In the corporate world, one favorite excuses everyone uses when asked if they’re okay is, “Just burning the candle at both ends.” They will tell you this while smiling sweetly and typing furiously on their computers. It’s not even that hard to guess they’re miserable. You can just feel it in the air. You can read it on their faces that they’re screaming on the inside.
We’ve been told over and over again that working hard is the key. There’s no other way to be successful than sweating blood and crying and sleeping five hours a night. If you’re not looking like total garbage at least once a week, you’re not even trying. People encourage us to put more and more hours into our work for us to be considered masters in our professions.
And I think this belief applies to a certain extent.
But dedicating all your waking hours working is, for me, not healthy. Now I’m not saying this because I’m part of a generation who has high regards about life and work balance. I’m saying this because I believe that working extremely hard when you’re young is not very okay. And why this culture of trying to prove something in the society is overrated.
I do know and recognize that we all have different dreams in life. Maybe some of us 20-something people want to be the CEO or president of a country or someone really big someday. But most of us aren’t designed to carry big responsibilities behind our backs for other people. Not every one of us is able to dedicate our entire lives for the sake of being hugely successful.
Based on what I’ve learned about burning the candle at both ends, it’s the truth that it doesn’t always satisfy you. You won’t open the doors of your home every night and scream, “It feels great to be working 15 hours today!” You won’t wake up every morning, sleep deprived, and tell yourself, “I’m so ready for another challenge!” Eventually, you will get tired. And your body will beg you to give it a rest it deserves.
Of course, there’s almost always a way to push yourself to the limit. To drag yourself and keep trying, even if you’re all beaten up. But the scary thing about working too hard is that you will forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. You will lose your balance. And in one fleeting moment, you will realize that you have sold your soul in exchange for paper bills and cheap recognition.
I think working smart trumps working hard. Consistency is good, but constantly ensuring you’re doing everything so damn perfectly will burn you out. And before you know it, you’ve given up for good. You’re on your way out the back door, regretting the times when you’ve pushed your button harder than necessary.
Your career isn’t a game in which whoever sprints the fastest wins. Your career is one big marathon — there are certain points when you’re supposed to be giving your all, and when you need to slow down and just enjoy. Don’t turn yourself to be like those people who get sucked into their work that they have completely forgotten their identities. Remember that you have a different life outside of what you’re doing for a living.
When you don’t put a boundary between your personal life and professional life, your ground will crack open and confusion will swallow you whole. If work becomes too overwhelming, try to take a step back and breathe for a while. Reflect on what you’ve achieved so far and use it as an inspiration for you to keep going. Taking a break shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Because it’s necessary for your mental health.
Nobody’s opinion of your work ethic can personally hurt you — unless you let them. We all work differently. We’re constantly figuring out better ways on how we can evolve. So focus on your own race. Following what everyone’s doing based on what the society says so will only set you back. It’s okay to be practical, but it’s also okay to be true to what you want to get out of life. You owe yourself authenticity.
Once the show is over and the curtains call, the contentment that you feel inside of you is the thing that will tell you if you’ve made it, not what the world thinks. You can lose everything in one tragic event, but your voice stays with you. So don’t burn your candle too brightly. Always remind yourself who you are when money and your desire for fame aren’t part of the equation that defines what matters to you.