“It’s not Worth The Grief” by J. Victoria Sanders on Feminist Wire really struck a chord with me. For a long time, I thought working extremely hard was a way of showing self love. After all, the only way I was going to reach my goals was to work for it, right? Were these books going to write themselves? Who was going to update my mailing list? Apply for these grants? Have you seen the VIDA numbers? And besides, when I was working– writing, teaching, improving my apartment, whatever– it was something that I was doing just for me. It was the rare time that I wasn’t laboring for the benefit of someone else, to meet someone else’s goals of what I should be doing with my life. But guess what– too much work is just that, too much work.
Here is what J. Victoria Sanders wrote:
I basically subsisted on a few hours of sleep during the four semesters when I was teaching and publishing. I answered every e-mail and graded meticulously every single paper and PowerPoint presentation, all while producing a minimum of three stories and five blogs weekly at the paper—on top of freelance work. At work and after hours at home, I kept my inbox at zero, calling readers back, moderating comments and responding to sources. At ACC, I usually skipped dinner and had a bag of chips during my fifteen minute break so that I could mindfully and professionally attend to the needs of students there on Monday nights.
There was something really satisfying about it, I think, because I was used to abuse. I had no idea what to do with my feelings when I wasn’t working. My work addiction provided immediate gratification so that I was always accessible to anyone – student, editor, supervisor or reader.
I, too, am a hard worker and my mother before me has always worked hard. I don’t think I have had any model of a woman who didn’t work and work and work. My childhood memories of my father are of him in his basement office working and writing. There was no room in our world for princesses. By and large, these lessons have served me well. When Silver Sparrow was in the final editing stage, I was also teaching full time and it was the end of the semester AND I was preparing my tenure packet. I had my daily schedule calibrated down to every fifteen minutes. One item on the list: “Call parents. Assure them that I’m fine.” The hard work has paid off, but I have also paid for it.
For women it’s a double edged sword. “You work too hard,” is often thrown out as an insult by people who may resent your success. I have always taken it to mean– be a lady; stop trying to be somebody. I always want to say, “If you think think I am working too hard, why don’t you help me?”
The challenge for me is learning not to work even though there is no help on the way. When I take time off, I come home to zillions of emails, interview requests, deadlines ticking like bombs. When I don’t work, there are consequences. There are opportunities that I may not be able to be able to take advantage of because I didn’t hope right on it. Deadlines will be missed and people will be disappointed. (And of course there is the fear that I will ruin it for the black woman that comes behind me because I wasn’t perfect.)
For single women who don’t have children, it’s even harder to say no to work. When a colleagues says she is not taking papers home because she wants to spend time with her kids, everyone says “awww…” But if a single person says she is taking weekends off to chill, then it seems selfish. So I always take time off to write. It’s my passion. I love it. But it’s not time off. And for the women with children, taking your kids to soccer isn’t time off either. And a week off work because of Hurricane Sandy– that’s not time off either.
I am not saying that we should all walk off our jobs tomorrow at noon, ringing phones be damned, or that we should drop the kids off at the pool and never come back. But let’s try small. Find two consecutive hours this week where you just chill. If you have to leave the house to do it, then do that. Go have a coffee or take a walk– a leisurely walk. No phone. No iPad. A book, but no reading for work or for school. I imagine it will take a couple of tries to keep your mind in the moment. You will visualize the emails, hallucinate the little tone that says more messages are coming in. But let’s try to learn to shut the door to all that. Baby steps are still steps.