My name is Andrew Savage and I’m a workaholic. They say the first step to solving any problem is admitting that you have one. So, there it is, that has been my addiction for the past six years. As I’ve stated before, I am a proud public school teacher and there is nothing that I would not do or any sacrifice that I would not make for my students. So there is the heart of my workaholism. My sense of guilt that if I don’t devote every minute of every day to the job that I am letting my students down. Regularly, I would work after school from 3pm until about 6pm. One night I was even ambitious enough to work until 8pm. All of these hours plus the hour and a half commute would lead to exhaustion, which would linger for the rest of the evening and sometimes carry over into the very next day.
Work took over my life in other ways as well. My social life became an outlet for which I would take every opportunity to talk about work. Most of my Friday nights were spent with friends from work and colleagues who would often take their problems from the office and dwell on them at the bar. There’s nothing wrong with venting to some trusted work friends on a Friday night after a long week but those complaints would take up space in my brain even after the night was over and my weekend would be clouded in negativity and angst. I spent eighty percent of my time talking about work and the other 20% hoping someone would bring it up so I could talk about it more. I would talk about work to anyone who would listen despite seeing the obvious boredom and frustration on the faces of my friends and family who were forced to endure my sorted tales of school politics in the largest school system in the country.
For a long time, I thought this would be the new normal of being a teacher in the 21st century. I accepted it. I found myself unable to turn off even during evenings and weekends. Then, last year, a fellow teacher friend of mine told a simple truth that resonated with me. She said, “I never realized how much I talked about work until it hits me mid conversation. In fact, 90 percent of what I talk about with friends and family is work related.” It suddenly hit me: Fulfillment is truly realized when all aspects of life are nurtured. This was the beginning of finding the balance between work and life that I was lacking for so long.
By coming to this realization, I have finally been able to more evenly split my focus from work to spending more time with friends and family, finding love, and taking care of myself by eating better and exercising more regularly. I have also found the time to pursue other passions such as writing and getting back into the local political arena. Nurturing all of these parts of my life has not only been personally fulfilling but has also made me a more conscious and dedicated working professional. My students get the best out of me because I get to be myself and they get all of me when they walk into my classroom.
However, realizing this balance did not come easy. Some steps that I took to restore this balance were simple. For one thing, I reduced the amount of Friday night venting sessions I take part in. I still go out and have fun with my work friends and colleagues but they are fewer and far between as to not have work take up too much space in my head throughout the weekend. Second, I have stopped reading and responding to work related emails after work hours are over. To paraphrase Bill Maher, there was a time where if your boss needed something, they’d have to wait until they saw you the next day to let you know. Don’t let the fear of being fired or competition from a colleague drive you away from things that are important like your friends, family, or a significant other. The issue will be there when you walk through the door in the morning. Leave it be until then.
Finally,I have learned to leave work issues at work.. In years past, I have overanalyzed every task and every conversation I had during my workday with a Law and Order SVU detective’s precision only to discover that worrying about a work related issue never made it go away nor did it ever produce anything meaningful. It was simply much time and energy spent on doing nothing. So in the words of a phrase I saw on a coffee cup in the Poconos last summer, “Just let that shit go!” It is beneficial to the mind, body, and soul if you do.
If you need to restore your work life balance, do it now. It is too important to leave for another day. To quote Bill Maher, “we once went to work to make a living and then went home to actually live.” We have to be our full authentic selves by giving ourselves time to make sure all parts of our lives get the attention that they deserve. Part of my own journey has been the recognition that going out on a weeknight with some friends or leaving work at the scheduled time does not make me any less dedicated as a teacher and that my students will not suffer for it. The quality of our work actually becomes better when we recognize that in order to do our jobs well, we have to live our fullest and best lives.
So to all of my fellow workaholics: put down the phone. Reply to that email in the morning. Stop obsessing over that conversation with a coworker or client. It will all work out and everything will be fine. Enjoy your family! Revel in that workout! Have that weeknight drink with the friend you haven’t caught up with in a while! Read that book you’ve been itching to read! You’ll be a better person and professional for it!