Labor Day & the Workaholic

DISCAIMER: This is a long ass post. I sure hope it’s worth the read. Writer (me), cannot be held responsible for winces, sighs, eye rolls or chocolate eating while reading said long ass post, unless reader (you), shares chocolate with writer (me.)

I can’t be 100% certain, but I don’t think I’ve actually written much, if anything, about my propensity toward workaholism. I am already loving the delicacy (slight touch o’bullshit) of this post, as I just mentioned having a “propensity” toward workaholism. Historically, it’s been far more than a propensity, slight leaning or minor tendency. It has been a…headfirst into any brick wall, full-speed ahead, balls out, whole mind, body and spirit, life-sucking activity.

Well, at least I’ve fully engaged in activity. That’s healthy, right?

The truth is, and I didn’t even know this until very recently –  I’ve been embarrassed and ashamed about my workaholism. This is simply absurd for several reasons:

  1. Most people who know me already know I’m a workaholic. Duh.
  2. There’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. There are many workaholics and I fully believe I am never alone in anything.
  3. I have written about me performing as a dancing bottle of cleaning fluid. Now, that’s something to be embarrassed about and yet, I celebrate it. Go Ecolab and the clean hands of restaurant workers!
  4. I know that workaholism takes more work than actual work and if you’re a workaholic, maybe you can realize this and help yourself release workaholism.

Pretty much right out of the womb, I was a perfectionist and overachiever. My Parents will both tell you that all babies scream, but my scream was the loudest and most shrill. Then, there was the whole diaper situation. According to my Mom and Dad, my full diapers were pretty epic. See, then, I was more full of shit than I am now, but I also pooped with great enthusiasm and drive.

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t associate much of my identity, which was tightly wound up, (strangled,) and interwoven, (in knots,) into WHAT I was doing and how well I was doing it. It never occurred to me to think of myself in simple terms, like, as a human being who tries to do well.  I thought of myself more as an “I-am-whatever-I-am-doing” type of person and not much beyond that. If I were going to expand on this particular idea, I’d venture to say that I was an, “I-am-whatever-I-am-doing-because-I-can’t-seem-to-figure-out-all-of-my-other-stuff-and-am-sort-of-scared-of-it-so-I’m-going-to-avoid-it-altogether-and-just-work-like-a-complete-maniac-and-try-to-be-perfect-all-of-the-time-so-I-don’t-have-to-look-or-deal-with-things-that-are-hard,” type of person.

Most of my real self came out through my art, and art (dance) saved my life.

In 2003, I had an extremely difficult pregnancy, followed by a hazardous labor and delivery with with my eldest daughter, Juliette. Once I healed from the trauma of that experience, I moved through and past postpartum depression. In actuality, I approached motherhood like a workaholic approaches their job. I was driven to work as hard as I could to be the very best mother I could possibly be, or die trying. I really abhor even admitting that I (and others) suffered from this approach. I had no idea my perfectionism and workaholism were in charge of my parenting, because they were in charge of me. Somehow, I missed the essential life skills required to just enjoy life.

During the very beginning of my daughter’s life, I couldn’t really channel a lot of fun. I could “act as if,” but it wasn’t real enjoyment. I had schedules to keep, a house to keep perfect, play dates to manage, etc. While I couldn’t seem to have fun, because I didn’t know how to, it had nothing to do with my daughter. From the moment I first saw and held Juliette, for as ill as I was, I fell head over heels in love with her and my love, like most parents, continues to grow every single day. (Even when she’s a jerky tween, and believe me, she is a jerky tween much of the time.)

On the outside, I was by all appearances, a very good mother. On the inside, I had no idea why I felt so shitty. I did know that I felt lost as a human being because all I was for the first few years of Juliette’s life, was her mother. While I could logically comprehend the importance and privilege of being Juliette’s mother, I couldn’t relax and be truly grateful for my life with the most important blessing I’d ever known.

My ex-husband didn’t understand why I wasn’t working through my pregnancy and in the very early part of Juliette’s life. While I was very sick and possibly incapable of working a job since I was already employed by “Vomiting, Inc.,” I don’t believe that my physical illness was the real reason I didn’t work. Had I known it myself and been more capable of being honest at the time, I’d have shared with my ex-husband that I was fully busy workaholic-ing on motherhood and that I had nothing left. I was spent.

Yikes. I really had no idea who I was and as I reread this, it’s freaky to me. Freaky, but true.

Before my marriage became too difficult to endure and I left, our lack of funds, as in so many marriages, was a primary issue. I was the entrepreneurial spouse that decided one of us had to get a full time position with benefits. We had to be grown ups for our daughter. So, I began fundraising in Jewish social justice, which I immediately embraced. The nonprofit enhanced my already progressive core values and also solidified the Jewish values I’d never really understood in myself before I took the position. One primary focus of the organization was and is on economic and worker justice. This is where I learned how deplorable conditions really are for minorities, undocumented individuals and all disenfranchised communities. They suffer incomprehensible and flagrant work and labor injustices far more than other communities. Of course, it wasn’t enough to learn about it. I had to “ACT.” This is where I learned that prayer for me, is done with my feet, through action.

“Justice, Justice shall you pursue…”

The first “justice” is the challenge to understand. The second “justice” is the challenge to act. May we have the courage to do both.

I am eternally grateful to my ex-husband and to the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs for making me a better, more educated, thoughtful and community-minded person who started to finally understand more about my own identity.

Still, I was a raging workaholic.

My baby, Charlotte, didn’t get to be with me as Juliette had in her early years. I was busy with job promotions until I couldn’t get any higher, moved on to a new organization that fried me like nothing else had in my entire life. I dealt with illness and some other life-altering incidents.

I was officially fried and not the good type, like french fries or beignets.

One of the very best things that has ever happened to me, and I fully consider it a high point in my life, was the emotional bottom I suffered at the hands of my own workaholism and perfectionism.

I am elated that I haven’t been the same since that bottom. I immediately, opened up to who I really am. I realized that when the hard, crunchy coating of workaholism and perfectionism are absent, I am a very happy and fun human being.

I finally enjoy dating myself and that’s pretty telling.

I have broken out of the obsession with “doing” and matching my identity to the work that I do. In the past six months, I have found immense joy in every job and most tasks I have embarked upon. It shows in my workshops, in my public speaking, and I think maybe even in my writing. (Yes, fishing for a compliment.)

My daughters and I are thriving in our leaky new house.

On this Labor Day, I will be relaxing with friends and will barbecue something now that I’m no longer fried. I will also pay attention to what Labor Day is historically and actually about. I invite you to do the same – enjoy your day, and pay and/or treat your workers and people who are serving you with the utmost respect. Your housekeeper and/or your nanny need for you to pay their benefits. As their employer, pay the taxes. Give them vacation time even when it’s inconvenient for you. Tip your servers at restaurants at least 20%. This is right. They earn this just as you earn your salary.

If you don’t do this yet, start now and do it forever.

Please don’t argue with me, just do it. It’s better for them, for you and our community at large. If everyone simply took care of their fellow communities, (which is everyone in this Universe), unions wouldn’t even be necessary, because rights would already be respected. Fair wages would already be paid.

Here’s a terrific reminder of the history and actual reasons for Labor Day.

Thank you for reading this long ass post. I probably owe you some type of gratuity if you have gotten this far.

Let’s go farther together. The action you take pays far more than a fair wage.

Author: PKW

Writer, Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer, Fundraiser, Strategist, Listener, and Lover of Humans. My love for humans and relationship building are a part of every single thing I do, except for maybe using the bathroom.

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