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Work Hard, Play Hard… Die Hard? How I Broke Free of Corporate Slavery

3 Heart it! Caitlin Evans 217
June 3, 2018
Caitlin Evans
3 Heart it! 217

“We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.” ~ Joshua Glenn Clark

 

You’re probably well acquainted with the “Work hard, play hard” motto – it’s propelled into our society as the mantra of any self-respecting, career-oriented individual out there. The mantra typically suggests that you should have it all: rock-hard discipline to build a career deemed successful by others, an abundant social life, and leisure time worthy of envy on social media. From college students to your average corporate worker, it’s worn as a badge of honor.

And man, did I wear that badge proudly. That is, until my entire body and mind forced me to listen and to see how this mindset was hurting the core of my being.

Because here’s the thing: I like working hard. I’ve worked hard for as long as I can remember. My parents, middle-class workers, made sure to teach all of us kids the value of honest hard work, diligence, and discipline as a way to reach our goals, and I’m beyond grateful to them for that. But somewhere along the way, I lost all meaning – the goals became questionable, yet the work part remained. And because I was drowning all thoughts of the things I believed in, I chose to spend my free time doing things I didn’t believe in either.

 

I know that I’m not alone, and this happens to a lot of people. How does it come to that?

Looking back, I can tell you that I had the wrong motives. I was young, straight out of university when I started working in a big corporation. I was proud to have been recruited – it was the fruit of my labor at school, and now was my time to prove once again that I deserved it, that I was competent. Out of this desire to prove myself – constantly – I had completely lost the compass of my identity and my values. I think this happens to us often, especially (or mostly) when we’re young.

Especially when you’re just trying your best and you’re scared of being “a disappointment” (whatever the hell that means). When the question “So what now?” hits you hard upon graduation and you think taking some time to explore other options is a luxury you don’t deserve.

Especially considering that it takes more effort and introspection to upkeep your own values in an environment that largely opposes them.

I didn’t want to be a complainer. I didn’t perceive my job as meaningful (oh God, not at all), but I sat there and worked my ass off, stoically pushing through all the frantic stress. I was ready to “climb the corporate ladder” (what a mind-numbing phrase), again without any conviction, but it was the thing to do – that’s the way it is, that’s the norm.

And to be honest, the money was alluring. I thought I finally had “financial freedom” – except it was no freedom at all. Like many people, I also spent my free time as prescribed; I cultivated the perfect business woman image. Fancy vacations to treat myself for all the hard work – I feel like vacations have become a competition. Cocktails with co-workers (business-y talk included), sophisticated restaurant dinners, designer clothes, just expensive stuff all around. Although I felt so drained that I’d rather do nothing all weekend, I sacrificed my sleep to attend parties because I didn’t want to miss out.

Because Work hard, play hard, right?  Yes, like most of my colleagues, I had signed up for being a Yuppie by the dated definition, pretty much. I mean, this was the dream, and I had a life outside of work, dammit why wasn’t I feeling content?  

In short, the anxiety and stress built up. Not just because of the harried pace at work, but because my entire lifestyle had become a burden to me. I thought it would work, but it didn’t. “Play hard” became a stressful struggle to keep up with what the corporate mentality suggested to be good, even in the most private moments. I faced the fact that I was not happy, but it wasn’t until my body started telling me, shouting at me, that I have to change something that finally made me gather the courage.

I won’t get into the details, but in short, I suffered from hormonal imbalance due to stress. My mind was in a chaos as my body continually overproduced cortisol and among numerous symptoms, I stopped getting my periods. What followed was a long period of therapy for both my body and mind. Thankfully, my body doesn’t require therapy anymore, but my mind, my inner being, will always be on a journey – a journey to keep myself sane and nurture my spirit.

Introspection is all, friends. No bitterness, no toxic self-criticism. Just a bit of kindness to yourself, as you would be kind to anyone else. It’s the only way to deal with our stressed-out lives – slowing down, taking some time to think about what’s important to you, acknowledging it, and actually doing it. You might think now “Okay, I knew that already”, but there’s more in relation to my story.

The most important thing that I realized was that I was getting the “Work hard, play hard” motto all wrong. I deliberately allowed the corporate mentality to define it for me, and you see where that had gotten me. So now I take time to tend to my own ever-evolving definition of work and play.

Without the “hard” part. The “hard” part is what’s so wrong with the whole philosophy, and honestly, it’s annoying. Which comes as no surprise actually, because catchy phrases do tend to be, well, superficial. And when they become mottos that millions of people try to live up to, they can get dangerous.

The “hard” part makes it all look like a competition, and I can’t even logically begin to comprehend what it is we’re supposed to compete with. It suggests “Now is the time to show you’re exciting and you’re really living it, go all out before it’s time to get back to work”. It’s the endless depression of Sunday night.

Is staring at the spider in the corner of my ceiling considered playing hard? Because that’s what I did last night for like 15 minutes and there was nothing else I would have rather done at the moment. It made me think about all kinds of things, and I thought up a short story about the spidey’s life, one that I’m writing today for myself. Time well spent.

I finally acknowledged that I get sad, downright sad, when I don’t tend to the things that nourish my soul, by my own definition. Doodling, reading, writing silly things in my journal, sitting on my balcony when it’s raining out, reading poetry, writing poetry although I’m pretty bad at it but who cares. These are not things that would define “playing hard”, but they mean the world to me. They resonate with who I am; they “feed my soul”.

Of course, I still love traveling, and now I’m able to enjoy all the little details on my journeys. I don’t have to fill each and every moment with Instagram-worthy action or force myself to lounge on a beach to shake off built-up stress as prescribed.

And I guess I still work hard. This time, not because of some modern philosophy that tells me to, but because I have plans and projects that are worth working towards. Before you think I went rogue and quit corporate – I didn’t (yet). I got a job in another department with less stress and stable working hours. That automatically means lower pay, which I am more than fine with because I’m no longer enslaved by the rat race.

But I didn’t downsize on my ambitions. I don’t care about climbing the corporate ladder anymore and I’m developing my own business. Work is different now: I’m not chasing what I was told to chase, and I’m not living for the weekend. I find meaning in my interactions with my colleagues, and the workday doesn’t feel tedious. I reach for the treasures inside my mind when things get boring, I remember to play like a kid, and I don’t let myself go numb.

 

I have conviction and a goal that’s not a promise for future comfort, but a reminder to make the most out of each day and learn something on the journey.

At the end of the day, let’s remind ourselves that our lives are not competitions.

Keep your integrity and your courage. Find your own motto. It might not sound catchy or appeal to others, but it will resonate with who you are.  

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3 Heart it! Caitlin Evans 217
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