Over my 68 years, I worked for 52 of them. I worked after school and on weekends as a 14-year-old youngster. I began working full-time at the age of 17. Work brought me new friendships and money back in those days. I saved a tiny portion and donated the rest to my mother, a widow raising three kids on her own.
I went to community college to earn a diploma at the age of 24 so that I could get out of professions that I despised. Schooling taught me that labor, in addition to money and partying buddies, may provide meaningfulness to one’s life.
Ironically, I fell in love with a peer when I decided to focus on studies and community service activities. Three years later, we tied the knot. We have two adult sons and have been married for more than 40 years. When we married, my spouse urged me to go to university full-time. I earned two degrees, worked, and gave birth to a child. Working and studying for a master’s degree were inextricably linked. This is what I called it in the adult education field: applied theory and theory in action. That is to say, I accepted school theory and tried to apply it to my job. The results were then analyzed. I came up with adjustments or new theories to go back to the university if the theory didn’t stand up in practice. During that time, I worked full-time and completed 25 hours of coursework around the schedules of my husband and child. I felt as if I were in a dream! No woman in my extended family had ever done anything like this. It was a boost to my ego. My mother had informed me that I would never finish secondary school, so I would laugh with my spouse about it.
Six years later, while still working and seeking part-time Ph.D. studies, I became conceived with our second child. Even though I was more quickly weary, I considered my life to be fulfilling. When the doctor ordered me to take two months off work before giving birth, I was taken aback. There’s no school either! My life power has been taken from me. I assumed it was hormones, but I subsequently realized that my ego had been severely injured. And I didn’t have much of a social life outside of my job and school.
My husband and I both worked in the same place at the moment, which was a factor. I also didn’t see him all day like I was used to. The extrovert in me felt alone and unsure if I could handle the sole responsibility of being a stay-at-home mother. This resulted in terrifying fears and phobias that required a long time to overcome.
The most difficult, thought-provoking, and tiring task I’ve ever done was becoming a stay-at-home mother. Yet, once I decided that I was destined to learn from my kids, from their evolution, from their individuality, and their commonality, it was the most instructive and fulfilling experience. It forced me to reflect on who I was as a person and make tangible adjustments in the way I decided to live. The duration of maternity leave was Seventeen weeks. I didn’t have a choice but to return to my work. However, as a distinct person with various priorities, I set my priorities.
The first responsibilities were to take care of one’s home and one’s health. Work and school had to take more equal positions after that. By the time our second son was three years old, it was evident that finishing a thesis would conflict with our new objectives. I decided to leave the program. My grade eight teachers told my mum in my nightmares that I wasn’t intended to achieve. In my nightmares, the principal would laugh at me for fulfilling their predictions of being a dropout.
Since the youngest was three years old, I’ve worked in five different occupations. That appears to be a lot and maybe unstable. Surprisingly, each change aided my advancement up the corporate ladder. As I ascended, I gradually resumed multitasking and juggling. With each increase in money and duties, I added to my stress.
I had an idea of where I wanted to go with my response to the question as I started writing it. I’ve reached the stage where I’m ready to begin learning about the meaning of work in my life. I’d decided to stop working. It turned out that I had become so invested in the organization’s growth that I had always agreed to stay on the board for two years longer than I wanted to. All of my old work patterns came into play. However, I had completely lost my ability to sense my demands for balance at this point. The resentment grew. I found myself becoming upset and enraged over the tiniest of things. I attempted to keep them at bay. The level of fatigue grew. Physical problems progressed to persistent pain and decreased mobility. I was well aware that I was destroying my physical and mental health. But there’s a way for me to break the pattern. My husband witnessed everything but was unable to persuade me to put it all in perspective.
Even though they were all trained to take on diverse responsibilities, towards the end of the two years I had committed, it was evident that others didn’t want me to leave. So I assured the President that as soon as I got out of the way, everyone would be able to carry on without me. He agreed since he trusted me and knew I was only a phone call away.
That was more than two years ago. What I didn’t recognize at the time was that I had had the tremendous experience of walking away from work when I was pregnant 26 years previously. Almost the entire two years of retirement have been agonizing. The two years left me with the same sense of loss as prenatal care, notwithstanding some times of immense joy. Isolation and a lack of friends because my only friends were at work. We don’t socialize because we live in a separate town. We, too, have never done so before. After all, we were just colleagues. Then someone who has known me since we moved to this town 18 years ago accused me of being a workaholic. That was something I flatly refused. It’s impossible. Because of the significance and objective of my work, I lived and cherished it. My spouse never claimed to be a workaholic, yet he worked ceaselessly in the healthcare field. Our grown sons are relieved that we are finally taking care of ourselves. They’ve both gotten emotional when they’ve informed us that our dedication to work has taken its toll at separate times. It has made us look older. They do, however, believe that if we work together today to help one another, we will be able to live happy, healthy, and long lives.
I went to my doctor’s office this week. He complimented me on how much better I look now than I did two years ago. I expressed my surprise at learning that I had been a workaholic because I had no idea. I lived and breathed what I did for a living and the society. He shook my hand with a smile and continued, “…that’s what an alcoholic says too. It’s all about finding the right balance.”