I grew up in a world where “keeping busy” was a virtue synonymous with “working hard,” a character trait that prevented the deadly sin of slothfulness.
I took this to heart and long before I was old enough to work outside the home it became part of my personality…with unfortunate results. At age 17 I was working about 50 hours per week and going to school full time. Once I graduated from college, I routinely juggled a full time work, overtime, and freelance work (working between 70-80 hours per week) for the next 15 years or so. When I returned to graduate school, I didn’t quit anything – I just added school to the mix.
But at least I was well-off financially, right? Wrong!
This environment of all work and almost no play was unhealthy for me in every possible way. I didn’t have time to spend in the kitchen, so I ate fast-food and junk food nearly all of the time. This was expensive and disastrous for my physical health. I constantly justified running up debt, because I knew I could always just work a few more hours and pay that extra bill. Before I knew it, I was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and cutting back on my hours didn’t seem like an option.
My relationships suffered the most. In my personal relationships, I tended to attract partners who were content to let me work and pay the bills while they did whatever they wanted to do. Then they would complain that I wasn’t spending enough time with them (I wasn’t), and I would completely lose respect for them because in my opinion they were being lazy and whiny. They were, of course, but it was also true that I did’’t have any idea how to stay home and just BE with someone. I didn’t have any experience with that, but I knew how to work, so it was a lot easier for me to play the martyr.
Time off? Time off from one job was just an opportunity to work another. I got up early and worked late, and kept going…going…going. The internet, which should have helped reduce some of my work load added to it, because I was able to work almost round the clock. If I couldn’t sleep at night, I would get up and get on the computer and get some work done.
People come and went – I kept working. People broke my heart – I kept working. I probably broke their hearts – I was too busy working to pay attention.
It took becoming very, very ill – too sick to work very much at all – for me to get a grip on myself and make some changes. I had to simplify everything and give up a lot of stuff that I could no longer afford. I didn’t have to worry about giving up a social life, because that ship had sailed a long time before.
For the first time in my life, I learned how to stop. Just stop.
It was a weird feeling. At first I felt guilty, because I wasn’t “busy” anymore, but I had to get over that. I knew if I didn’t slow down, I wouldn’t be around to do all of this “stuff” anymore. I had to face the realization that no one would really care if the “stuff” got done or not, so it definitely wasn’t worth killing myself over.
Nowdays, I’m quite happy to put in the time I need to get my work done, then stop. Most of us don’t actually work a traditional 9-5 job anymore. However, it’s important to know when to call it a day. As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett wisely sang – it’s 5:00 somewhere. Let’s go.