Andrew Newton worked hard but never learned this important lesson.
“Push yourself, but know when to say no.” This is the advice I was given when I arrived at my first squadron. My supervisor saw that I was keen to get noticed and was happy to share his experience and advice. “Otherwise we’ll keep piling it on to see how much you can take.”
Just say no. That’s all it would have taken to cut back my workload.
I was an arrogant young officer when I arrived. Not obnoxious, just arrogant enough to believe I was invincible.
I loved my job. I studied hard, flew often, and worked on as many projects as I could. And I was good at it. My performance reviews were right where I wanted them to be. I thrived on it.
It became an addiction. I would be working on so many projects for different people that it would reach a point where it was affecting my home life. I’d have trouble sleeping, my appetite would diminish or increase, and I would become irritable. My answer was always the same: ‘I just need to push past this, finish x, y, and z, and I’ll be able to relax.’ Every time.
And when I succeeded I would ride the high for a few weeks. But weeks became days, then hours. I wasn’t as happy with my accomplishments anymore. I needed to do more. I needed a bigger win.
I used to think of myself as internally motivated, but as time wore on I realized that I was wrong. I was extremely externally motivated, but unlike most I could internalize that motivation for long enough until my next fix. I thrived on the praise. I craved it. I needed it to banish my self-doubt.
In therapy I learned that this is a common behaviour for people who have lost parents at an early age. They constantly try to earn the approval of someone who can never give it.
Saying no was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, I waited too long and the damage was done.
That was eighteen months ago. Withdrawal hasn’t been easy. I’m still having a hard time letting go. I keep feeling the urge to take on more work. But for the sake of my family I push on. Maybe I’ll finally learn what work/life balance is.
Photo: Flickr/Kaushik Narasimhan
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