True Life: I’m a Work Martyr

Work Martyr ˈwərk ˈmär-tər n. a. employee who believes only he or she can get the job done and sacrifices personal well-being to do so. b. me.

They say step one is admitting you have the problem. So here I am, admitting I have a problem: I am a (recovering) work martyr. You may pass this off as a “first world problem,” but it’s not. The hero mentality in the work place isn’t helping anyone. Study after study after study bears this out.

I started my career in the PR agency world. It was the perfect storm for a work martyr: fueled by Diet Coke, surrounded by colleagues that felt like family, and pushed by Type A drive to be the best. I pulled more all-nighters in my first year than I did in four years of college. I let vacation days go unused. I anxiously waited for my Blackberry notification to blink red with a new email. Heck, I offered to work over the Christmas holiday because of a last minute request from a big name client.

While I wouldn’t trade what I learned in those six years, I would trade how it shaped my relationship with work.

That relationship drove me to the job I have now: convincing Americans and their employers that vacation matters and explaining why. Two years removed from the agency world, I still easily fall back into the same tendencies because they’re so ingrained in my evolving view of success.

It turns out I’m not alone. More than half of Americans aren’t taking all their time off for the same reasons I didn’t: worrying about the mountain of work, thinking nobody else can do the job, and wanting to show complete dedication.

If this is hitting a little too close to home, here are a few tips for breaking free from work martyrdom. The good news: it doesn’t mean you have to change jobs.

Protect Your Time. This goes for the big things (like vacation) and the little things (like lunch). Set your boundaries; nobody else is going to do it for you. Consider blocking off your calendar daily for lunch or for the 30 minutes before the end of your working hours. Sure, a meeting will pop up every now and again, but at least you have set the first line of defense. When it comes to vacation time, planning is the only way to go. It gives you something to look forward to outside of work (hello, Paris!) and provides a period for necessary downtime. Not to mention, people who plan vacation are happier with their overall outlook, financial situation, and jobs.

Stop Raising Your Hand. You know what’s better than sitting in a meeting or working toward a deadline you volunteered for? Literally anything outside of the office. By being more selective about where you pitch in, you won’t stretch yourself too thin, and your work will benefit in the long run.

Talk To Your Manager. My manager noticed what was happening and worked with me on finding solutions. But it wouldn’t surprise me if your manager hasn’t acknowledged your hero mentality. Company culture is a huge barrier to finding balance: 58 percent of American employees believe that America’s work culture emphasizes productivity over personal balance. While managers may not be causing the problem, they are certainly contributing by not stopping it. Managers can help you see the bigger picture and identify where you will have the most impact without sacrificing yourself (aka avoiding a Jesse Spano-style meltdown).

Arianna Huffington has said, “It’s pure folly and hubris to think we can get away without downtime.” She’s right. We need to stop living to work and start working to live.


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