Welcome! I hope you are doing awesome today.
This article is inspired by the seminar material I’ve been creating on the topics of Work-Life Integration. Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of inspirational books that talk about how fear is a learned response and not the natural state.
I think I started to learn fear about work and work products in the first and second grade. In the first few years of school, when I was between 6 and 8, my fear of failure started to become very deeply rooted.
I remember a very traumatic event with my second grade teacher — we had flip-top desks where we kept our work, paper, pencils, and art supplies. My desk had become full and disorganized. It was pretty much a mess. The teacher came by one time when I had the desk open and saw how disorganized the desk was. She became very angry. She flipped the desk over, dumping the contents out onto the floor, the entire time yelling at me about how messy it had become.
This sunk deep into me. This, and other times throughout school, where I was criticized, publicly humiliated, and degraded by students and faculty emphasized how critical the world was, and how to remain safe, you had to do what was required by others. I do think that while the desk-tossing event was pretty dramatic, my personal experience in school districts is not unique. I think I had a pretty normal and average experience in school. However, this article it not meant to be about improving our schools, which I greatly believe is a great and worthy subject, but instead to help understand how deep the roots of the work-life balance struggle can be.
Every term of school brought a new opportunity to fear the final grades. As I progressed and improved in school, it became ingrained in me how important those deadlines were. Whenever I would focus on other things, or fall behind, the grades would remind me of how important it was to make the deadlines and to ignore my personal problems and needs to maintain my success at school. No matter the circumstances, I had to complete the work before time ran out. When I went into the workplace, I took this knowledge with me.
Therefore, I had very little work-life balance when I entered the workforce.
As I completed college, got married, and started my career, I was very clear on one thing — I would not let hard work stop me from success. This belief led me to many successes. I earned my stripes in the workplace and started to succeed. Soon I found myself running projects and establishing myself as a “go-to” guy. Everything I worked on had hard deadlines with high expectations of our success.
I developed strategies that enabled me to use my work-hard attitude to help management achieve their priorities despite mistakes that would have made things impossible under healthy workloads. I learned to turn projects around and obtain success when it seemed hard or impossible. I over-committed myself to management so they would understand how dedicated I was. I managed and ran more and more projects, working ever harder to achieve their success despite the sacrifices to my health and family. I chastised teams, belittled people, and pushed hard when things went wrong. I took on anything that came to me in an attempt to “fix” what was wrong so I could get recognized. I let go all personal boundaries, hobbies, and health practices to support my work addiction.
That was until one day, after having a panic attack, I was listening to my dad speak. He was talking in front of a group at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He said, “My life has been about learning to be honest.”
That sunk deep into me. This and other times throughout my life, I had been reminded that the truth would set me free. This started me on a path of owning my capability and changing my strategies. Today I have a good work-life integration and balance because I unlearned those fears and trained myself to use new strategies for success at work while keeping my life in balance.
I owe it all to getting outside of my own thinking, finding guides, coaches, and wayshowers who taught me that who I am is more important than what I do, that being is living without fear in the moment, and that expanding my skills and capabilities and gaining accomplishments is meant to be fun.
Today I am excited to work and live in healthy, productive ways. I hope that you are doing well and today is a day of joy for you.