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.
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.