Detaching from work

After receiving some criticism on a presentation I put together, I felt like my whole being got crushed. It all felt so personal. But that’s when my therapist asked me, “Why are you taking all this so seriously? How is this about you?”

And then she said, “You are not your presentation. If you were your presentation, we could all start talking to your presentation and not you”. I broke out in laughter while still crying hearing that. She said, “Your work and everything you create is only a small percentage of what you are capable of. You, on the other hand, is much more than what you do”.

Since we’ve been discussing my attachment to work recently, I have myself been pondering over what it is about my work that makes me go towards it so much. Initially I thought it is the culture of high achievement imbibed in me from my childhood. But gradually I realised that is not it. I responded to all requests of performance not just out of the pressure to do so, but because I enjoyed it too. Ambition makes sense to me. Being driven makes sense to me. And finally, doing work that I enjoy makes sense to me.

I see work as art.. as play. I display my creativity through what I do at work. Be it an excel sheet or a presentation or a new project that I develop. I pour my heart and soul into it and become one with my work in a way that gives me deep satisfaction and joy. It is almost divine for me at times (I realise it sounds crazy to call PPT making divine). But at the same time, I now see how I abandon my centre and my whole self to be reduced to just that piece of work. Too close, too attached.

I’ve done this enough times to know it does not end well for me if I love my work more than myself. There is emotional exhaustion from taking everything so seriously, which evolves into burnout. Worse these days are the health issues that crop up because I’ve ignored myself long enough. So my body says “No” for me and asks me to stop working. I see the consequences of this over-attachment and I wonder what could be done.

The most common suggestion I get is to set limits for work and make an identity for myself outside my work. Both are so hard to do because in a way, I still get lost at work and lose track of time or my own rules. While I may be going towards “play”, work is also a convenient yet rewarding excuse to go away from my self. It is socially accepted and is financially rewarding for me to not take care of myself and abandon who I’m. I recall the strong learning from childhood that sure, you have hobbies, but “studying is more important”. Maybe this is the adult version of that playing out. To develop who I’m outside work will now take deliberate effort, one that feels so daunting yet necessary.

I suppose there isn’t a concrete ending to this post because I’m still grappling with my thoughts here. I’ll come back and write about what I figure out eventually!