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 important questions and ones we rarely ask ourselves. Why do we assume that because we’re getting paid to do a job that it’s OK to be unhappy? I hear this all the time in the workshops I run for working parents.
It’s as though we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that we sacrifice 40 to 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.
Yes, collecting a paycheck is vital for survival in most parts of the world, but being unhappy along the way is not a prerequisite. Being unfulfilled is not a clause in your employee contract.
The relationship you have 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 your spouse.
So, let’s consider these two telltale signs that your relationship with work could use some help:
1. 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 grin from ear to ear and shout, “Great. I’m doing great!” Most mothers excuse this behavior by saying you don’t want to burden your boss with your problems, but according to the women in my workshops, the truth is you don’t want your boss to think you’re weak. Think about it this way: If you lied to your spouse all the time you probably wouldn’t say you were in a healthy relationship.
2. You give up personal time for work, but rarely consider giving up work for personal time. You don’t blink an eye at sacrificing dinnertime or family time to get something done for work. But you’d rarely consider leaving work in the middle of the day to do something for your home life—like going to the grocery store, getting a pedicure or picking up new sheets because your daughter has the stomach flu.
That last one hit home for me recently. I adore my job (I should; I created it), but old habits die hard. I was in California for a conference. I had a few hours to spare before I hit the stage, so I decided to head for the hills for a hike.
Despite the breathtaking beauty around me, 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 if anyone needed me via text or email.
Case in point, on my flight home, I thought absolutely nothing of the fact that I worked for five hours straight on the plane. In other words, I felt guilty about taking a three-hour hike on a Wednesday, but I found it perfectly normal to work for five hours on a Saturday. Not an ounce of guilt there.
We find it so easy to subtract personal time for professional pursuits, yet it is nearly impossible to do the opposite.
Why is that? I believe it’s because we often value our contribution to our jobs more than we value our contribution to ourselves. And that, my friend, is an unhealthy relationship.
Healthy relationships are built on honesty, respect, and compromise in equal measure from both parties. Given that litmus test, the same test you’d administer to other relationships in your life, are you in an equal partnership with your job?
Here are three steps to getting your relationship with your job on the healthy side of happiness.
1. Subtract time from your professional life. If you need a pedicure before stepping out in public again or you need to visit three thrift shops to track down the ingredients for your daughter’s Halloween costume, why not consider running those errands on a Tuesday during lunch rather than a Saturday afternoon?
2. Summon the courage to ask for help. One of the reasons I was 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 asking for advice and direction. We both ended up loving the experience.
3. Be willing to leave. In my years of research with women, I’ve noticed a trend among the working women I meet. Those who are successful and happy are the ones willing to walk away from something—a bad husband, company or boss—in order to find that happiness. They believed in themselves more than they believed in staying in a bad situation.
It’s time to start treating this relationship as a real relationship.
Katherine Wintsch is a working mother of two and intimately familiar with the highs and lows of trying to keep it all together. As CEO of The Mom Complex, she studies mothers around the world and helps businesses develop better products and services to meet their needs. Read Katherine’s workmom blog, In All Honesty, follow @kwintsch, or visit The Mom Complex. Also see her TEDx talk on motherhood.