I recently took a staycation – you know, that unique experience of spending vacation time relaxing at home rather than an exotic locale. I hadn’t done this in years, but the schedules of my wife and daughters did not synch up, so I decided to just stay home.
The idea of lazing around the house for a week was thrilling. I imagined sleeping in 'til ungodly hours, watching too much TV, and eating excessive amounts of chips and salsa.
The reality, however, was more reasonable, involving some long-neglected cleanout projects, cooking a few healthy meals, exercising just about every day, and plenty of uncollected time for reflection, reading and writing.
The break from work gave me enough mental space to slow down, to think in another dimension altogether, like I was now flowing on the current of a gentle river rather than the usual frenetic pace of paddling furiously upstream. That being said, it took me a good three days to stop ruminating about the goings-on at my job, to shrink those seemingly monstrous challenges and lists and mid-stream projects down to size.
Really, my work doesn’t define my life, but stepping back for a minute, I realized that it takes up a noticeably large amount of mental storage capacity. Work has this strange effect of zooming things larger than they really are.
I caught a sobering essay in the New York Times by Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, where she reflects on work-life balance, and the slippery slope that led to her conceding to an all-consuming job prior to her resignation in 2008 during its collapse. “I didn’t start out with the goal of devoting all of myself to my job,” she says. “It just crept in over time.”
I can imagine her initial excitement and pride over a promotion to the top executive spot. People work their whole lives for such influence and responsibility (not to mention, the bonus swag). But it only led to a one-dimensional life, a self-defining rut with no boundaries. Callan puts it rather bluntly: “Work came first before my family, friends and marriage – which ended just a few years later.”
Our careers are important. It takes a great deal of determination and intensity to make a go of it. But at what point do we cross the fine line that moves us from healthy functionality to psychotic obsession? Callan continues, “I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”
Perhaps we are all prone to becoming overly defined by our jobs.
It’s easy to get sucked into weird, irrational thinking when we are consumed by our work, achieving and accomplishing, solving difficult issues. I like my job, I certainly appreciate the income, and I am loyal and devoted to my company, but I wouldn't want my job to overly define me, or my life.
It’s a fine line, people.
Listen: your company is not your life sponsor, your moral compass, or your spiritual advisor. It is simply a place where you are contributing something of value in exchange for a paycheck. Outside of that, it is up to each of us individually to make choices that are healthy and respectful of ourselves, our families, our wholeness.
No one else is going to do that for you.
And then you’ll realize: Your life outside of work is huge.