Hi, my name is Shannon and I’m a workaholic. Not even just a little bit but a lot. If I’m not working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and overall just a not fun person to be around. But guess what? When I am working, I’m anxious, I’m annoyed, and still not a super fun person to be around. I know my love of work and consistent search for it comes from my family. You see, what had happened was my corporate work obsessed father met my physical work obsessed mother and came out with me, someone who not only has ten internet tabs open for various projects, 12 word documents opened almost all of them named Document#, two excel sheets being added to, and a printer that runs more than Usain Bolt but also someone who could likely win a speed-walking competition while balancing 5 margaritas on a tray and lift 3 boxes of beer over her head. (Disclaimer, the lifting ability is gone. I really messed up my back doing that. Lift with your legs people)
Now obviously this tendency to dive into work is not healthy. My wake up recently came in the form of a stroke and a fall. My father at 47 years old had a stroke and my mom (a trainer and wellness coach) fell on the treadmill and busted her back for a solid month. But for me the overworking manifests itself in depression, anxiety, and pain in whatever muscle I’m messing with. Or the alternative, completely burn myself out and have a mental breakdown.
Quick past on me, prior to Peace Corps I was happily/miserably working in the restaurant industry and if you’ve ever been in the service industry you understand that contradiction. When I left to the Peace Corps my boss lamented, “You can’t go. I have to hire 5 people to make up the work that you do.” He wasn’t lying and I’m not patting myself on the back. He owned three restaurants, I worked in two of them, I would wake up and go open the one at 9am, wait on tables until 1pm then drive and eat lunch (drive thru) to the other location and bartend there and close at 3am. I did that 5-6 days a week. Except on rare and exciting occasions when I got a day off. My record though for days without a free day was 24 days, and no, that’s not exactly legal but if you’ve got a couple of sketchy managers you too can make it happen. Eventually I had to stop because I started falling asleep standing next to the chip and salsa station. Even then it took one day off and I was back on it. But just like an addict I would still be going to coworkers and asking for their shifts, my managers were always so impressed with my work that they would even let me cover two shifts at once. But no lie I ran on two 24oz coffees (One Cuban Roast the other was called “Mocha Wakeup: Extra Caffeine, for all my Wawa fans), and various RedBulls throughout the day.
I was and still am a bit proud of that. That’s not healthy. No one should work themselves to the point where their physical, mental, and emotional health is compromised. In my mind at that point the healthy choice was the “Sugar-Free RedBull” and looking back I am appalled with myself for those decisions, even when people were gently warning me I never took it seriously “I’ll sleep/relax/go home when I’m dead,” was always the response, and it’s not like I cared about that job, but it filled the day and it kept me occupied and didn’t make me worry about the future, cause you don’t have time to worry about the future when it’s the dinner rush and you’re short-staffed. But the best part at the time was the compliments from customers. Even if I wasn’t their server people would give me tips because of how well they saw me work, mostly when I was bartending and would make 12 margs at the same time. (weird brag I know.) The compliments on my work ethic validated it, it made me feel good and worthwhile despite burning myself out.
Peace Corps is making me have to find ways to slow down and stop working. There’s no linear schedule for anything so my work and projects are constantly being put to the side, and I’m not going to sugar coat it, that’s a nightmare for me. My work addiction is totally still there and I don’t intend on really letting it stop entirely. But I can take a step back every so often. My sleep schedule is improved, I’m vegetarian and that feels nice. Am I the picture of health? No way. If I lay down wrong, I’m out for the foreseeable future and I get Charlie horses more often than I’d like to admit. But my heart doesn’t feel like it’s going to explode, my feet aren’t covered in blisters, my hands aren’t as jittery, and I can sit for a minute and enjoy the day, and even better once in a blue moon I reject a project. My “addiction” manifests itself in better ways. I take on projects that I really care about rather than just learning how to make 50+ margaritas and other beverages (but I still know them so heads up midservice), I make genuine connections with people now because I say more than “Hi, welcome to Margaritas, my name is Shannon, would you like to try our Taco Gigante? It’s more than two pounds!” or “Didn’t I tell you five times to bus table 14?” or my favorite, “I swear to god if you seat me with that kid’s birthday party, I will end you.” The physical energy presents itself in random dance parties with my students, faking muay thai with my mattayom boys, and baton throwing with my mattayom girls. But all together I’m happier with my work, my work means something now and that’s a satisfaction I never had before.