For a very brief time that I look back on with amazement, I worked a full-time day job, went back to school for an advanced degree, wrote freelance and raised a toddler. I still can’t understand where my stamina was coming from. In my mind, I had to be going on all cylinders at all times to get ahead. My personal philosophy was dominated by the idea that if I worked as hard as possible, my career would flourish.
To be honest, it really helped my career at first. All that extra work paid some serious dividends. Putting my daughter to be at 8 and getting four hours of writing done before I laid down myself added some nice additional income. The sheer magnitude of my workload inspired admiration from my bosses and peers. They kept saying, “I don’t know how you do it…” Hearing that gave me a nice boost of confidence.
Then, I had a medical emergency. After a year and a half of trying to have another baby, my husband and I were overjoyed to find out that we were expecting. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, we learned that the pregnancy was ectopic. After a couple days in the hospital, a surgery, and a lot of pain, I headed home with a new type of perspective.
It’s a funny thing about tragedy and stress, I would never say that there’s a silver lining, but it does have a way of prioritizing for you. Suddenly, that drive to work, work, work felt very different. It felt unfocused.
I think the most dangerous aspect of our 24/7 work culture is that it tricks us into believing that all work is relevant work. You get the impression that as long as you’re in motion, you’re going forward. Never stopping for a break gives you very little time to analyze your goals and how you’re getting there.
For better or worse, dealing with a personal tragedy made me slow down and assess my activities, it made me think about what was making my life and career better, and what wasn’t. A month and a half later, I quit my day job and moved into a full-time freelance situation that better fit my family’s needs and my personal goals. At first, my husband and I accepted that we might lose a little income. I was prepared to take a step back in my career status if it meant that I got a little more balance in my life.
And then, the most amazing thing happened. Stepping away from work every once in a while made the things I was doing more thoughtful. Without the stress of constant motion, I was able to focus on what I wanted to get done. All that work that I was frantically pushing out in the months before seemed too rushed, too unfocused. Once I took my step back, my work started to improve. Once that happened, my career moved into new places that I wasn’t ready for when I was overdoing it.
I see the demands of the 24/7 work culture, and I see why it’s so easy to fall into that trap. Bosses demand total and extreme dedication. There is always another project you can do. But stepping back from that culture and creating a balance allowed me to work better than I ever had before. There are only so many hours in the day, so you need to know how to use each one to your best advantage. You can’t figure out how to do that without stopping what you’re doing and giving it some thought.
I’ve said good-bye to anything that wants more time than I can spare. I’ve learned to say, “No,” a little more often. And it’s given me insight and success that I never would’ve achieved if I hadn’t slowed down. We keep hearing the studies and seeing the evidence that being connected all the time is dangerous for us. I experienced first hand just how great it can be when we finally decide to break the pattern and make time for more than just another memo, just another meeting, just another project.