Working and Living

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A little over three months ago I was on the verge of burn out. I love my work and had used that as an excuse to overwork myself. Afterall, if you love what you do how can you really complain about doing it a lot? Well, of course the lesson of moderation struck me again. November rolled around and I was seeing a whole month go by without a full day off. Not only had I become less tolerant and cranky, but my physical health began to suffer. Most of us realize at some point that if we don’t consciously make the decisions to care for ourselves than our bodies will make it so we don’t have a choice.

Luckily, working for myself, I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. Once I recognized what was happening I immediately cut my schedule back. I had to make some extremely difficult decisions to let go of some teaching positions that meant a lot to me. I discontinued the NAMI Yoga program, quit teaching for the Shanti Yoga School, gave up my class at Health & Welfare and cut my Ophidia studio classes by more than half. I cut my work schedule by a third and it was the best decision I have made in years!

I was afraid of the financial challenge of working less, but more frightening was the change in my sense of self-identity. Through the first month after cutting back I felt a bit lost and admit to turning to food and television for comfort. The comfort was short-lived and I soon began to embrace my new schedule. All of a sudden I had time to slow down and pay attention to the details of life again. I slowly began to let go of that constant sense of urgency and to breathe a bit more deeply. Sleep became more restful, food tasted better and my creativity began to flow.

Three months later and I am feeling alive and strong. I have almost completed a huge collaborative artistic undertaking and feel my sense of self firmly intact. Just like our rituals of spring cleaning and seasonal yard clean-up, so too our professional lives need the cobwebs blown out from time to time. Hopefully it does not always have to mean drastic changes. A light ‘tidy-up’ can sometimes be all that is needed to make a huge impact. I have never failed to gain benefit from revisiting my priorities and making subtle changes to my daily habits. It is the small habits we engage in everyday that end up defining the bigger picture of our lives.

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Published in: on February 28, 2013 at 2:13 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Good for you. Glade to hear all is well, you have been missed.

    Namaste,
    Don

  2. Angela, what specific steps would you recommend for someone who works a stressful job with long hours, but he is not able to make significant changes? The stress of my job is definitely taking a toll on my health.

    I would very much like to cut my work schedule but am not sure how to go about doing that since I have a career position that makes it unfeasible. Student loans, mortgage and car payments make it financially impractical without a radical shift in lifestyle. I am lucky enough to have a secure job with good health benefits, which my wife and I rely on since we both have conditions that require expensive medications.

    My wife is self-employed and pursuing her passions, which makes both of us happy. She does not have health benefits or a retirement plan, however. Luckily my job provides both. But my job is extremely stressful at times. And several years of increasing stress, I too feel like I am losing my identity. And like you, I think it would probably take at least a month to rediscover myself if I had time to think and relax.

    I would venture to say, most people in the world would like to cut their work down and clean out the cobwebs, as you say. But most people, self-employed or otherwise do not have the luxury of cutting their workload by 1/3—or by 1/5 or even 1/10 because they are in positions like mine, or positions a lot less privileged and more stressful.

    In today’s financial market especially, people are asked to work harder than ever to maintain the financial viability of the company that employs them. For many with career positions like mine, seeking another job is not an option, either. Companies aren’t hiring—and if you do find another job, it will likely come at the cost of a significant pay cut and you will end up working just as hard.

    Like you, I would like to have the time to engage in my creative side. I would really like to publish a book, but it’s all I can do every day just to do my professional job and take care of my family and make time to see my friends now and then.

    What you recommend? I am doing yoga once or twice a week, I eat mostly organic food and I do my best get a good night’s sleep. I am working to incorporate other healthy habits as best I can, but it’s hard to do more as I am working 50-60 hours a week. I feel tense and anxious a lot of the time because I feel trapped as time is passing by. How do I bring my life into better balance?

    • Mahuan,
      The reality for many people is that they financially cannot afford to work less. With this said, I believe it is important to avoid ‘all or nothing’ thinking. The answer may not lie in quitting your job completely or accepting it as it is. It sounds like you have made many healthy lifestyle choices, which are bound to improve your quality of life. Your next step is to figure out how to have a healthier work life. You are currently working 50-60 hours a week. It will be important for you to evaluate the cost of continuing to work that many hours and whether or not you can begin to pull back. Often employers will pile way more work on an employee than is humanly possible to complete in the designated timeline. The idea is not that the pile of work will ever get completed, but that you will work yourself to death trying. Up to 40% of the cost of an employee is their benefit package; therefore it is in an employer’s financial best interest to get as much work done with as few employees as possible. This information can help you keep in mind your employers motivations when they pressure you to work more. Even cutting back your hours by 30-60 minutes a day can have a positive impact. Balance for one person will not look the same as balance to someone else. Only you can determine whether your daily time commitments align with your priorities.

      Whether it is possible for you to cut your hours or not, it is going to be extremely important for you to begin to address your relationship with your job. Understanding what your job means to your sense of self identity and self esteem will help guide you to finding greater balance. Become mindful of your self-talk. Negative self-talk will perpetuate anxiety, hopelessness and a sense of disempowerment. This is where meditation can be very powerful. Meditation is an opportunity to witness our mind in its fluctuations and a time to practice playing the role of non-judgmental observer. With time and practice we can learn to see the link between external events, our interpretations and self-talk and finally our feelings and reactions. Empowerment comes once we see that the link between our external world and our feelings is our interpretations. We have some control to change our interpretations and therefore we have some control over how our external circumstances make us feel.

      I am not claiming this is easy or that I have perfected it. But I am claiming that we can empower ourselves to make positive change in our lives even if we have little power to change our external circumstances. In my experience once we begin to work on our interpretations and reactions to the world our external world will begin to change for the better. Thousands of years of yogic practices back me on this discovery. What you have ahead of you is a long and complex journey, but one very worth embarking on…after all we are talking about your life.

      Some reading that might help provide some guidance:
      1. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by C. K. Germer PhD and S. Salzberg
      2. The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by E. J. Bourne PhD (Jan 2, 2011) (specifically the chapters on Self-talk and Mistaken Beliefs)
      3. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment–and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Dec 28, 2011)


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