Drawing boundaries: Between work and life

I’m glad to post today that my work obsession is over. I mean I love working. I feel I’m ambitious and excited to get working every day. However, I have stopped carrying work over to evenings, weekends and holidays. I feel no real urge to do so (unless there is a rare catastrophe).

The reason I find it particularly remarkable to write about is because, it took me 3 years (beginning 2011 March in fact) and hard work to get to this state of health. I hadn’t seen it coming at all at the time that my obsession had begun (in 2007/8). At that time, I almost felt a bit snooty for doing such ‘great work’ and being at the helm of things. I even remember talking (almost with pride) about how I had to take myself out to Bombay and actually felt bad to apply for ‘leave’ for a long weekend with a national holiday. Maybe it was the lack of other fun things in life or a sense of immense ghissu-ness (Tiara syndrome) with which I actually thought working so hard was a good thing. Of course, it was, severely short sighted.

I felt burnt out. My relationships at all levels- family and friends included- suffered. I was constantly angry, upset and my only friends were people from office with whom I also spoke enthusiastically about work (and occasionally Sex and the City). It didn’t help that I was travelling 5 hours (as a best case scenario) everyday to and fro office for 6 years. I was living the lie that no one else would understand. Which wasn’t really far off. What was there for anyone to understand anyway – I was working till 3am and still getting out of home at 5:30 am the same morning for a power point presentation frequently for no visible rewards (at that time or afterwards). I was pushing myself almost as a habit. This, in my 20s, and making myself a big bore in the process.

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When will I get a change times (Photo credit: tim caynes)

Thankfully, I didn’t need to have a baby to start talking about the lack of balance. However, once in the hospital with family, my boss called and without being human (or mildly kind), he asked me where a certain ‘excel sheet’ was (and not how I was doing). At that time I realised for the first time,

  • In rage: my boss is a jerk. I am a resource. I am a resource working for a jerk. No one cares because it was put up as my choice.
  • In reflection: more importantly, it was unsustainable and indeed my own doing
  • In further depth: the moot point, nothing or no one would come crumbling down if i drew boundaries
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Overworking my way to the creativity-dead zone (Photo credit: HikingArtist.com)

 It has been helpful that I came to Germany in the meantime to recover. Indian companies and work culture makes it far worse and easy to fall pray to such behaviour and I am not the only person who suffered so. However, also, living in Europe makes me feel a lot more human and beyond a replaceable number. Not to say that everything in India is like that. But the numbers and the inherent replaceability does make a difference. 

Now, I take time to walk back from work and make that my daily meditation time. I have friends beyond my workplace and I do not suffer from work mail guilt pangs once out of office. I am finally making lists of things I want to learn and feel alive with. This is immensely helpful even at work because:

  • I prioritize tasks better which means the impact is greater
  • I’m trying to be fully present at work or home. Qualitatively it makes me feel good, and I do not suffer from unnecessary work guilt. I feel refreshed at 9am at the start of work.
  • Better boundaries translates to me not getting a feeling of being taken for granted by anyone

Many people ask me why I decided to get back to a degree, even after a Master’s already. This was the story. The truth is I was too chicken to take a sabbatical year off in Bali to regain my work spirit. I chose to get a break through academics instead. This has been a risk too, but something that I could live with. I worry for people unable to take breaks from work. It takes much effort to get out.

    1. While I understand what you are trying to say, I couldn’t agree with it fully. There are many who don’t think of their job as their job and therefore lose very quickly the sense of boundaries. Some of them achieve greatness at great cost. We shouldn’t devalue that.

      1. Hardwork without a plan/ goal is stupidity. It took me a while to get there. And even to know what my own priorities are. I think it’s fine to lose a sense of boundaries as long as you are doing it consciously and because it fits your sense of purpose. I fell into it accidentally and not as a part of a plan and then felt cheated out of life. My learning has been that I know what I want better now. So in that sense all that hard-work is not a waste.

    2. This resonates with me on so many levels. I have drudged my way towards drawing boundaries between work, relationships, and life. Sometimes its been empowering to take such a stand, sometimes it has made me miserable. I still struggle at times. I just go to sleep at such times. Works best 😀

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