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Mental spring clean, step 4: Check your valuables

Written by Katariina Keinonen (15 Mar 2016)

"If you work for living, why do you kill yourself working?"

This is the fourth part of our mental spring clean. Check out the first part here.

Sometimes we can get clouded with ideals. Particularly ideals about how we should view our work. But there are no wrong values with any life areas. Some of us have chosen the career we are on because we are passionate about our field, some want to achieve a particular status, some want to establish a good financial situation and some have chosen a career that leaves room and energy for family, leisure time or personal projects, for example.

Have you taken a look at your values in the area of work life? Have you felt like you should feel differently about work, yet you don't want to re-educate yourself or change jobs? Have you gotten caught up in the ideals of how one "should" view work?


Kirsikka shares some of her reflections about ideals.

This has been a constant struggle for me during my adult life. Personally I care little about money, as long as I have enough to eat healthy, have a roof over my head and some spare coin for free-time activities, but the the ideal of a hard-working person has been stuck very deeply in my mind. Culturally, it might be the Protestant work ethic that's messing with our heads and pushing us to the mindset "the longer working hours you clock in, the more worth you have as a person". When I worked in research, I became increasingly anguished about how little short-term impact my work seemed to have in the real world. So I tried to do more and more, accomplishing less and less.

Yet, as one of my superiors once said, it would be best to "work smarter, not harder". Being young and wet behind the ears, I didn't fully understand the meaning back then. Now I think what he meant was that no one benefits in the long run if we work ourselves to exhaustion. In fact, burnout can leave a lasting mark on the brain, making it harder to bounce back from stressful situations and making us more susceptible to any negative events. And it also wreaks havoc on our immune systems.

So if you notice that you're getting sick more often, becoming more cynical, snapping at people, feeling less optimistic... it's probably time to step back and think critically about your work and working conditions. Are you in the right place? Would you choose to be there if you had other options? Are you happy with the balance between your work and other areas of life? Or is there something you (yes, you) would like to change? These are not always easy questions, but they are sometimes very necessary.

For example, I've had to teach myself to let go of the irrational guilt that arises in me when I take weekends off and only work regular hours. It still sometimes feels like cheating, which is weird, because I'd never tell anyone else to work until exhaustion. We should all be able to live happy, balanced, fulfilling lives. This often includes work that is meaningful and worthwhile (or at least has such aspects), but what makes work meaningful and worthwhile can be very different for different people. And that's all right.

– Kirsikka