We spend a lot of time questioning whether we’re in a “healthy relationship” with our spouse/partner. It’s a common headline on magazine covers and social media feeds. And while that relationship is important, I’d argue that the one you share with your job is equally essential.
So, let’s go there. Is the relationship you have with your job a healthy one? Do you feel fulfilled? Do you feel valued and respected? Do you look forward to spending time with your job? These are crucial questions that we rarely ask. Why do we assume that because we’re getting paid to do a job, that it’s okay to be unhappy in it?
I hear this all the time in my workshops for working parents. It’s as though we’ve resigned ourselves to the belief that we should sacrifice 40-60 hours a week of time and happiness in exchange for cash to pay our bills…and that’s all one should really expect out of life. Bullshit.
Yes, collecting a paycheck is vital for survival in most parts of the world, but being unhappy and unfulfilled is not a prerequisite. I don’t think either is a clause in your employment contract. So, when it comes to deciding whether you’re in a healthy relationship with your job, consider two signs that say you’re not.
You hide the hard parts of your life. You spend all night catching your son’s projectile vomit in your lap, but when your boss asks how you’re doing the next morning, you force a sleepy grin from ear to ear and shout, “Great! I’m doing great!” Most mothers excuse this behavior by saying they don’t want to burden their boss with their problems, but according to the women in my workshops, the truth is that you don’t want your boss to think you’re weak. But think of it this way: if you lied to your spouse all the time, you wouldn’t say you were in a healthy relationship. So, what’s the difference here?
You give up personal time for work, but rarely consider giving up work for personal time. You don’t blink an eye at sacrificing dinners or family time to meet a deadline at work. But you’d rarely consider leaving work in the middle of the day to make time for a personal task like grocery shopping, getting a pedicure, or buying new sheets because bile is a bitch to wash out.
That second sign hit home for me, recently. I adore my job (I should, I created it) but old habits die hard, I guess. I flew to California for a few days to speak at a health food conference. I was scheduled to talk on a Friday, but on the prior Thursday afternoon, I decided to take the afternoon off and head to the California hills for a hike.
Despite the breathtaking beauty here, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt for cutting out of the virtual office I’d set up in my dark and dreary hotel room.
While climbing the mountain, I checked my phone repeatedly to make sure I was available in case anyone needed me via text or email. Not exactly a relaxing scene. However, halfway through my hike, I came to my senses, put my phone on airplane mode, cranked up the music, and got down to the business of protecting personal time. We find it so easy to subtract from our personal time for professional pursuits, yet it is nearly impossible to do the opposite.
To this point, on that same business trip, I flew home from California, the day after my speech, and thought absolutely nothing of working for five hours straight on the plane. This was a Saturday, no less. In other words, I felt guilty about taking a three-hour hike on a Wednesday but okay about cranking for five hours on a weekend. No guilt there. Can you guess where I’m going with this?
We often value our contribution to work more than to ourselves. And that is an unhealthy relationship. Healthy relationships are built on honesty, respect, and compromise in equal measure and from both parties.
Given that, are you in an equal, thriving partnership with your job? Your relationship with your job is one of the most important relationships you’ll build in your lifetime. If you work full time, you’ll spend more time with your job than you do with your children or spouse, anyway. It’s time to start treating this relationship as a real relationship.
Here’s what to value:
Equal opportunity. Start subtracting time from your professional life like you do your personal life. If you need a haircut before stepping out in public again or to visit three thrift shops to track down pieces for your daughter’s Halloween costume, consider running those errands on a Tuesday during lunch rather than a Saturday afternoon.
Courage to ask for help. One of the reasons I felt overwhelmed in my previous career was because I was terrified of asking for help. I thought it would make me look weak. Once I finally realized I needed help more than I needed to appear perfect, I started meeting with my boss once a week to ask for advice and direction. We both ended up loving the experience.
Willingness to leave. In my ten years of researching women, I’ve noticed a trend among the working women that I meet. Those who are successful and happy are willing to walk away from something to find that happiness—whether it’s a bad husband, bad company, or bad boss. They believe in themselves more than they believe in staying in a bad situation.
And that sounds good to me.