I’m over being an “Ideal Worker”

I’m tired of being a good little worker bee.
Free stock image.

It occurred to me earlier this week that I have not taken a full day off from work in more than a month.

That’s no “humble brag.” It’s a sad, embarrassing statement of fact.

It’s especially mortifying as one of the topics I care about professionally is work/life negotiation (what a lot of folks call “work/life balance”). I’m strongly committed to gender equity in the workplace, humane work environments, well-being at work, benefits that support healthy communities and families, etc.

I generally reject the idea that workers should grind themselves to the bone or sell their souls for organizational gain, or put organizational goals ahead of their family or personal well-being. As a person who enjoys a lot of privilege, I feel compelled to combat those notions whenever possible.

And yet I find myself toiling away these past several weeks–staying up late coding data, prioritizing analyses over sleep and exercising, CHOOSING TO STAY HOME AND WORK instead of traveling to Phoenix to see my hubby FLY FORMATION AT NASCAR. I don’t even care about NASCAR but I opted to miss a once-in-a-life-time-world-record event that is important to my beloved because of what? Work. A lot of my own making, but still.

In grad school, I learned about about the “ideal worker” norm, the pressure for people to devote their lives to work/getting ahead at the expense of other priorities like family or self-care. Somehow, I tricked myself into thinking that my own performance of the ideal worker would end with graduation, that the insanely long days would be over with closing of the dissertation.


Nearly a year has past and instead of rejecting the ideal worker norm, I’ve ended up reifying it. I tell myself that I have to work hard to build my CV because I have to get a tenure-track job. And I have to submit papers to conferences. And I have to meet all of the work deadlines, even ones that seem unrealistic. The pressure that used to come from external sources like university requirements/professors/bosses? I’ve internalized it. So many of my have-tos are tasks of my own design.

Just a few months after deciding to stop “shoulding all over myself” I’m back at it in a big way. And it sucks.

So, I’m re-committing to stopping the shoulding. I’m keeping in mind these five reasons not to work too hard. And I’m planning a long weekend. The work I’ve committed to over the next four weeks? It’ll get done, but from here on out, I’m going to be managing work and personal time in a much more sane fashion. (Mr. T, I swear!) I may end up out of balance on occasion, Lord knows I’m still going to be a Type A academic, but I’m going to do my best to be mindful about all aspects of life. Wish me luck.

Anybody else face these work/life challenges? Suggestions for me?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.