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Overworking, or not working hard enough?

By Jamilah Williams // Dec. 30, 2019

As I sit here writing this, I’m tired. Just getting off one of my two jobs, finding the time between precious sleep and assignment due dates, to reflect on how I got here in the first place.

Artwork by Nadezhda Ryan

When I was at the interview for my first job, I distinctly remember the manager showing me around the restaurant, taking me to meet all my future coworkers, explaining to me how everyone there treated each other like family. This immediately brought me a great deal of comfort and made me excited to work at a place where people truly care about you as a person and not just a worker. But, boy, was I wrong. Being in the workforce, especially in the food industry, you find out very quickly how little being a family means when you’re not willing to sacrifice your health to benefit your employers.

I have been sick to the point of barely being able to stand. I’d cry due to the pain, and my mom would beg me to stay home and rest. I have cried to managers and to fellow coworkers, only for them to turn this moment of vulnerability against me, seemingly mocking me for my need to rest. Somehow, it was my fault. I could have called in earlier, no one could have covered my shift to begin with, etc. And as someone who was young and impressionable when I started working, I was scared of these interactions. I hated the idea of disappointing my superiors and losing the camaraderie— the “family” dynamic that we had. I didn’t want to risk losing my job and sense of security, so I continued to put myself last.

When I finally decided to put myself first, it was towards the last few months of my senior year of high school. My constant overworking was starting to affect my grades, with me barely having time to study and failing because of that. When it was clear that I was deteriorating mentally, I asked my boss to cut my hours to accommodate for my school and proper rest. While I wasn’t surprised at the less-than-eager response from her, I was shocked at how a shift in my schedule affected my status at work, especially from coworkers who I had grown to confide in. All of a sudden, I wasn’t treated the same and passive aggressive comments about my “laziness” kept making their way into conversations.

While I eventually left this job for a better one, these experiences caused me to only truly value myself by how productive and useful I am to others. At the beginning of my first college semester, I made the decision to have two jobs along with being a full-time student for financial reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the security and comfort that both jobs bring me. But maintaining my grades as an honor student on top of that has proven to bring me levels of stress that I’m not sure I can handle at times. And to make myself feel better about working myself too hard at such a young age, I started to make it a point of pride for myself. A “look how hard I work” to counteract the never-ending feeling that I don’t work hard enough. I have begun to justify everything I do with my workload; my extra purchases, my desire to take a nap, my inability to work even more shifts, and all my requested days off, barely convincing myself that I deserve relaxation after working myself to exhaustion every other day. 

Even though I still find myself stuck in the cycle of overworking, I have learned that it’s okay to take the time you need to recenter yourself. And with 2019 coming to a close, here are some of the things I learned about how to do just that:

Plan your days off

I found that when I take the time to plan activities or mini dates for myself, I am much more excited about my off days. This even makes them feel much longer than if I were to just do nothing at home. Some of my favorite things to do on my free days is to go thrifting, to my favorite boba shop, or even plan a mini movie night, complete with plenty of snacks!

Rest is not optional

This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn this year. The breaks you give yourself, whether it’s a day or more, is supposed to help you recover both physically and mentally. These breaks are not optional. They are necessary to make sure you don’t burn out. When looking at your work week, try to dedicate at least one day for resting and relaxing.

Treat yourself like you would a friend

Often times, we tend to be our own harshest critics. For me, that means constantly criticizing myself for even the smallest breaks that I take. However, I noticed that when I would talk to my friends, I was always very forgiving and gentle, pushing them to take the time they need for themselves. From that moment on, I try to ask myself the question: “would I say this if I were [insert friend here]?” This serves as a reminder to always be kind to myself.

Hopefully these tips resonate with you and help you take better care of yourself in the new year :)

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