No Working Professional Can Be a Super-Human Forever
Someone once told me “where normal people see free time and look forward to relaxing, you see free time and think, ‘what can I fill that with?’” That was not exactly a compliment and, unfortunately, remained true for a long time. In fact, I am still working on it. Whenever I had some precious time off from work, it used to take me forever to switch into vacation mode. Thankfully, now I can enjoy myself and not feel like every moment is a stressful rat race towards getting ahead. There are some ways to help yourself manage everything without overdoing it. There is a time and place for going full-steam ahead, but we weren’t made to run that way forever.
If you are anything like me, then I can already hear the protests. Sure, we may admit lightening the load would be great in theory, but we believe that we’re the exception. Trust me, I get that.
Yes, it is good to keep ourselves occupied, but we shouldn’t do so at the point of making ourselves and those around us miserable. Admitting when you’ve reached a tipping point can be hard to do. If you run yourself ragged then you will be unable to get to where you want to go in the first place. An overbooked schedule can turn projects and career-goals from exciting to burdens. If you get demoralized and over-stretched you will be giving as little of yourself as possible to everything — yourself, your family, your work, your faith if you are religious. Everything you do will suffer and be of poor quality.
We all want to land that dream job or find the next big thing. There is a time and place for that. If we don’t have the money for graduate school, but we need an advanced degree to land the job we want, then we’ll work during the day and take classes at night. Been there, done that. It isn’t great, but it is doable and worth it. The catch, however, is that your period of “too much” has to end at some point. Breaks and leaning on your support networks will get you through the overwhelming times. But once you’ve finally got your foot in the door to where all that stress was supposed to get you, give it a rest.
There is something both dreadful and exhilarating in trying to do everything—to be a superman or woman who manages a beyond-normal amount of responsibilities. Folks in the Washington, DC, area are especially good at that. I tried to plan my own wedding, finish my master’s program, switch jobs, and move all at the same time. Saying that was not fun is an understatement. I ended up dropping the thesis and choosing a different route to complete my degree. I did manage to change jobs and find a new apartment. My church family went beyond the call of duty in setting up and running the wedding — something that I am forever grateful for because they had to put up with last-minute weather and vendor problems. My wife and I also had help moving into our new place.
Most people physically cannot run low on sleep for extended periods of time. Most people can also not handle a high degree of demands and stress without it damaging their health and mood. In the long run, you have to give yourself breaks and practice saying no. Another opportunity might be a good one, but it might not be the right timing. For example, after I finished the AF Writing Fellowship I considered what I might fill those evenings with. The possibilities were tantalizing — starting a podcast, writing more often, finding another fellowship. But then I reflected that I really didn’t like getting home so late and that there were more important priorities. Being with my wife, reading a good book away from screens, and calling home were and are all better uses of that time.
So, if you are in the trenches, keep pushing towards your dream. Just know that your dreams cannot come true if you exhaust yourself trying to get there. You have to function and take care of yourself first. But when you do get to where you are trying to go, understand that it is okay, and important, to lighten the load. Enjoy yourself and reprioritize what is important — a job is not your life or the value of who you are.