates,  but within the same company there will be a total of 0 -1 Black female partners, SVPs or C-level executives. Yes, you may have been the “token” for so long. The one who had to define what being a Black woman meant to everyone. You may have embraced this role, maybe even relished it, thinking it solidified your position and value here.

Do not feel threatened by me.  I am not here to steal your thunder. We may never be friends, but we can coexist.  We could empower each other and become allies, even though our corporate culture does not make this easy on us.   We could buck the trend that says we both cannot be successful.

Professional Black women, we are not tokens. There can be more than one.  You do not have to distance yourself from other Black women to be successful. You are unique and bring something new to the table that no one else can.  Do not be fooled into believing that your value only comes from your skin color.  When you attend a conference and see a group of other Black professionals networking together, do not instantly gravitate to the other end of the room to be “seen”.  Once, a Professor at my HBCU advised us to “avoid the congregating with other Black folks thereby creating a ‘Dark spot’ in the room.” How sad!

Empower and embolden each other. I am not against healthy competition. But do not compete with another woman professionally or personally, solely because she is Black.  Do not gossip about her, maligning her character.   This attitude sets us back several decades.  When you see her, encourage her.  Welcome her to the table.  There is always room.

I Eat My Jollof, You Eat Your Turkey Sandwich

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Most of us look forward to lunch time at work.  That one hour that is yours to spend as you please. Unless I have a deadline of some sort, I make it a point to leave my desk for lunch. Sometimes I run errands while grabbing a quick meal on the go. Most times though, I bring a packed lunch and eat in the office either alone or with coworkers.

Being Nigerian, it’s not unusual for me to have Jollof rice and fish or rice and stew with plantain and moi-moi.  Before I gave up meat, I would have some goat meat, fried chicken (Naija style), assorted meat, etc.  Yes. Your girl can throw down 😜.  Even when I cook non traditional Nigerian meals, they are still usually infused with our traditional herbs and spices. It is one of the rare evidences of my “dual citizenship” at work, one of the few things I allow myself to bring from my world into theirs.

It has not always been easy and I haven’t always been comfortable eating my Naija food at work. In my early days within Corporate America,  my main goal, besides getting my work done, was fitting in. I did not want to be different.  My job at the time was in Public Accounting  which  involved long hours with my audit team, stuck in a conference room. I was literally with these guys for 10, sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day. Lots of opportunity for them to ask stupid questions.  Sometimes depending on the clients site at which we were located, there was no cafeteria so we would have to eat in the same conference room.

Most people either had a simple sandwich or salad. So imagine the glances, the comments, the scrunched up faces, when I open up my bowl of savory and spicy deliciousness.

“That smells different…”

“How does it taste? Looks spicy…”

“Where did you get it? Did you make that?…”

“Looks … interesting.”

Just a few of the quips as they peer into my bowl. It was almost as if they forgot I was “foreign” and this served as a reminder.

Many foreign nationals in Corporate America have probably had this experience. My Indian colleague at one of my jobs was constantly teased and accused of “stinking up the office” with his home cooked meals. Once after he had used the microwave, I overheard another coworker complain that her lunch now smelled and tasted of curry because she used the microwave right after he did. Another White female coworker actually went as far as complaining to HR about the smell in the office claiming that it was not “conducive”.

For a brief moment, I thought twice about bringing my food. I know of many others who make the conscious effort not to bring traditional meals to work and would rather endure eating a plain salad for fear of being singled out at the lunch table. As I became a veteran dual citizen,  I decided this was a part of me that I was not willing to suppress at work. Food is too important. If I’m going to be sitting there for hours, enduring all the nuances of being in this world, then I need my strength.

So…please eat your cold sandwich and let me eat my jollof in peace. Thanks 🙂

Any food related stories at work? Please share.

Obama May Be President, But You May Never Be CEO

A couple of years ago I decided to start volunteering as a mentor to high school women in my neighborhood.  Many of them were minorities, from poor, often dysfunctional families.  These young women although very smart, had been done a great disservice by the horrendous school system they were subjected to. The goal was to get them not only interested in college, but through the application and acceptance  process and help them launch a successful college career.  This mission is near and dear to my heart.  Many of these young women had no other positive influences in their lives. Many had no role models, no one they knew who had gone to college and “made it”.

The purpose of the program,  or at least my personal goal,  was to convince these women that they could make it. That if they worked hard, paid their dues, they, too, could be successful. That no one could stand in their way if they put their mind to something.

Usually, I have no issue delivering this message. I do my best to encourage each young woman that comes my way. I am normally filled with upbeat optimism and passion.

Today, on this particular day,  I feel differently. Here is my message to the intelligent,  talented lovely lady who told me she wanted to be CEO of a multi billion dollar corporation so she could “call the shots” (lol).

You can work hard and still not get it. Your success is not guaranteed. We often hear the message of many artists, singers, athletes, models, etc who never make it. For every successful one, there are thousands who no one ever hears of. Well, Corporate America is no different. It is just as cutthroat, imbalanced and corrupt.

Here, you will also see racism, sexism, nepotism, ageism and other isms in full display. You will come across people who do not achieve any results and watch their careers overtake yours.  You will wonder why.

Am I not smart enough? Visible enough?
Did I make any mistakes in that presentation?
Did I not network enough, go to enough company parties?
Do I just not have what it takes to succeed?

And the reality is that it is none of these things. You are awesome just as you are! You made it thus far so you clearly have what it takes. You made it here even against the odds.

But it will get even harder as you progress and the odds will be even less in your favor.  You will be passed over for a promotion you deserve because, the ‘Black woman quota’ has been reached and the diversity numbers met. You will be given more and more to do, because “we know you are capable and can handle it”, but you will watch your pay fall farther and farther behind from your White male colleagues. With all of this happening, you will still be expected to keep giving 150% with a smile on your face because anything short of this will reinforce their unfounded belief that Black women are emotional and unprofessional.

When this inevitably happens, my dear…
Keep your face up, but your soul tucked away! Like a boxer during a match, guard your essence. Do not let them destroy the inner you, the you that matters. It’s ok if you cry in that office bathroom stall when you hear news of the VP’s incompetent son getting the job you worked tirelessly for and earned. Get used to that sick-to-your-stomach, hot/cold feeling because you will experience it time and time again.  Stock up on tissues because,  you may need to stick them under your arms for a few minutes to absorb the sweat (if you sweat like I do).  But do not measure your worth based on how fairly they treat you. Do not start seeing yourself from their eyes, letting self-doubt creep in. Keep the mask on and do not bare your spirit to them or they will trample it. It is difficult I know,  but you must try. Because if you dont, then they win. And you my fellow dual citizen,  cannot afford that!

And through it all years from now, when you need any support or just the listening, empathetic ear of a forerunner, a survivor, I will still be here for you.

No! I am not here to make you laugh!!!

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I once attended a work dinner involving my department and our Board / senior leadership from our global team. If you read this post, you know how much I look forward to these types of events.  Leading up to this dinner, the whole day had been spent in meetings where each team presented their new ideas for the year and basically had to justify their existence to these guys. Weeks and weeks of intense  preparation characterized by sleepless nights, numerous Power Point slides (I think my team got up to version 59), multiple ‘dry-runs’, etc.  This was all to ensure that we looked good in front of the Board.  No one wanted to make a fool of themselves. Also, given the competitive nature of the job and teams, we all wanted to out-do each other. I’m sure many of you know the drill.
 By the way, there are about 30 people in my department.  Two of us are Black, myself and another guy. Let’s call him … Will. Will is a heavy set, middle-aged guy, very smart and experienced. He is well-liked by the team, mostly because of his jovial nature. In my opinion, sometimes, he can be a bit too…comical, but usually, he’s pretty good at knowing not to cross the line.
At the dinner, I saw a completely different side of Will. I am not quite sure what happened. Maybe he exceeded his two drink maximum. He went from harmless one-liners, to full on self deprecating humor. He made fun of his weight, his Blackness, his childhood, his heritage, etc. Before long, everyone,  including the white-haired board members were clutching their sides in laughter. The more laughs he got, the more elaborate he became. Eventually,  he went from telling his jokes while sitting, to standing, gesturing and demonstrating, complete with song and sound effects! I was mortified!  He reminded me of the old clips I had seen where Black folks had to entertain their owners during Slavery.  I was beyond embarrassed and a few of my coworkers would occasionally glance at me to guage my reaction. While I did not want to be viewed as the Party pooper,  I did not find any of it funny. I felt as if his behavior somehow reflected negatively on me; I felt guilty by association. So I sat there for what felt like one hour of torture with this fake “plastered – on” smile.
 As the evening wore on, and my face began to hurt from my strained smile, I went from embarrassed to contemplative to angry.

Many Black professionals, present company included,  continue to struggle to find our identities in the Corporate world. Rather than be ourselves,  we try to be cool enough, smart enough, or funny enough just to be accepted. I have been told by previous bosses that I didn’t appear “nice enough.  We try to fit into this mold defined for us by everyone else, while they themselves are free to be whomever they choose! I had never seen Will behave that way in a one-on-one interaction. However, he felt the need to put on a “performance” in front of the higher ups.

I suppose this is all part of being a dual citizen. Keeping parts of myself locked away in order to fit in. As much I would love to be myself 100%, I know I am not there yet. Maybe one day, maybe never. However, I would rather have a blank stare than become the butt of my own joke just for your amusement. I do not mind the sleepless nights and endless Power Point slides. This, I can handle. I am there to do one job only and it does not include being a self-deprecating Comedian simply for your enjoyment. No! I am not here to make you laugh!!!