A little while ago I experienced a unique kind of anxiety. I had to request another bout of medical leave, within a month of coming back from medical leave and I was beside myself.
Taking time off ≠ guilt
I feel a little embarrassed to say this now but I felt guilty about taking time off, especially because I had just gotten back from medical leave. I was cursing myself in my head a little, wondering why these incidents couldn’t have been spaced out a bit more. But, let me tell you the almost full story though so you can get a sense of why this thought process was totally irrational.
I had been scheduled for eye surgery the month before, so I had to take two weeks off to manage that process. Then, a few weeks after that I fell out of the bath (it’s okay if you chuckled, I still don’t know what happened) and had to be put on “mental rest” for two weeks because my doctor was concerned about me having a concussion. There is no way that I should’ve been thinking about anything other than the healing that needed to happen after these two events.
Now, I’ve shared this with you – not only for you to laugh at me falling out of the shower, but – so you can kinda get a first-hand look at how ridiculous it is for us to feel guilty about taking time away from work – especially when it’s not for illness. I have a 2nd cousin (my father’s cousin) who worked at the same place for 40 years and had never taken a sick day. He’s quite an older fellow, and this was a badge of honour for him. Imagine 40 years no sick days and never late for work.
40 years, no sick days and never late for work
Where did we get this idea that we need to be super-glued to our desks? I was going to say married to our jobs, but even marriages can be annulled and you can even get divorced. So our commitment to our busyness at work is a little bit more than that. Every generation looks at the differences between themselves and other generations. Perhaps the first thing that came to mind for you when I mentioned that he worked 40 years without a sick day, was that you would never do that because you would definitely take your sick days. But I think the thread of similarity that we’re overlooking is that we all want to feel like a good employee.
We all want to feel like a great team player, the one people can count on, the one who won’t drop the ball. So while we probably wouldn’t stay at a company for 40 years (because you want to explore options and you have no specific kind of loyalty to a company outside of your benefits and personal development), we would probably work more than 40 hours each week so we don’t look like we’re slacking off.
Say it with me: “a spa day is not self-care”
There is a kind of pressure too for us to prioritize mental health, so we tell ourselves that the 10 minutes each week we spend soaking our feet in a foot spa is our self-care moment. Those 10 minutes of soaking your feet – “self-care” – should help you recharge to take on another 60-70 hour work week?
Self-care is a continuous commitment to taking care of your needs. So it’s great to take a longer break sometimes, to get a manicure or pedicure, to get a massage, but those things on their own do not constitute self-care. Self-care is about taking deliberate, cumulative action to centre your needs. It’s about building a toolkit of resources that will let you know that 60 hours is too much, and that will help you to create boundaries.
What are your values
If we are really committing to self-care practices and to this process of becoming more in tune with ourselves then we need to take a closer look at our values. The things we value most are the things we spend the most time, energy and attention on. So if being rich is important to you, you will be very committed to working hard to increase your income. This is a common story for a lot of us, but if we take a closer look at the value and how we are working towards it, we might see a few gaps. You’re committed to working hard so you can increase your income, so you’ve been working day and night. Drinking energy drinks and multiple cups of coffee to stay awake, ignoring sleep deprivation and exhaustion. This will probably start to feed into other areas of your life – you no longer have time to read, or exercise, or even cook because you’re always on the go. Then, you miss this birthday and that baby shower until your friends stop inviting you out.
Soon you might come to realize that you’re committed to the value and have met the goal within your set timeline…but you’re exhausted, have no one to share this success with, and then just continue diving more into work since it’s the only thing that can have a relationship with. You’re either saying “okay, I see where this is going” or “sis, you took a big leap”, either way I think you get my point. It’s not always obvious how seemingly small things will affect our long-term values and goals.
You don’t want to get to your goal and realize that you can’t enjoy it. What’s the point of achieving your goals if you’re too burnt out, too tired, too caught up with your next thing, to enjoy, to celebrate, or even to just acknowledge the moment?
Now or never
Let’s take a step back.
You need to think about your values. What do you value in this chapter of your life? Take some time also, to rank them. Does your current life match up to that? Are your values and your life in alignment?
Are the ways that you are working; the ways that you are interacting with the world; the ways that you are managing relationships, the ways that you are treating yourself … in alignment with the person you want to become? It always comes back to that because we get this one life and these 350+ days each year to work towards a better version of ourselves. Why start tomorrow when you can start today?
I know you’ve heard this one before – “dress for the job you want”. The sentiment is the same. We know you don’t have the life you want just yet, but why not start preparing yourself for it. So start to be the person who does not feel bad about taking sick days and vacation days today. You probably wouldn’t have taken this job without the benefit package, so use the benefits that you agreed to. Work within your allotted hours, manage your boundaries (you don’t have to say yes to every task), and schedule time off as much as you can.