Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How To Leave Work Early When Chronically Overworked

Build Your Community Part 6

In his book Happy, Ian K. Smith argues that happy people have more close relationships, the kind of friendships that take time to build and maintain. According to Smith, (who is quoting the research of Martin Seligman and others) “a strong social network is also associated with lower levels of stress and a longer life span.”[i]

For many in the corporate world, (including myself at one time) corporate idolatry makes close friendships outside of work hard to find.  This is the position Sue found herself in, when she worked herself until she was sick. (See this post in Chapter 6)

Smith advises that someone without a network of friends should “put themselves in a position to meet new people.”  Interestingly, this is exactly how Sue told me she started to get healthy again.

Sue told me her decision to make a change came on a business trip.   Free from the daily meetings that started at 7 AM and often went until 6, she realized that her life did not have time for anything else, and she needed “to go out and get a breath of fresh air.”  Sue developed a deliberate strategy to connect with other people.

She said, “I’m not a runner or biker and I needed something to do that I really enjoyed.  I like to learn, but I didn’t want to go back to school. I wanted to find something that would challenge me in a way that wasn’t drowning like work.  I started photography, I like food, and I love gardening.  I started getting involved in my community which is important to me, e.g. a committee to get a new park in town, which connected me to some other committees and projects.”

But it was Urban Farming  that really caught her passion.  “I change out of my skirt and Santana-Row shoes on Friday afternoon and go.  There is one woman who I hang out with.  We have become really close friends and I would never have met her in the tech industry.”
One advantage to leaving work early for a fun activity – the other people there also have made connecting with other people a higher priority than their company.  Those are just the people to hang out with.
You might also like: Discover How I Avoided Burnout

[i] Happy: Simple Steps To Get the Most Out Of Life by Ian K. Smith.  St Martin’s press.  (2010) p 190

Beware The Illusion Of Community At Work

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 5

Remember Sue from Chapter 6, the successful VP who was secretly throwing up every morning, crying and not wanting to go to work?  Of course it didn’t start that way.

“When I was more junior, [it] felt  like we were going somewhere.  There was financial success, bonuses, and I moved up quickly. I appreciated being recognized.  It was an absolute pleasure.  The team stuck together four years and we liked each other.  Many nights we’d go to the gym, come back and stay till 10.  We were willing to do that it was fun.”

In many ways, what Sue is describing is a community – people you like to be with who provide support and conquer obstacles together.  When I asked her if it felt like community, Sue agreed.   “I loved the company.  Marketing got along with development and sales, and it felt like you were a part of something.  The day in day out conversations were positive.  Everyone was working towards the same goal.  It was fun.”

When the company started having trouble maintaining the high growth rate, things got ugly.  “There was this one person,  I thought it was friendship but she didn’t hesitate to stab me in the back without a second thought.”  And that was not an isolated case.  Sales, marketing, and development, departments that had worked so well together were now caught in a cycle of very personal and destructive political attacks.  And then the layoffs began.

I think it was this sense of community that drove Sue to stick  with it, to try to “be the one to bring it back.”  And that effort made her very sick.

A company isn’t a real community, it just provides a community-like experience.  You can never be kicked out of a real community, but a company can and should get rid of anyone if business conditions warrant it.

In the next post, Sue searches community outside of the workplace.

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