Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Work stress

There's a stereotype (which has truth behind it, as many stereotypes do) of the overworked, stressed business executive who is constantly "right on the edge" of collapse. He (or she, in this enlightened age) works 60 hours a week, is always staring down a deadline, and is probably popping Rolaids to fend off a stress-related ulcer. Eating greasy foods on the run because he doesn't have time to cook or eat. Neglecting his family until they wonder who he is. Always just a few steps from a nervous breakdown, but you can only feel so much sympathy, because... how much of his life is because that's what the corporate world requires, and how much is because he chose this job, chose the never-ending escalation of "going the extra mile" to advance his career, chose to endure the stress? After a while, the sense of constant stress becomes the norm, and it doesn't seem exceptional at all.

Right now I am in the final month of a two-year-plus project and it is the most stress, the most pressure, the most work, and the most emotional difficulty of my entire career, bar none, hands down, by a long way. It's hard to tell people this, though. If I say something about how I'm really stressed at work right now, they've heard that so much from other people who are always "really stressed at work right now" and who don't seem to notice that "right now" is really "all the time". They probably imagine I'm just another one of those career-driven executives trying to get an ulcer and a promotion, not necessarily in that order.

But that's not my job, that's not me. I have been in this job for 15 years precisely because I don't want to advance to a higher-paying job that would bring more stress, more frustration, more demands, and more ulcers. Nor do I want to have to do the "go-getter" thing enough to get that job. I'm content where I am, because where I am means I have a job that ends at the end of my day and I can leave it at work (and if I think about it at home, it's not an agony to do so).

So this period, right now, really is an exception for me. It's by definition exceptional. If I say that right now, I can't afford to add anything else to my life, I can't say yes to anything, I need to shed every little thing I can drop, but it's just for another month or two... it really is just for another month or two, and then it should be back to normal.

But I really, really, really need to find a way to stop adding things, to say no, to divest myself of responsibilities and concerns. I need my non-working time (thin as that is, with me working 50 hours and up now trying to make up lost time) to be spent on destressing things.

But it's really just for now. It'll be fine soon. I just have to get through this last bit.

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