A while ago, I was invited to attend a week-long, company-sponsored seminar at a very reputable business school in London. The seminar was designed to reward the 30 highest performing, high potentials. Given the total company headcount of 15,000, being selected was a definite honor. Several countries were represented: U.S. by way of Nigeria (yours truly), India, China, Korea, Poland, Brazil, Germany, France.
The trip was nothing short of lavish. After the day’s agendas, we were provided with foods of different varieties, free flowing drinks, the best hotel in Central London, expensive entertainment including a private boat tour of London on the Thames with a live band. I couldn’t complain. Lord knows I would never pay out of my own pocket for this.
Traveworkaholic. A person who travels very frequently for work, in addition to balancing a very hectic work schedule. You have it a bit worse than the regular workaholics.
- You pay bills at home but rarely see the inside of this home. In fact, your body has managed to adapt to the less than comfortable bed of most hotels.
- From a picture, you can win any game of Name That Airport for every major airport, and some not so major ones. You know which airlines are prone to delays. In fact, you know from experience they are all the same.
- You not only get a paycheck, you also get paid in frequent flyer miles and free hotel stays.
- If you’re lucky, you get to fly Business or First class. As a young Black woman, you have gotten used to the disbelieving stares when you make your way to the Premium boarding lane.
- Some of you travel the same route so often that the airport staff recognize you and may even greet you by name. Lol.
- Your suitcase stays packed. You have 2 sets of toiletries, one for home which you barely use, and travel-sized versions stored in your suitcase permanently.
It’s hard enough for a Workaholic to stay on track. It can be doubly difficult to stay on track when away from home. Here are some reminders for while you’re out there:
First of all, be safe! You may be traveling in areas you are unfamiliar with. Be careful. God has blessed you with a well functioning intuition. Use it. Years ago, I was required to take bi-monthly trips to a very small town in the Midwest. One you probably never heard of. The nearest airport was 1.5 hours away and I had to drive on a one-lane country road at night in the dead of winter to get to my hotel. Also, I had no cell phone reception the entire drive. In the 6 months I did this, I never saw another Black person. The hairs on the back of my neck would rise every time I made this drive. I refused to even stop to refill my gas tank. Would pay for the full tank of gas at the airport. Maybe I could have been more…adventurous but at the time all I could think was, I’m sorry. I am not trying to be a hero. I do not want to end up on the local 7 pm news.
Be smart about your food and drink choices. This one is hard. You are on the road. Sometimes your team mates want to grab a steak dinner every night. They want to drink wine till 11 pm and be back in a conference room at 7 am. You don’t want to go really. You have not even decided if you like these people like that. But you have to. You do not want to miss out or be considered the antisocial Black woman.
Here’s what I say. Go. Once. Maybe even suggest the place. Pick a place that has healthy options. Something for everyone. Stay a bit and then make a graceful exit. Oh, and I learned this one the hard way…take your own rental car so you don’t have to be stuck waiting for your inebriated coworker to give a you a ride back to the hotel.
When I arrive at my travel destination, I usually make my first stop a grocery store. I grab a few large bottles of water, healthy snacks, fruit, etc and I store them in the hotel fridge. Oh and stay away from that minibar.
Move. Oh, you are not exempt just because you are traveling. Most hotels have gyms now. Yes, there may only be one treadmill and one elliptical. So get there first. Lol. Or use a workout video on YouTube. Play some Salsa and Reggaeton and do some Zumba (one of my faves).
Don’t lose track of your loved ones. If you travel frequently, this is a challenge. You have a family, friends, partners. Their lives do not stop because you are traveling. A friend of mine, a lawyer at a large firm, had to travel to depose a witness. The witness continued to evade deposition. So her one day trip turned into a six day stay. How can you plan for that? You can’t really.
Thankfully, technology has made this more…bearable…with Skype and Facetime. Use it as much as possible.
Try to take it all in. Despite all the cons, I actually like traveling for work. I get to go to some cool places. Although 90% of my time is spent in a conference room, I take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days for myself. Make it count for something. And if you can, once in a while, take a loved one with you (on yours or their dime, of course). Your family, a friend, a boyfriend, a husband. What better way to bribe them to forgive you for all the long hours you’ve been working anyway 😉
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.
Do you have others I may have missed? Please follow and share your thoughts.
- You work 10 or more hours a day in a job that is fast paced, highly demanding and stressful.
- No matter how much you try, your boss demands more. Maybe nicely. Maybe not so much.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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!
Last weekend, I attended a Nigerian party in the LA area with some family and friends. In true Owambe fashion, the “turn up” was real. Food, drinks, music, “money spraying” were in full effect and everyone truly had an awesome time. We partied into the wee hours of the morning and the next day, I woke up sore and achy from dancing to Wizkid in my high heels. I remember at many points that night feeling like…myself! I ate enough jollof rice to feed four big women and then proceeded to dance and sing at the top of my lungs with friends when Sir Shina Peters played, as it reminded me of my childhood.
There was no worry of eating or drinking too much as I was surrounded by love and friends and family.
This is what I call a party.
Now, contrast this with the so-called parties hosted within Corporate America. Sigh…
I have had the
dis pleasure of attending more than a few corporate parties. I shouldn’t even call them parties really. Events is more like it. Take the Christmas party at one of my previous employers, a very conservative Accounting firm. Here are a few of my favorite observations:
- Deciding how to dress for one of these is almost impossible. The task at hand is to find an outfit that is not too short, not too long, sexy but not too sexy, flattering but not too form fitting, conservative but not business-suit like, etc… Inevitably, I end up with the contents of my closet scattered all over my bed before I decide on something.
- The menu is another one. Now, I have been described by some as “bougie”, but let me tell you, sometimes you just want food you are familiar with. Somehow, my definition of party does not include some dried up veal or King Fish-caviar or drinks such as Cynar and Punt e mes. Often, after these “parties”, I have been known to stop by the nearest drive-through or Chipotle on my way home.
- Now everyone knows that at these dinners, there is a fun end and a boring end of the table. The fun end is where you sit with your peers who are hopefully not arrogant, self-important jerks. Here, you can maintain some semblance of real talk and not have to worry whether you used the salad fork to eat the main course. No one cares too much. As long as you manage to remember to drink out of your own glass and not that of person next to you (haha, this happened!), then you should be ok.
- If you find yourself on the boring end then… Via con Dios! Here is where real talk ends as you are seated next to some big shot, or big shot wannabe who continues to crack dry jokes you do not understand, but you are obliged to laugh anyway. The kind of fake laughter that makes the side of your face hurt and can cause facial spasms later. Here, the steak is very rare, almost raw and although said big shot is allowed to order endless bottles of wine, you, my fellow dual citizen, dare not exceed your 2 glass maximum!!
- Here’s one that never ceases to amaze me! Some of my fairer-skinned compadres still manage to turn all the way up at these events! Invariably, someone ends up (a) sitting on a partner’s lap, (b) making out by the bathroom, (c) grinding obscenely in the name of dancing, (d) telling very, very inappropriate, sometimes racist or sexist jokes, (e) passing out (f) drinking way too much, which I guess causes all of the above.
These have all happened at these events and the thing is, in many cases the perpetrators not only remain employed, but this seems to have absolutely no negative consequence on their careers.
I often think of how it must feel to be that free. To know that you will be ok, no matter how much you screw up. The stern faces of my Nigerian parents and grandparents come into focus in those moments, reminding me of how much they toiled so I could be here, rubbing shoulders with them. I used to think that I would stop feeling this way once I rose to the level of management and was no longer at the bottom of the totem pole. Now as a mid-level manager, I know this feeling will never change. I will never be able to completely relax in this world.
So no matter how many times they call it Christmas party, or Thanksgiving potluck or company picnic, or corporate happy hour, it will never be a real party for me.
What are some of the things you have observed at company parties? Please share your thoughts.
Have you ever felt like you were constantly ping-ponging between 2 worlds? You spend 40 or more hours weekly in one; and the remains of your life are spent in the other? You wake up each morning, don your mask and enter the corporate world, doing your best to blend in. You tuck away your essence and try not to be too “different”, too obvious. You don’t want to upset the apple cart. You are in “their” space. When they grudgingly decide to set you free, you remove your mask and enter into another world. Where you are free to be yourself. Where you can let your hair down figuratively…maybe even literally. Where your name isn’t too difficult to pronounce and your music isn’t too ethnic. A place where you do not have to explain yourself. It doesn’t matter if you are alone or surrounded by friends and family. The point is, this is your space. You cling on to the sacred moments spent in this world because you know it won’t last forever. You will have to return to their space…sooner rather than later. You, my friend, are like me. A dual-citizen.