I Feel It Again … the Pull to Overwork
I look over at my husband from the opposite side of the couch. It’s a moment I never want to forget, no matter how mundane.
It’s a Monday night. He’s sitting comfortably, PS4 controller in hand, fighting virtual crimes as a New York City superhero. He’s having a blast, especially since our Siberian Husky threw her final evening tantrum a few minutes ago and is now peacefully passed out on her bed in the corner of the living room.
This is my favorite time of day — dinner is over, the kitchen is (mostly) clean, the dog’s had her evening walk (something he and I do together as we catch each other up on our workdays). It’s the point in the evening when we settle into the couch and watch a show or play a video game. We talk. We laugh. We unwind.
He’s doing all those things now, and I should be too.
But instead — though I may appear relaxed, snuggling under a blanket with a smile on my face — most of my attention fixates on my phone. I’m not mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or on my Duolingo app though. I’m doing research. I’m working.
This is my favorite time of day — time I get to spend with my favorite human and switch from Work Mode to Person Mode — but I’m letting one mode blend into the other and I said I wouldn’t do that anymore.
A few hours from now I’ll be sitting at the dining room table bent over my laptop, and he — my person, my best friend — will stand behind me as I mutter “go to bed, I’ll be up after I finish this.”
He’ll disappear wordlessly and it will be another 15 minutes before I join him upstairs, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night shaking, hating myself for choosing a task on a screen over him.
A task that could have waited until morning, after he’d left for work and our time to be Independent Working People officially began.
Never in the entirety of our marriage have I dismissed him like that, but I will tonight. And it’s nothing he did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say. It’s me. I prioritized work over him when it was time meant for us to spend together.
I will break two promises tonight, and I’m the only one to blame.
There are many reasons I’m like this, and one of them involves the lies I continue to believe about success and how deeply it defines me. I’ve made a lot of effort over the past few years to shift my priorities and become the kind of person who values relationships over a career, and I’ve made a lot of progress. I am doing so much better.
But things like these — the journeys we go on in order to become better people — are not linear. That’s a lesson I’m still learning.
Tonight, I will make a mistake. On its own, it will be a small error, a tear so small in the fabric of my values that no one but me will know it’s there or even think to look for it.
But it’s also the return of a bad habit. An addictive, destructive pattern. One tear isn’t enough to destroy something beautiful, but it would be very easy to let one time become every time and find myself left with nothing but broken fragments of what I could have had if I hadn’t stopped after one terrible time.
The craving to return to 16-hour workdays, aching wrists, and caffeine dependence — I may have changed my habits, but the desire always lingers. Not because I love my work more than the love of my life, but because I am broken. I have been conditioned to believe that if I work less, my dreams will never come true — if I work less, I am failing, I don’t deserve success, I am worth nothing.
I messed up once. What’s one more time? What’s one more night sitting alone at that table tricking myself into believing this is the right thing to do?
When I close my laptop and wander upstairs in a daze, he’ll be there waiting for me. And it will only take a moment to switch back to being a person again, and I will remember why I made that promise to him and to myself. The promises I broke, and will try to never break again.
First and foremost, I am one equal half of a partnership — a union that will only survive as long as I never make it my second priority.
My work will never come before my person. That is the only true path to failure.
I look over at my husband on the opposite side of the couch and feel myself falling for him all over again because … look at him. He’s so happy just being here with me.
No matter how much I may accomplish throughout my life (or not), I will never work as hard at something as I will at making sure I never take my time with him for granted.
At the end of my life, I don’t want to think about how much work I got done.
I want to remember us, and how I changed for the better because of how much I cared about loving him above everything else.
Succeed not in how much you accomplish; only in how much you dedicate yourself to loving the people that matter most to you.