This anecdotal account is intended to give you firsthand advice on a subject which goes un- or under-mentioned. Millennials and members of Generation Z are notorious for embracing hustle culture and are often forced into overworking by current socioeconomic conditions. Some, however, use work for another reason: to cope.
About a year and a half ago, I lost one of my closest friends to suicide. As a young college student who spent most of my life engaging in escapism, I had never known how to manage grief or truly cope with stressors or, more seriously, trauma.
I’d like to tell you that I learned easily after that event; that this learning process was linear and easily broken down into steps or “stages of grief.” I’d like to tell you that I am 100% whole and healed today. Those things, however, just wouldn’t be true.
In the outset, instead of attempting to heal and attending the therapy sessions I was strongly encouraged to attend, I threw everything into my work. I worked as an intern for two political campaigns and was praised for my “strong work ethic.” I worked consistent 20-30 hour weeks in a supervisor position at my job.
I was used to being high-functioning and burying myself in my work; I had done this kind of avoidance since high school. I thought that to heal, I needed consistency - some sort of routine to distract myself from the pain and guilt I was feeling. I didn’t need therapy or medication; I just needed things to go back to “normal.”
Things didn’t ever go back to “normal,” and they probably never will. “Normal” was my convenient way of saying “before,” and there’s no going back to “before.” We go through things and use them to grow. Zeroing in on the past isn’t helpful in that process.
At that time, however, I didn’t know that. I worked, went home, avoided places that reminded me of my late friend. Rinse and repeat.
I distanced myself from the people I cared about to avoid losing them. I added more and more to my plate so I could avoid addressing how I felt. I ghosted my therapist, refused medication, and refused to stop and take a break.
Truthfully, none of that was helpful. I worked myself so hard that work became meaningless and effort became alien to me. It was a dull and redundant process; I did what I needed to do. Then I went home and slept. No reflection, no healthy coping mechanisms, no accountability.
Occasionally I grasped for straws to find something meaningful that would pull me out of my depressive rut; I tried Greek Life, Orientation, and student organizations. I threw my all into the fall 2018 semester and somehow ended up with a 4.0 GPA. I latched onto academic and career success to show my value and worth. I relished in the art of perfectionism, which came at a great cost. Looking back, I should have heeded the words of one of my former professors, Pat Barry, on where perfectionism can go wrong.
The next semester, which I often refer to as the “crash,“ was arguably the worst time period of my life. Among other things, I got fired from my job of two and a half years for being unreliable and got my first C. As someone who puts so much stock into my academics and career, that semester was devastating.
That period of my life made me realize that I could hide in my academics and career all I wanted - but as soon as either went awry, I would feel lost.
That is a realization I have reflected a lot on lately. I am proud to say that I’ve made concrete steps at healing through attending therapy, switching medications, and developing healthier coping mechanisms.
But once again, this semester, I have committed to way too many things. I told myself at the beginning that I was again at a place where staying busy made me feel content. If I am being truly honest, it hasn’t. Although I’m dealing with things that aren’t nearly as heavy, I have noticed myself hiding in my work once again.
I am working on limiting my workload to something more manageable, and I recommend doing so if you also feel burnt out.
Being on the grind can be extremely rewarding, but there is a limit. It’s important that you are aware of that limit so you’re not working to cope and bordering on workaholism.
Take it from someone who knows: hard work can help you, but only if it’s placed in the right part of your life.