Are you frequently exhausted when you come home from the office? Do you resent how much time you spend at work? Do you worry that you are neglecting the rest of your life? Do the weekends – when you get to have them – feel like recovery time rather than discovery time? In my private practice I hear a lot about the pain of work overtaking life.
Life can feel hopeless and meaningless when all you do is work, eat, commute, and do your laundry.
Research has documented that employers are asking more and more of their employees, that people are working much longer hours, and that technologies like email and mobile devices have kept us on the clock on evenings and weekends.
In spite of the quickening pace of most of our work lives, some people are able to maintain more of a balance between work and play. How do they manage that? Do you hold any fears that make achieving balance more difficult?
The Need to Please
Some of my LGBTQ therapy clients once believed that their work situation was uniquely hopeless and that there was no way they could reduce their overwhelming work load and stress. However, when we began to take a deeper look at their beliefs and habits, we often found that their pressure was exacerbated by an overdeveloped need to please their bosses.
All successful employees need to meet their boss’s expectations at some level. But some of us may distort what our supervisors really expect of us due a heightened internal pressure to be perfect or pleasing.
Yes, sometimes the boss is truly unreasonable, overly aggressive, or vindictive. If these words describe your boss you may need to ramp up your job hunt. However, more commonly, we are afraid to set some reasonable limits with our jobs because of our own fears.
Boss as Parent
Viewing our male bosses as our fathers and our female bosses as our mothers is widespread. Managers do hold power over us and they can easily evoke our childhood experience of trying to please the first powerful adults we ever loved: our parents. This underlying internal issue can lead to chronic overwork.
If you compete with your colleagues for your boss’s approval you may be triggering early experiences of vying with your siblings for your parents’s attention.
All children seek the approval and love of their parents. At an evolutionary level there is a great benefit to bonding with parents since we are dependent upon their goodwill to obtain basic safety throughout our childhood. On an emotional level, their approval is necessary to develop our first sense of self-esteem.
As an adult you probably no longer need your parents for food and safety. But you may have developed a habit of seeking their approval. And if your parents were stingy with praise when you were a child, you might have an inner hunger and unmet need for their acceptance.
What Can You Do?
Here are some suggestions to help you move towards experiencing greater balance between your work and the rest of your life:
- To motivate yourself to set limits at the office, it helps to have a compelling internal reason to do something besides work. Take a walk or sit with your journal and think about what else is as important to you as your job. Do you want more time and energy to find a partner? Are you longing to pursue your passion for reading, art, or travel? Need more space to get healthier with exercise and better food? Explore what is deeply satisfying to you.
- Once you know why you want to work less, use this vision to support your efforts at saying no. Employees with children learn how to say no to employers in part because they have a compelling reason: their children won’t survive if they don’t leave the office to care for them. Hold your own vision as compelling as you would a child: your vision will die if you don’t leave the office to take care of it.
- Start tracking your relationship with approval. Are you holding a conversation in your head with your parents or boss, imagining that they are evaluating you on an hourly basis?? When do you (or don’t you) give yourself your own approval?
- We all grow best by taking small steps. Start with one that seems doable. For example, shave off a half hour of your extra time at work and see what happens. Does the company go bankrupt? Are you fired? Chances are the negative consequences are non-existent or much smaller than you feared.
- As fear begins to rise, remind yourself what is true. Practice telling yourself the truth over and over again and eventually it will become an ingrained belief. Here are some affirming statements that may be true for you:
- My boss is involved in their own life and is not tracking every thing I do.
- It is statistically very unlikely that I will be demoted for not spending another Sunday afternoon at the office.
- My employer will benefit if I come to work rested, relaxed, and unresentful.
- Life is short and I deserve to have a full life outside of work.
- My parents are not living my life: I am living my life.
Perhaps you’ve heard this before: on their deathbed no one wishes they had spent more time at the office. You can come to your rescue by reasserting the value of your own free time.