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

April 4, 2018

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".