When Work Becomes a Problem
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
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I've noticed something intriguing while sitting with young professionals in San Francisco for psychotherapy and counseling. People are spending longer hours at work- but not for the reason you might think. You may surmise that people are working excessively to pay for the outrageously high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. But that's not the case for many large company and high tech Millennials. These folks are staying late at the office for an entirely separate reason: to feel valued.
It makes sense that we would derive some sense of meaning and purpose from work, however, many people have a hard time identifying ways they are valuable as a person beyond how well they perceive they are doing in their job.
So why does this cause a problem? It becomes an issue when someone's self-esteem lies in the hands of bosses, colleagues, and work milestones. This is because when work isn't going so well, or while someone is not working, they might feel worthless or unable to enjoy other aspects of life. Simply said: happiness is work-dependent. This keeps people hooked into over-working, work addiction and often feeling a sense of failure or fraudulency.
So how do we begin to remedy this? If you find yourself in this spiral, think about other aspects of yourself that you value in you (or that others value in you). Examples: I am a kind/observant/resilient/humble/empathetic/natural/thoughtful/hilarious/quirky/honest/sarcastic/adventurous/family-oriented/independent/curious person. These are just a few possible adjectives about what makes up a personality. Do these attributes get "credit" as being valuable? Another thing to think about are the other "roles" you play in your life. Are you a sister/animal lover/brother/crafter/uncle/avid reader/father/singer/mother/traveler/fun conversationalist/son/daughter/writer/environmentalist/volunteer/explorer/artist/someone who enjoys the simple things? Do these other roles get credit? Do they matter? Or is work the only thing that "earns points" in our human experience?
It's clearly much more complex than this, but the first step is recognizing if you find your self-esteem mostly in what you do for work. Expanding the idea of how you value yourself can be powerful and life-affirming. I'll leave you with a few questions to check-in about whether or not work is a bigger force in your life than you realize:
1) You've slowly increased your work hours before and/or after your typical work day.
2) Even though you say you want to "cut back" on work, you find yourself spending the same amount of time or even more time working.
3) You're trying to find ways to make more time for work by skipping or skimping on your usual exercise routine, grocery shopping trips or art projects. You notice you've begun to sleep less hours, eat more snacks instead of meals and are spending less time with friends/family/or partners because you're totally tapped out and have no energy left over.
4) You're feeling exhausted or less healthy.
5) People in your life have noticed that you're working too much and suggest that you work less, but you're resisting their suggestion.
If you find yourself in this picture, you're a part of a huge group of professionals in San Francisco. And there are alternative ways to approach your work and life- especially when you've noticed it's become a problem