Analyzing the tendency to overwork
The other day I received my weekly Toggl track report, and noticed I had worked “only” 38 hours that week. I was going to give myself a pat on my shoulder for finally making it under 40 hours. Then, it dawned on me that it had only been a four-day week thanks to a national holiday.
I hardly ever have a week of less than 40 hours. I probably do more 60 hour weeks than I would like to admit – regardless of all my advice to work smarter and resist the demands of academia.
I’ve been trying to find the root cause of my tendency to overwork. It seems to come from two things, and I’ll be sharing them here in case it resonates with anyone else and to invite you to find the root causes if you struggle with overwork as well.
The first one is how I was raised. There’s the cultural conditioning that resting and being lazy is bad. People on medical leave or unemployment were looked down upon in our family. I also grew up with my mom repeating “only the best is good enough” many times – mostly for food, but it rubbed off on me in all ways. My dad was a surgeon who worked 7 days a week, 51 weeks a year, who was in the hospital by 7am every day and did his consultations in the evenings. He worked a lot (and when he finally got to retire and was thinking about fulfilling some of his lifelong dreams, he got sick. I try to keep that lesson in mind, but the overwork tends to dominate).
The second reason is my fear of not being good enough and this internal pressure of having to prove myself worthy. As I work at distance and was met with criticism for that, I doubled down on my work. When I had my daughter, I wanted to show that I could still produce the same amount of work as a mother, and that I could even take on more students. And, there’s of course the lingering part of the experience of not being taken seriously when I was a student and a younger academic because of my gender. I’m still more often tacitly assumed to be a secretary or language instructor.
What causes you to overwork?
I’m so glad you wrote about this, Eva! For me, I used to overwork with the idea that it would finally get me a full-time academic job. In one semester, I was teaching 7 WIT sections at three institutions, attending 5 conferences, publishing, and applying like mad to any job for which I was remotely qualified. The sad part is that it ultimately worked, but of course that pace is not sustainable. In the years since I’ve been forced at different points to take major breaks (husband had Covid in March 2020, miscarriage in 2021, viable pregnancy 2022, etc.). These forced breaks changed my relationship to work – at least for now! I anticipate some of the same struggles you mention in your post when I become a mother this fall. I hope you find your work sweet spot.
Congratulations on the pregnancy! I hope you are feeling well and I wish you lots of love and joy and patience in the fall when you will welcome your child!