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The Epidemic of Overwork: When Saying "No" Is Really Saying "Yes"

It took my whole life for me to get to this point. The point where I say "no" to opportunity more often than I say "yes". Overwork has been a consistent pattern in my life. I'm constantly involved in more things than I can handle. Most of you who know me probably think that I can handle anything and everything because on the outside, I succeed at almost everything I do. Whatever I set my mind to, I achieve. But those I'm closest with know that my methods wreak havoc on my psyche. Truthfully I'm a person who needs a lot of alone time and self care in order to be happy and healthy. I strongly believe that there are SO MANY PEOPLE who are with me on this one. It's so easy, living in the western world, to fight to keep up. We seem to value hard work but our definition of "hard work" is warped. Those who work long hours, multiple jobs, and drop everything for their bosses/professors are praised and rewarded. In the process of pursuing our version of "success", we've lost respect for ourselves- and our lives have become less mindful and more divisive and messy.

In contemplating how I got here, and why I keep repeating the same mistakes, I discovered that my sense of worth was built from others' definitions of success. As a child who was expected to go to college, my worth seemingly hinged on obtaining acceptance in a program of my choice. To be valuable to a college/university, I had to get good grades, obtain leadership roles in a wide variety of extracurriculars, volunteer, and score well on the ACT or SAT. So, I did what I needed to do- despite my emotional and physical needs. To get "A"s rather than "B"s I stayed up past midnight several nights a month even though I was exhausted. To get lead roles in the theatre scene, I sucked up to drama teachers, took vocal lessons, and learned to cry on cue by thinking of my father's close call with death. Most school days I had a full day of school followed by rehearsal until 7:30, then homework, and went to bed. I was involved in choir, drama, student government, student activism, the honors society, spanish club, AP classes, all while trying to just grow up and be well adjusted! By the time I was out of high school.......I WAS EXHAUSTED!!!!! But, I felt I was a good person because I volunteered, because I got lead roles, because I was activity chair of student government, because of all these ....titles!!! All the while, I cried almost every day, napped profusely, worked out maniacally, and started on antidepressants when I was a junior in high school.

I couldn't even see myself going to college the next fall. I spent a year volunteering with Americorps instead. I knew I needed time to learn to be happy. When I arrived at my volunteer site, it was my first time being away from home and my first time surrounded by people who didn't know me. They were unaware of my accomplishments and had nothing to judge me on.....nothing to help them decipher that I was a decent human being except my words and actions. That's when I realized I was more than just my accomplishments. During that time, I became aware of my "self".

I wish I could say that I didn't repeat my high school mistakes in college, but, I did sacrifice my happiness (once again) for good grades, for a relationship, and for awards and "honors". And on the outside, it still seemed like I was "succeeding". I graduated with a 3.7, a major and two minors, was on the executive board of 3 student organizations, and was a member of the honors program. Little did my peers know- I was crumbling. I did find yoga during that time, and at the end of college, I met my now husband and got off of antidepressants. There were definitely victories. But when I got into the working world, I found my way back into that old pattern. Even recently, I worked a day job while studying for the GRE, applying to grad school, AND running and expanding my own business.

I often hear "Good for you!! Do it while you are young!! When you get older you won't have this energy!" People, we have got to stop praising overwork!!! We have to stop judging ourselves based on shallow things like money, job titles, and good marks. I'm saying this as much to myself as I am to you. More broadly, organizations have to get more vigilant about getting to know their applicants and employees instead of looking solely at outward achievements. A resume will never describe who you are as a human.

As a yoga teacher, I hear people say, all the time, that they feel guilty coming to yoga or going and getting the massage, or taking the time to go to the gym, when they could be at home taking care of their kids or grandkids (when they are already there with them all day!!) or they could be using that money for a wedding, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! The fact is, we can't provide the same quality of care to others if we don't take care of ourselves first. I can't be as good of a yoga teacher if I don't take time to practice on my own. I can't be a good wife, if I don't provide myself time to decompress. I can't be healthy if I'm always giving my energy to others. That's why over the past year and a half, I slowly shifted things in my life. I said no to working at other studios and gyms and consolidated my teaching to one space. I quit teaching so often and started offering more workshops and special trainings instead. I spent more time exploring with my husband than going over to friends houses every other night. I asked myself what makes me the happiest and healthiest long term, and then I followed my own instincts and designed my own life. I feel more aligned with my mission and it's only bringing me more opportunity, more choice.

I'm not done with my transformation though. Right now, I still work an average of 60 hours a week and my body hurts and I have less time with my husband than I'd like. I'm committing to change RIGHT. NOW. To make my life even happier. Will you join me?!

Sit down and write out the things you do that serve you and those that don't, and find a way (there is ALWAYS a way) to cut out or cut down on the things that don't serve you and to draw in the things that do. Some changes you can make in this moment and some take planning and time. I'd love to hear about your changes. Writing them out or speaking them out loud will only help actualize it!


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