On what becomes of workaholics
When I left my teaching job, they hired one person to teach and another for curriculum development. While I was there, I used to do both and then some. I used to work at home, skip lunch, do whatever needed to be done to ensure that all my tasks were covered and our students had sufficient resources to work with. I came into the program with nothing but course books that were over 10 years old and when I left, we had reading and listening modules, supplemental lab activities to make up for the books, and numerous other activities for our students.
Sever years into teaching, I finally moved on to another job within the same organization. My new position put me in the role of one of two team leaders. The division was split into two teams and I was the team leader for one of them. Thinking back, it’s really one of the worst positions a person can have because it’s all the grunt work without any real decision making power. During my first year on the job, I thought I was drowning. I always dutifully lasted until Friday and then ran to my car, where I proceeded to burst into tears and drive all the way home sobbing. At one point during the year I actually went to my boss and told her I might not be suitable for the job. She urged me to hang in a bit longer, told me that I was on the right track and just needed more faith in myself. She was there to hold my hand when I needed her and gave me a shoulder to (literally) cry on. So I stayed. I stayed out of a sense of loyalty and gratitude. I stayed to show her that I deserved her praise, her faith in me, I stayed because I saw her working just as hard as I did. I stayed and I once again worked night and day, worked while on vacation, took on not only my job but that of others because I saw how overworked they all were. I can specifically recall two vacations during which I did not work. Both were week-long cruises and my husband threatened to throw my laptop overboard if I so much as attempted to log in remotely. WiFi is rather expensive on a cruise, so I complied, knowing that I was not likely to stick the 60 minute allotted time. However, I called to check in whenever we docked anywhere (which I don’t count as working).
And so passed several years. During those years, I received annual awards and glowing performance reviews. My colleague and counterpart retired about three and a half years into my working there and I took on his duties while we waited for his successor to get the necessary clearances to come onboard. We waited and waited. Nowadays the clearance process can take a lot longer than it used to because background checks are far more rigorous than they were. In the meantime, I realized that I was approaching the point of complete burnout. I realized that my job always, always followed me home. It haunted my thoughts, my dreams, my nightmares. I still wonder how my marriage survived considering how often I locked myself in the bathroom for 20–30 minutes for the sheer desperation for privacy that I so craved throughout the day as an introvert (no, closing my door did not keep people out, that was the running joke in the office).
And then, one day, I got pregnant. And when I did, I realized that inevitably, it would come down to family or work. That’s when the choice, at last, became clear — I had to leave, even if for a little while. I finally worked up the courage to speak with my boss about my decision. She was disappointed but supportive, as supportive as she could be considering she probably felt a bit betrayed by me deep down. She was always big on loyalty and we all have our own way of interpreting that word (or any other word for that matter). If she’d only known how deep my loyalty ran.
I was lucky enough with timing to find a different position in the same workplace that was a lower pay grade but also far less stressful. Before I left, we advertised for and hired my successor. And so I went on maternity leave for three months and came back to a new job. When I came back, I kept going to the old floor for the first few months. I kept thinking I was still part of the old team — it was all just so surreal. I think at first my presence was welcomed because I had the institutional memory, being one of the few old-timers left. My memory quickly faded though, thanks to our baby’s aversion to sleeping through the night (for the next two years). And then, it all fizzled away. The duties that I had once performed by myself were delegated and spread out amongst 4–5 people and my successor was able to and continues to do her job. Just her job. I became part of the old, dusty memories along with my retired colleagues. Life moved on. Work moved on.
When I joined my new team, one of my colleagues said that no job is ever worth killing yourself over because if you were to die on Friday, you’d be replaced by Monday or maybe Tuesday. I used to think that was a bit much but having been out of the old job for two years and being able to observe from the side made me finally realize that he was absolutely right. Because regardless of the awards, regardless of the praise, in the end my boss moved on and gave those same awards and praise to my successor. And it’s nothing to do with her or me or anyone. The simple fact is that each of us is perfectly disposable, regardless of how much or how little we put into our jobs. Even my very own former boss. I used to think that the roof would collapse if she stepped out of the gate for the last time. She did. The roof did not.