As women, we often get our identity – our sense of self – from the way others perceive us. It might not be right. It might not be the best thing for us in many ways. Regardless, it’s often the truth.
No matter how hard we try, we often can’t get away from the feeling or belief that our worth comes from what we do, instead of in who we are. That’s why a lot of our value – or what we feel to be our value – is all wrapped up in our work or what we “achieve.” This doesn’t necessarily refer to a career; it can refer to what we accomplish within our families – or as a partner – too.
The bottom line or the common thread is that frequently we feel the more we “do,” the more we are.
Of course, we know living a life in balance is critical to our happiness and likely our health.
Yet, if the areas of our life where we are being and not doing don’t fulfill our need to be perceived the way we wish to be seen, they will inevitably suffer. They will always come in second place.
That’s why it can be so difficult at times to find the balance we know is so important.
With women who work outside the home, the result is often a dangerous, detrimental tendency to work to excess. This is commonly called being a “workaholic.”
Perhaps more confusing, unlike with other “addictions,” the addiction of working too hard or too much is often viewed with admiration and respect (even if covert). Thus, it can be super hard to switch off once it’s been switched on…
A recent article on the downfalls of being a workaholic in the Harvard Business Review, shares that being a workaholic often seems more like a badge of honor than a problem. Says Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist and the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego, “We live in a culture where work demands and deserves our undivided allegiance. And that sort of devotion does have its benefits. You feel challenged by your work; you’re engaged by it; you’re learning new things; and you have the opportunity to shape other people’s careers. It’s extremely rewarding.” Yet, according Stewart Friedman, professor of management at the Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life, “Working long hours, taking few vacations, and never truly being “off” is “harmful to your relationships, your health, and also your productivity.”
How do you break the workaholic habit? It might be as simple as three little steps to total freedom—achieving and experiencing harmony and balance in your life once again.
As with many other “addictions,” step one is admitting you have a problem.
To do this, you must change your perception regarding work and the value you derive from it. Yes, easier said than done. However, if your goal is achieving greater balance, this is where you must start.
Consider why you feel your value comes from the work you do or the results you achieve. Is it how your accomplishments themselves make you feel? Or are you instead, getting value from how you feel when others recognize or acknowledge you BECAUSE of those achievements?
This might mean re-aligning your priorities and reconsidering the people whose opinions you hold important.
Step 2 is learning to set boundaries—with yourself as well as with others.
Frequently, a downfall of the workaholic is failing to set boundaries regarding work – how much and how often. This is true even if you work for yourself.
To combat this, begin by setting yourself as a priority—as if it was part of your job (and it is!). As the CEO of “you,” what would you expect from yourself? To treat yourself to a spa day once a month? A bi-weekly massage? A daily walk? This exercise will help you begin to consider yourself as important as any other duty you might feel you have in your life.
The last step is relaxing, disconnecting, and resting—even if you must force yourself to do so in the beginning.
Once you have become accustomed to treating yourself as a priority, the next step is learning to just “be.” A big part of this can be disconnecting from devices – such as the phone, computer, or television – and just being still.
Again, you may have to force yourself to do this at first, until it becomes a habit. However, once you begin to experience the peace – and positive benefits of that peace – in your life, you will likely begin to crave this time as much as you previously craved the feeling of being recognized for any other task well done.
In summary, the reality for many of us is that we must work. Yet, we must NOT work all the time. It’s not good for us, our happiness, health, or relationships. Ultimately, it will produce the exact opposite of what we originally desired when the addiction to work kicked in—recognition for, and pride in, a job well done.