Monday, December 7, 2015

A Workaholic's Regrets

Although I finally earned my Ph.D., I didn't get to go to my graduation. I didn't have the time or the money to make the trip, just so I could walk across the stage and accept my diploma. I really wanted to go, because I spent years working for that Ph.D. I think I deserved to be honored for it, even just for a moment. Missing out on my graduation made me think of other things I've missed out on.

When I was in my twenties, other people my age went on cross-country road trips and backpacked across Europe. I shelved books, folded clothes and resisted the urge to bitch-slap rude customers at least fifty times a day.

Other young people dated and fell in love, opening their hearts to people. I dated a soldier who told me I was beautiful. I didn't believe him. When he called me, I was irritated that he interrupted me while I was working. He stopped calling. I dated a graduate student who was quiet and kind and genuinely wanted to get to know me. But when I was with him, all I could think about was my work. He stopped calling, too. Every time a guy tried to get close to me, something inside of me froze up and I pushed him away, immersing myself in my work like it was some kind of barrier.

My friends and acquaintances climbed the corporate ladder, got promoted, and became richer. I worked as an adjunct instructor, earning less than janitors. I was on my feet for nine hour shifts at stores, resisting the urge to throw hangers or books at twenty-two-year-old supervisors on power trips. No matter how hard I worked, I was still barely able to support myself.

Friends couldn't understand why my workday didn't end at five P.M. like theirs did, or why I spent most weekends working. I didn't have the time or the money to go barhopping with them. Most of them stopped calling too, except when they wanted to tell me about their loving relationships, children, and successful careers (while asking me very few questions about my own life).

Long after my college classmates walked the stage at graduation, I was studying for my master's degree and then my Ph.D. I took seminars where professors told the entire class that my work was not good enough. I pored over books in the library until I fell asleep, where other students' snoring woke me up. I resisted the urge to scream, "Studying is not SOCIALIZING, people!" at all the loud undergraduates in the so-called quiet study areas.

People my age carried briefcases or diaper bags, while I carried a book bag. They went out for lunch or ate with their coworkers in their fancy office buildings. I ate alone in school cafeterias.

I moved far away from home to teach at a new school. Although I'd worked multiple jobs before, I am working longer hours here, at a full-time job and a part-time job. To my dismay, a third of my full-time salary goes to taxes and benefits, which is why I have a part-time job.

I teach larger classes with more students. My days pretty much have gone like this: teach, meet with students, grade papers, watch TV at home, yell curse words in foreign languages at my neighbors, and sleep. I have little time for anything else. That's why I haven't written any fiction and I've hardly blogged over the past few months, despite my earlier resolve to write more.

I looked in the mirror one day and saw the lines in my face, the gray in my hair, and the weariness in my eyes. I realized that I'd given up or lost everything for my work: my friends, boyfriends, my youth, alternative careers, a city that I loved, and now, my writing. I have become a true workaholic. And I hate it.

I look back on my life and regret that I spent so much time working, even though in most instances, I didn't really have a choice. I did accomplish several of my goals: I earned my master's degree and my Ph.D; I've taught at multiple colleges; I've taught high school; I became self-supporting; I became a good teacher. But I didn't think it would mean losing everything else that mattered to me.

I'll always be a workaholic to some extent. But I finally realized that there has to be more to life than work. Otherwise you'll be the kind of person who dreams that she's working even when she's asleep, or the kind of person who becomes so tired and stressed out that she makes voodoo dolls and pokes them ominously whenever her annoying, inconsiderate neighbors look at her.

What about you? Do you consider yourself to be a workaholic? Do you have regrets over certain things that you gave up or lost?


  1. Congratulations on your Ph.D! Nobody can take it away from you. Like you, I gave up a lot to have a career, or at least make something of myself. The only friends I have left is my family. But luckily for me, I don't mind being a loner. I was always a bad friend, because I liked so much alone time.

    I also recently decided that I wanted to live more of my life, or at least enjoy it more. It still doesn't mean that I want to get married and have kids, but I at least want to laugh more, or at least keep stress triggers to a minimum:)

    I hope life gives you a bit of a break soon. You need some fun in your life. Definitely a lot of laughs.

    1. Hi Murees,
      Thanks! I really do appreciate your support. I don't think you're a bad friend, because you've always been a good one to me.:)
      I think it's good and necessary to have alone time, especially if you're a writer. It gives you the chance to think about things and observe things that you might not have noticed if you were with other people.
      I wish a lot of laughs and enjoyment too.

  2. Congrats on your PhD! That's an accomplishment! It seems like most PhD holders struggle until they get tenure. But it's for the love of the work. And trust me, the grass always seems greener. In my case, my depression has held me back from pursuing the life o wanted. I ended up settling down at a young age and getting a masters in something that would get me up the corporate ladder. Until I realized that I wasn't interested in climbing the corporate ladder. It's ruthless and often times, your workday doesn't end at 5. No amount of money would make that worthwhile.

    I married young expecting my marriage and my husband to fix me. In reality, it doesn't work that way. My depression has worsened and while I'm getting treatment for it, I find myself looking back on my 20s with many regrets. I grew up way too fast, committed before I was ready. I even agreed to have a kid, something I swore I'd never do - fortunately, biology had other things in store for my husband and I will never have to face that. But it took infertility for me to realize that I had a choice. I've always had choices. I just sabotaged myself so that I could prove to myself I was worthless.

    I know that we're all searching for something to give our lives meaning. In your case that's work and I think that's ok because if you enjoy what you do, at least you have something to get up for every morning. I'd prefer that over drifting aimlessly.

    1. Hi nomdeplume,
      It's definitely a struggle to get tenure; the problem is, most PhDs never get it, because there are too many PhDs and not enough tenure-track jobs.
      You're not worthless! You're worth a lot, and I'm not just saying that. I think that TV and movies make us have high expectations of our twenties, because we always see people living it up during that time period. But on the other hand, there's the quarterlife crisis, where we get to our twenties and realize it's not like TV or the movies.
      My work is meaningful to me, but I want other meaningful things to; I don't want my life to revolve around work anymore, especially since it stresses me out.

  3. It's difficult, I guess I did give up on some things to get where I am, and have had to deal with some serious disappointments, but overall, I'm quite happy with the choices I've made so far.

    I hope you find a way to go after your happiness now.

    1. Hi Misha,
      Thank you! I think that part of the problem is that I've been focused on things that made me unhappy or stressed out; I need to focus more on things that make me happy. Once I let myself take a break (at least occasionally), it will hopefully be easier.

  4. We definitely make sacrifices along the way for any path we choose. When we're young, any path is open to us, but the older we get, the further down the road, the harder it is to change directions until it feels nearly impossible. By then we have to hope the highway we're on is one we enjoy. I've thought about this a ton lately and have decided I'm very happy with where I'm at. I may not have tons of money or success, but I have a family whom I adore, and they make life full.

    Way to go on your PhD! That is an epic accomplishment. I think we all have to stop periodically and take stock of where we're at. Change isn't easy, but it is possible.

    1. Hi Crystal,
      That's a really good way to describe it, especially the part about how any path is open to us when we're younger. When I was younger, I thought I had all the time in the world; it wasn't until I got older (30s) that I realized that time was running out and I'd let too much of it pass me by.
      I think that having a family that you love makes you very successful. I used to think that money and work were most important, but now I've started to realize that other things matter too.

  5. I'm a bit late to this post, and everyone else has said what I'd say too... only better.

    We all need to be honest with ourselves and decide what WE want from life - ignoring what everyone else is doing. If you're not getting what you want at the moment, it's time to think about other things.

    Congrats on your PhD! What an awesome achievement. Sorry you couldn't go to the graduation.

    1. Hi Annalisa,
      My apologies for not responding sooner; I've been so swamped with work; I even work while I'm eating meals.
      And thank you! It is a relief to be done with the PhD, not to mention I wouldn't have gotten my current full-time job without it.
      For a long time I thought that this career was what I wanted, and it still is, to a certain extent. But I finally realized that I need to make time for the other things I want, rather than just waiting until I have time.

  6. Congratulations on your PhD and reaching so many of your goals. I think it is so important that you have realized that hard work is important, but so are friendships and doing things that make us happy (like relaxing). Don't forget to add fun to your to do list. I learned that this year and it has made a world of difference. :)

    1. Hi Jess,
      Sorry I didn't respond sooner! I've been working, working, working, as usual. It's always been hard for me to relax, because my never-ending list of tasks that need to get done make me feel tense and anxious all the time. I haven't really had much fun in months, to be honest, because I've been so busy working. But I think that one of my New Year's resolutions will be to make more time to have fun.