Nicole Law sees the danger in a life of workaholism.
Maybe you’ve heard of The Great Resignation Wave – a steady stream of employees handing in their notice following the pandemic. Some cite longer working hours, poor workplace welfare and a sense of stagnation as reasons for their decision to quit one job and start anew.
I found the latter reason fascinating – it’s like a collective existential crisis or reordering of life’s priorities. Had the pandemic not occurred, many people who were working in unfulfilling jobs might not have felt the impetus to make a change or to venture out on their own.
The pandemic has led to significant job losses as companies worldwide have downsized in the immediate fallout of the global economic slowdown. Yet, it has also forced us to slow down, take a closer look at what work means to us and led us to reflect more deeply on what really is important to us.
While losing one’s job may be a disaster for some, others have chosen voluntarily to take a break from the rat race and to re-evaluate their personal priorities. There is much value in this ‘great reckoning’ that we are experiencing which is helping us become more objective about work itself.
Without proper boundaries, the trend of workaholism continues to rise.
Workers clock in in the morning, work without lunch breaks hunched over their desks and leave the office only when night has set in. This proves unhealthy in the long run as we attach our self-worth and purpose to our work.
The work itself consists of a set of tasks and responsibilities we are entrusted with and there is great value in doing it well. We put in appropriate amounts of effort and time to ensure our work is completed to a high standard and we take pride in getting the job done well. The danger lurks when this satisfaction morphs into a toxic cycle of deriving affirmation from the quality of our work. We then become enslaved by the work, instead of stewards of it!
I like the metaphor of the steward because the primary function of a steward is to undertake the required responsibilities entrusted to him or her well. The steward can and should draw a clear line between work and his or her larger identity – the ‘why’ of his/her life. If our self-worth is intrinsically linked to our work, then critical feedback or a difficult task may send us into a spiral of negative emotions.
The key here is a healthy detachment from work and a willingness to accept ‘the best I can do’ instead of searching for the mythical standards of the ‘perfect’. Over this pandemic period, many of us have taken a step back from the hustle culture and started to consider the larger question of ‘why’.
We have also re-discovered other aspects of life which we learned were even more valuable than work and in some ways more demanding: time at home with one’s family, seeing one’s children grow and not just sleep, cultivating friendships, and positive leisure.
Work is important, there’s no doubt about that: it develops us as persons, brings out our talents and virtues, and helps build up society.
But perhaps the pandemic has taught us that we work to live not live to work.
Those big questions relating to our purpose in life are open-ended and never truly find a conclusive answer. Yet, maybe these are the questions we should be asking. And maybe now is the time to be asking them.
It might have needed a pandemic for us to truly slow down a little, take a look around and realise there is more to life than churning out reports, sending emails and being ‘online’ all the time.
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