I am a workaholic.
Those words seem ridiculous coming from me, especially if you’ve known me at any time in my life prior to the last two or three years. After all, I’m only about five years removed from waking up and driving to Taco Bell while wearing gym shorts and a hoodie with no shirt underneath in order to get a beefy five layer burrito for breakfast at three in the afternoon. (Yes, that really happened and there was a group of high school kids in the lobby that desperately made me want to yell, “THIS IS YOUR FUTURE!” at as I left).
For most of my life, I couldn’t even have been mistaken for a workaholic on accident. Throughout middle school and high school I carefully cultivated my image as a Lazy Smart Guy who was content to coast by on test taking ability and wordiness rather than wasting my time on silly things like “effort” and “studying”. I would tell anyone who would listen that my highest academic achievement was the semester in my senior year where I got straight 90s. That’s right, a 4.0 with literally the least amount of work possible. Quite an achievement to be proud of.
Luckily, in college I met the right group of people to help me shed the Lazy Smart Guy persona and settle comfortably into being just a garden variety underachiever. It’s a good thing I was able to move on from the Lazy Smart Guy persona because everyone knows that Lazy Smart Guy is just one Pokemon evolution away from Fedora Wearing MRA Guy. So I’m incredibly thankful for the friends I made in college who helped me to avoid that trap.
Even though I was content to be lazy in most aspects of my life, I was always different when it came to my job. I understood that if I was getting paid I needed to show up and give my best work. So I always had a good work ethic when it came to getting paid, I was just never able to translate it to school no matter how much my mom tried to convince me I was getting paid for my school work in future opportunity rather than monetary compensation. (I mean, I understood the argument but it’s hard to buy Shocktarts with future opportunity, ya know?) Through high school and college I kept a healthy work ethic in that I worked hard at my job but I never took the work home with me. I always had other areas to occupy my time when I left work. School, books, video games, writing, comedy. Those were my focus and work was the thing I did to get paid.
That changed when I moved to Albuquerque and started getting promoted at Starbucks. First it was Shift Supervisor because I needed the raise to afford rent. Then it was Assistant Manager because I wanted enough of an income that Amanda’s dad wouldn’t laugh at me when I asked to marry her. Then finally Store Manager because I needed to provide for my new family. With each step along the way I started taking work home with me more and more. Keep in mind this is with Starbucks so it is not a physical thing. I wasn’t bringing home a little espresso machine in a brief case each night and serving up lattes in my kitchen. No, it’s an emotional and mental thing.
I’d find myself thinking about work all the time. What could I be doing better? What do I need to adjust so my store can hit the goals it’s supposed to? Initially, I didn’t take this as a bad thing. In fact, I was proud. I mean, it was good that I cared so much right? I saw this as me finally stepping into the world of adult responsibility. I honestly assumed the amount of stress and anxiety I felt was what normal, non-lazy people felt all the time and I was a wuss for not being able to handle it. For two years as a Store Manager I carried the burden of that anxiety around with me, lying to myself and to others that I was doing fine.
Then my son was born.
Suddenly, all the space in my head that I had reserved for caring about work was emptied and replaced with caring for this wonderful new life. I no longer found myself thinking about work in the shower or sitting in the couch. I was thinking about Simon.
The more I focused on Simon, the less I focused on work. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about work anymore. It just means when I’m at my store I give 100% to work and when I leave I stop thinking about it. With that little change I suddenly began to feel lighter. The cloud of anxiety, which I had lived with for so long I had forgotten it was even there, disappeared. The love and responsibility I felt toward Simon completely overwhelmed the responsibility I had toward work. However this was something new—a healthy love and responsibility. Now I wake up every morning excited to see his chubby little face rather than resigned to another day at work.
As this shift took place, a funny thing happened. Because my mental and emotional state were no longer tied up in my store, I actually had the energy for all the things I’d never had time for when I was focused on work (reading, writing, drawing, playing guitar, working out). I used to wake up twenty to thirty minutes before work—enough time to shower and get there on time. Now I wake up an hour before work. I have time to shower, make a French press, and read or write for 30 minutes. At night, I’m making time to write. I’m back up to being able to write about 1,000 words in an hour and I’m working on a novel I have left unfinished since I got promoted to assistant manager in 2015. It’s crazy but I have actually had more time for my creative pursuits since having a baby.
Caring for Simon has made me realize that I was spread thin before because I gave too much of myself to work. I assumed that if I worked harder, worked longer hours, it would ultimately be better for the store and for me. I see now that there are diminishing returns. If I am not taking care of myself outside of work then I am not able to give my best while at work. It seems counterintuitive but working less has not only made me happier it has actually made me better at my job.
I am now a little over five months into being a father and I have made peace with the fact that I am a workaholic. I still have days where I try to take too much of work home with me but they are far fewer than they were before. Luckily, whenever I do start to feel that familiar anxiety creep back into my psyche I have a good method for getting rid of it—his name is Simon.