Fighting the Urge to Give in to American Workaholism

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Just over a week ago, I returned to Atlanta from a seven-day trip to New York City for work. The trip was equal parts fun and equal parts exhausting, with late nights and early mornings. Our mornings required early wake-up calls because of various meetings and engagements on our calendars, but I’ll confess, all of those late nights were on me. Now, the weird thing was that we got back to our hotel rooms early enough for me to get ready for bed and fall asleep at a reasonable time. Say, by 11:00 p.m. at the latest. But sleep was far off — every single night, without fail.

I’ve realized this happens during every work trip I take, no matter if I’m in a huge city like New York or a smaller city like Buffalo. I stay awake later than I intend, and definitely much later than I’d ever allow on a weeknight at home in Atlanta.

It’s a pattern — a pattern that I thought was odd, at first. Until I thought about it some more and recognized this is not a strange pattern at all, for me.

And, here is where I shrug off every ounce of security and pride to become completely vulnerable.

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Last year, I fell into the trap of letting work consume me — letting work consume my life, honestly. I thought I had everything under control. “Yes, things are intense. Yes, my plate is on the verge of spilling over,” I’d tell myself, “But it is still under control, I can still handle it. And it’ll all be better next week.”

Oh, the lies I’d tell to myself and others to keep up appearances — and I believed every one of them (so did everyone else). Too much was happening, too fast. My plate was already spilling over…and over…and over. I placed all of my effort into work without leaving any energy for the people I care about most, let alone for taking care of myself. And I subconsciously looked past all of this because I was in total denial.

It took getting to a very dark and unhappy and lonely place for me to see I was in far too deep. And I knew climbing my way out of that hole to set things straight again and flip my priorities right side up was going to take more than just a simple fix.

Months passed before I felt I’d hit reset and found my new normal — mentally, emotionally and physically. At times, I felt I was making no progress at all. But then slowly, I did. Thankfully.

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With that backstory, it might be easy to see how sleep doesn’t always come quickly when I’m out of town for work. Though I have hit reset and found a new normal, the old habits don’t die. It’s easy to let my guard down, fall into the trap of not detaching from work and ease back into operating out of anxiety — that is, anxiety disguised as adrenaline and excitement.

And when I’m away from the comforts of home, that also means I’m away from my husband and family and friends. Away from the community that keeps me grounded and incessantly reminds me that, while work is hugely important to me, it does not come first on my list of priorities. It does not come above my faith or my husband or my family or my friends.

Again, I do feel a strong difference between my current state and where I was last year, and that’s encouraging. But this isn’t something I’ve fully figured out yet, which is quite evident from my trip to New York. So I continue to push forward, fighting my old habit of giving in to that age-old, infamous, American workaholism.

What about you — do you struggle with this same issue, or have you learned how to avoid succumbing to the pressure of workaholism? If you have advice, leave a comment. I’d love to hear it, as I’m sure many others would!

photo credit: New York via photopin (license)
photo credit: Looking for a fare via photopin (license)
photo credit: asleep via photopin (license)

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5 thoughts on “Fighting the Urge to Give in to American Workaholism

  1. brokenbeatnik says:

    Hey Desiree! I enjoy reading your posts about life and how you are navigating it.
    For me, putting self-care routines into the rhythms of my day help. In particular, I try to make sure my days begin and end the same way and do something for myself during both periods — workouts in the mornings, reading, preferably fiction, at night. I also try to do music work every Tuesday night and am trying to expand the footprint of that, and I make a calendar appointment to do it just like I do for everything else that matters.

    I got to a place where I’m doing more of the right things the hard way, by nearly burning out a few times. Even now, I don’t always succeed, as I’m still trying to get the rhythms together. But when you incorporate that into key parts of your day, that’s something that at least to some degree can travel with you. You seem to enjoy writing and photography, so making sure you have space for that each week may be good. Don’t worry about output, just worry about being in a place where that’s all that you’re concerned about during that time. And don’t feel silly scheduling appointments to be good to yourself.

    On a related note, introspection on what story you’re telling yourself, possibly with the help of a counselor or therapist, can be helpful too. Specifically, what is it that makes you anxious, and what do you fear will happen if you let that anxiety go? Usually, there’s something underneath, some pattern from childhood or something else we picked up along the way that has us locked in to doing things a particular way. The more self-aware you are, the easier it is to benefit from counseling or therapy. It doesn’t mean “something is wrong with you”. If you visit a personal trainer, it’s not because you’re incapable of exercise. It’s just a more efficient way to reach a goal with the help of someone who can help you get on a more direct path.

    • Desiree' Fulton says:

      Corregan, thanks for leaving such a thoughtful comment! It’s great to have wise friends like you to learn from. I love the idea of starting and ending my days the same way — by doing something for myself. If there’s one thing I’ve always been terrible about, it’s been self-care routines. Your suggestion sounds like a nice way to try easing into a routine for myself. I also love what you said about not worrying about output, and instead being focused on being in that positive head space when in the middle of self-care routines. That is so important to just zero in on how wonderful it feels to just be doing something you love, to float away from the day’s stress (and everything else that comes with it). Good point at the end, too, about counseling or therapy!

  2. Erica says:

    I definitely have succumbed to the American workaholism mentality multiple times in my career, and most recently, my old ways have followed me all the way to SE Asia. At this point, I’m trying to take it day by day, and make sure I’m practicing a self-care routine (like going to the gym, reading the Bible, etc.) to restore some balance in my life.

    • Desiree' Fulton says:

      I’m glad that you realized it followed you to Asia and you are trying to restore balance! It’s such a hard habit to break, but I know you can do it. Cheering for you all the way from across the world! And we can hold each other accountable 🙂

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