If you’re like me you want to do the best you can at everything you set your mind to. This is especially so in my career. From what I knew, no one gets to where they want to go without putting in the hard yards. I knew this from a young age and I have never been afraid of working hard for what I want. I think this is what has often given me the edge. I wasn’t smarter or better than anyone else, I was just prepared to push myself further and it was mainly a battle of stamina and will power.
Therefore, I applied this theory to my working life and every day I pushed a bit harder and went a bit further. This was a good thing. I was enthusiastic and optimistic, so I enjoyed the long hours. I felt like I was fast tracking my dream and this was extremely motivating. While everyone else seemed to be dropping out of the ‘race’ I continued to metaphorically ‘win’. The more I worked, the more this positively reinforced the behaviour. And so it spiralled.
Fast forward 3 years and it was normal for me to be formally working 70 hour weeks. This didn’t include checking my phone intermittently throughout the night and responding to emails at 3am. Or holding a strategic planning meetings in my own head at 4am, when I couldn’t stop thinking about the day ahead. Now I know there are many people who work more hours than I, but this was too much for this working mother to take on, especially when I wasn’t a business owner. I would later learn that there would be no return on my investment.
By this point I was exhausted and unmotivated. However, I had set the expectation to my bosses, my staff and to external parties that I would be available at any time and I could do what they needed me to do at a whim. While others went home to their families and turned off from the world, I went home from work literally, permanently attached to my smartphone or laptop. Picking up my child from care with my face in my phone. Meetings with my bosses via Bluetooth in the car (with child on the back seat). Cooking dinner while on a conference call. Then pulling out the laptop and starting my next post-child’s bedtime shift. Literally, I was giving every spare second of my life to the organisation….and inevitably, not to the people in my life who care about me back.
When you give yourself to an organisation to such an extent, it almost feels as though the organisation becomes a part of your family. Of course there is a professional level of separation, but it’s what you begin to tell yourself to make everything ok in your mind. They must see and really appreciate your level of dedication, commitment and personal sacrifice for the good of the organisation and all the people who work there. Only an insane person would give 70 hours a week without thanks, for a bunch of people who do not care about them! Of course they cared about me as much as I cared about them…..because otherwise it would be unfathomably painful to comprehend. It would make me a complete moron and I was working tirelessly to prove that I was the in fact exact opposite. I was a strong and capable young, female manager after all.
Well my friends, the love wasn’t reciprocated. When I bravely stepped forward and stated that I couldn’t continue to keep giving at the rate I was and respectfully asked to be cut some slack, everything changed. I had simply requested to adhere to a 40 hour work week for a while so I could focus on my family and this started a cascade of exclusion tactics which I was not prepared for. I was cut out of the organisational family. Not directly, that would open them up to litigation. But in a hurtful debarring way, where you are suddenly not invited to meetings you would have normally been featuring in. No longer invited to grab a coffee on the regular morning coffee run. Not told about items of organisational significance you would normally be the person directed to disseminate. Sarcastic comments were being thrown around like, “her priorities are different now and she’s focusing on her family“, which I can confirm was as I imagined it to be; unfathomably painful to comprehend.
I had become a shell of myself and when I asked for help because I no longer had the energy to keep pouring into the organisational bucket, I was cast out into the cold. I had been used and I had been a willing participant. I felt naked, vulnerable and like a complete and utter fool. Everything I have worked hard to be the opposite of. I had been shown that the organisation didn’t love me as much as I loved the organisation…..not even close. The organisation was breaking up with me and the only thing I could do to retain any ounce of remaining dignity was to resign from the toxic relationship I loved being so enmeshed in. I think Alanis says it best.