The modern corporate lifestyle glorifies the “Work hard, play hard” philosophy – you should have it all, and you should have it right away.
A successful career, an abundant social life, the right body, the expensive holiday, a plethora of possessions…all topped with a flashy Instagram profile to show off just how fun-loving you are, but without failing to note that you’re a smart, highly-paid individual, always, always moving forward in all material aspects of life. ‘’Fitter, happier, more productive.’’
I was once that person, or rather I was trying to be her. Before I tell you how I got to where I am now, I will share with you my personal story of how it had all started. Namely, I think it could be an important lesson in awareness.
Accepting the mantra
I grew up in a household where hard work was praised above all, as the right, honest way to get to where you want to be in life – and I am grateful to my parents for teaching us these values.
Having been taught diligence and discipline at an early age, I was naturally a good student throughout my childhood and teenage years and I had hobbies and after-school commitments that I enjoyed doing with my friends.
But when I got to college, I found that being “good” and doing it all required much, much more – more time, energy, commitment and discipline. Just like the majority of college students, I found the transition difficult to cope with.
There was nothing special about my past successes; I had found myself in an environment where that was the norm, and everybody was starting from scratch. I pushed myself to be better and work harder, but there were also the temptations of college life and I didn’t want to give up on those either. After all, knocking down three all-nighters in a week called for some hard partying to shake it all off.
I had accepted “work hard, play hard” as a motto and I was, in fact, wearing it as badge of honour just like many of my fellow students.
I think that my main driving force was, unfortunately, shame; I was ashamed to lose my reputation as the golden child who could do it all and had time for everything.
How can such a negative feeling spur positive motivation? However, it had gotten me through college, with some ups and downs, and on to the adult life I went, having learned nothing about who I am, ready to prove myself all over again…but I was very, very different from my previous self. ‘’Fitter, healthier, more productive’’.
One of the biggest dangers of this mentality is its absolute denunciation of the importance of sleep for physical and mental health. Indeed, I had also convinced myself that I could survive on five hours of sleep nightly, and sometimes, when necessary, none at all.
When I went to bed overexhausted, with my mind racing and heart pounding from built-up anxiety and overambition, instead of trying out techniques for falling asleep, I’d rather give it up altogether.
On weekends I would hit the clubs to make up for excessive time spent at the office; I still didn’t want to miss out on anything although my body was slowly failing me and my mind felt, to quote Roger Waters, “tight as a tourniquet, dry as a funeral drum”. ‘’Calm, fitter, happier, and more productive’’.
Well, the saddest part was that I couldn’t really feel joy anymore.
Looking back, I had many valuable moments with my loved ones that I could have enjoyed, but I was always somewhere else in my mind, always wondering What’s next, What can we do next. I was anxious, jittery, and worst of all, pushy.
It was only logical, considering I had spent so many years being that way with myself, never sitting down to just contemplate and do nothing. I always needed some outside stimulation.
I would have probably tried living like this for longer, ignoring my exhaustion, but I had a warning bell. No, I didn’t end up at the hospital, fortunately, although that could have very easily happened, considering that even various studies prove there is a connection between this lifestyle and alcohol addiction.
My wake-up call came in the form of a bitter argument with my little sister. We were always very close, but as my exhaustion got worse, I started snapping at her in conversation for no reason; I would lose my temper at her beyond control, most often because I resented her relaxed approach to any activity.
Simply put, she got sick of my behaviour, and one particular argument culminated in her saying something along the lines of “I can’t stand the way you’ve become anymore, you need therapy for whatever’s going on”.
Coming from someone I love so much, that hit me like a ton of bricks. I had acquired what was known in psychology as a Type A behaviour pattern – a competitive, time-urgent, hostile personality type that is found to be more prone to stress-related illnesses.
And thanks to my sister, I admitted that I needed help, for my own sake, because I didn’t have the strength or the knowledge to change my ways on my own.
Therapy was no easy process, but it made me realize that I had embraced the “work hard, play hard” mindset because it was easier for me to achieve all the things it suggested I should be going after, than to contemplate deeply what I wanted to be going after as an individual.
So I turned my energy to myself, bit by bit. I started keeping a journal, writing down all kinds of things, and well, as you can see, the writing didn’t cease. I found a lot of relief in this contemplative process of writing, and I started setting small goals for myself.
I made a conscious effort to do breathing exercises, to commit to more sleep, to have a healthier relationship with work and work normal hours. The partying was easy to stop, because honestly, I was beyond sick of it.
I learned to say “No” to nights out and after work drinks, and I’d be proud of myself, sitting on the couch in my pyjamas, scribbling thoughts.
My social life became much more fulfilling, as I started sharing with my friends our common struggles and efforts to live more mindfully. It is definitely a deeper, more rewarding relationship than chugging down glasses of vodka together. ‘’Calm, fitter, healthier, and more productive - a pig in a cage on antibiotics’’ .
Breaking away from any kind of toxic mindset can never be done overnight, but I hope my story was of some benefit to you. Think about how you want to live your life, and what kind of person you want to be. There is time for everything – but in healthy doses.
Take a moment every now and then to look at your life from a different perspective and choose your own mantra, one that sits well with your inner self…. and you are alive again.
About Caitlin Evans
Caitlin is a bookworm, photographer and dancer. She is also a graphic designer, but that one is on hold at the moment. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and Universe, Cate is researching and writing about various lifestyle related topics. She is happily addicted to art in all its forms, grilled tofu and caffeine.