My birthday is on May 13. I’ve always thought that it’s a nice coincidence that May 13 is also the greatest day on the entire calendar. It’s an objective fact that I’m happy to enjoy to its fullest.
Because it’s how calendars work, May 13 will keep coming around about every 365 days. I can plan for it, anticipate it, and get my mind ready for the inevitable fact that I’ll be another year older. It’s something to depend on, which is a nice feeling.
I won’t claim to always be ready for it, though. I’ve found myself being surprised about that impending date more often as I grow older. It’s a fact: as you become more busy and add complexity to your life, things like your birthday can become less noticeable.
Who has the time to get ready to turn another year older when you’ve got a business to run? If my most recent birthday is any indication, not this guy. That’s for sure.
But hey, I got my head together and started planning what I wanted to do for my birthday. I’ve never been one for the big blowout bash or going out for a huge dinner with everyone I’ve ever known. Having a quiet day in with my loved ones is much more my scene and that’s exactly what I planned on doing.
That, my dear friend, is when things got difficult.
Apparently, I’m bad at not working
A birthday is a good day to lounge around and do nothing, if that’s what you’d like to do. You could make it a non-stop party of a day, but again, that’s up to the person having the birthday.
Since I’m a lounge around kind of person, that’s exactly what I planned to do to celebrate the occasion of turning another year older. I had everything in place: some comfy clothes, a new streaming service to peruse and enjoy, and a couch that gives what I imagine is the sensation of lying on a cloud.
What can be better than all that?
My mind kept slipping back into work mode. I kept thinking that there were so many things in my work pipeline that I could be doing instead of sitting around watching movies. I could be designing and typing and planning and… and… and…
My mind was abuzz with activity, and also a bit of guilt. This particular birthday was on a weekday, so what was I thinking not doing any work? That’s what weekdays are for!
It didn’t matter that I had spent the previous day taking care of all the work I had normally planned for that day. I could find something to do. Just let loose and watch me go!
Turns out that, since becoming an adult, I’ve turned into a bit of a workaholic. I never saw that coming.
The workaholic syndrome is a very real thing
My particular brand of workaholism is something I would consider minor, at this point. I’m aware that it could veer off into being a major problem, but for the time being, feeling the urge to get some work done during my birthday isn’t a debilitating thing. Unfortunately, for some people, it very much is.
Take Japan, for example. There is a well-documented culture of extreme working hours to which many people subject themselves. It’s not just a matter of having to put in some additional overtime on a one-off tough project. Working long hours for many businesses is just the norm.
With the lack of secured lifetime employment, many workers feel they need to push themselves beyond reasonable and healthy limits to ensure they can keep their jobs. According to a BBC article by Edwin Lane, titled "The young Japanese working themselves to death",
Nearly a quarter of Japanese companies have employees working more than 80 hours overtime a month, often unpaid [...] And 12% have employees breaking the 100 hours a month mark.
It’s undeniable that this sort of work culture can lead to health problems. There’s a Japanese term, called “karoshi,” that’s used to describe a death that can be traced back to an acute case of overworking. Literally, working oneself to death. In this case, it’s not just a pithy way to describe the intensity of someone’s work, it’s a saying that’s actually true.
Overworking to such an extreme may not be as much of an issue in numerous other places in the world, but long hours are still a reality for many people. Ask anybody you know about working more than what’s considered the “standard” forty hours a week and you’re sure to be regaled with stories about exhaustion. They’ll tell you about dragging their sore feet to their car to head home long after the sun has set.
Whether it’s ingrained in an entire work culture or just a tickle in the back of your mind when you’re trying to enjoy your birthday, workaholism is real, unhealthy, and takes dedication to fight against.
Take it easy!
As with any addiction, it’s important to talk to a qualified health professional. Some guy writing a blog about productivity isn’t the person to take definitive advice from, so absorb all this with a grain of salt.
In my case, when my birthday came around and I started to feel that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to get off my butt and then get right back on it at my desk, I had to remind myself that taking some time off is not a bad thing. In fact, an occasional vacation from work is a healthy act.
This couldn’t be any more true on your once-a-year day. Kick back and have some cake, why don’t ya?
I understand that it’s not an easy thing to accomplish. If you’re anything like me, you enjoy your work and love being able to share what you do with others. That doesn’t mean avoiding your work for a day is going to ruin the good thing you’ve got going. It just means that you’ll get to do your work again the next day.
So, how can we work against this workaholism? How about:
- Get in a good mental space. Take some time to really understand why it’s a challenge for you to take some well-deserved time off. Ask yourself why you’re feeling guilty for not working. Understand what makes you tick.
- Find an activity you enjoy doing. If vacuuming your house is actually more of a delight than a chore, then you do you! However, your day off activity (or activities) shouldn’t be something that you have to talk yourself into doing. This day should be about relaxing and celebrating your ability to do whatever you want.
- Prepare the way. If you’ve got a day off work planned, then put in a bit of extra time before the day making sure there won’t be anything you have to worry about. In my case, that meant making sure I had my blog post for the day written ahead of time and all my emails taken care of. Why ruin a perfectly good day by mucking it up with distractions?
- Treat yo’ self. Donna and Tom said it best. On your day off, make it about you.
Feeling like you want or need to work when you don’t have to sounds like a silly thing, but I’d argue that it’s a more universal feeling than anyone wants to admit. Whether we need to work to put food on our table and/or we just like what we do for a living, putting in as many work hours as we can isn’t an unusual thing.
However, placing work above our self-care should always be considered a terrible thing. Indeed, in places like Japan, there is a lot of effort being put into shifting away from a “work yourself to death” culture and over to one that values the health of its workforce.
Whether it’s your birthday or a trip you’ve been planning for a long time, it’s important to remember that vacations away from work shouldn’t include work.
They should be about doing whatever the heck you want to do, even if that’s doing nothing.
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