In today’s competitive work environment, some people work 50 hours a week or more and still feel like slackers. This is true whether economic times are good or bad. In bad times we feel driven to work hard to avoid being laid off; in good times, the drive is to succeed and get ahead.
Are you working to live or living to work?
That question can be particularly important for gay men and women, who often channel extra energy into their careers. Success on the job can be particularly important for us – a way to demonstrate our worth in a world that’s often homophobic. It’s not unusual for people who feel part of a minority to feel additional pressure to prove themselves good enough. Putting in extra hours at the office can also be a way some people try to overcome self-doubt.
How do you know if work is taking over your life? Sometimes the answer is obvious: you feel irritable, burned out and unhappy, for instance, or you find yourself spending Sunday dreading the thought of Monday morning. Or worse: you’re in the office on Sunday! If you haven’t had a vacation in a year or two, you’re probably out of balance. If you’re putting in such long hours that you’ve given up dating in favor of a quick hookup over the internet, that’s probably a clue as well.
Changing the situation means coming to grips with a difficult truth: the person in charge of your life is you. Having a slave driver for a boss doesn’t change the equation. We’re talking about your life here. So how do you go about creating more balance?
Take stock of your life, no excuses allowed. If work is taking too big a chunk out of your life, what other parts are getting short-changed? Notice if your relationships are suffering. Sometimes work creates a convenient excuse for avoiding intimacy.
Decide what success looks like for you. Too many of us think of getting ahead only in terms of job advancement or making more money. What else do you value: friends, a partner, music, doing something creative, traveling or enjoying your home life? If you value something but spend little time pursuing that pleasure, you’re life is going to be out of whack.
Learn to compartmentalize. Giving 100% on the job is fine, but when you leave your work place, let it go. Spending a lot of time thinking about work when you’re on your own time – answering email, checking voicemail, texting – means you’re not getting the sort of downtime necessary to avoid burn out.
Fight perfectionism. Wanting to excel is fine, but the perfectionist loses perspective and needs to do everything, well, perfectly, even if the task at hand isn’t all that important. Sometimes “good enough” can liberate you to spend energy and time on what you truly value rather than wasting time on stuff that is ultimately not all that important.
Learn to say no. You’re not Superman; stop acting like him. Taking on an endless supply of new projects when you can’t adequately deal with what’s already on your plate may make you feel like a great employee, but you’re letting yourself down.
Reserve time in your schedule for people and events that are important to you. Whether it’s working out, rehearsing with the Gay Men’s Chorus or making dinner for your partner, your life is going to be richer if you make time for what’s important for you.
Consider the place of beauty in your life. Do you make time to listen to music, create or enjoy art, dance, cook or otherwise do something just because it attracts and stimulates your senses? What kind of a life will you have if all your efforts are only utilitarian?
Still have a problem? Consider a job change. Changing to a new line of work may seem drastic, but not enjoying your life is actually a much bigger deal. If you can’t make a change right now, start planning for a change for the not-too-distant future. It’s up to you to decide what’s most important in your world.
© John R. Ballew
John R. Ballew, M.S. author & contributor to GAYTWOGETHER, is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. He specializes in issues related to coming out, sexuality, relationships and spirituality. If you have any questions or comments you can submit them directly to GAYTWOGETHER or John R. Ballew, M.S. - www.bodymindsoul.org. or at (404) 874-8536.