As a self described recovering workaholic who struggles with leaving work at work and being present and in the moment during my down time with the family (walking and talking though work situations in my head used to be a daily thing), I have to admit that self care is an ongoing battle and a flat out daily struggle – I’m doing better but the struggle is real… For some reason as I made my way up the enlisted tier in the Air Force I wired my mind to think that time off and leaving work at a decent time was not something standout performers did.
At one particular point in my career I wore my rise and grind, out work, out hussle approach like a badge of honor. Making time to enjoy the benefits of being stationed in places like Arizona, Portugal and England, by partaking in the many travel and cultural engagement opportunities available was not even close to being a priority. I remember telling my coworkers, and smugly pointing out what I perceived to be under-performing peers and joking “they are here for the trips and to have fun, I’m here to work”. In my eyes their time away from work and initiative to take some down time, was selfish, borderline lazy and not in line with service and taking care of the mission.
Obtaining results, taking on all available opportunities to maximize my unit’s performance and to ensure our people were properly mentored, developed and recognized, no matter the personal cost (time, being mentally absent while being home, sleep, etc.) was simply a non-negotiable personal standard. I, like many of my peers fell into the trap of thinking and feeling that in order to earn the true respect of my superiors, peers and subordinates one has to demonstrate a selfless devotion to duty and work ethic unmatched by anybody… Self Care in the form of taking some time away from work, a mental break from the grind of the mission, was in my deep, down, personal opinion: selfish.
In retrospect nothing could been further from the truth. As I look back at my time and conduct a thorough post tour analysis I have realized that my failure to practice a deliberate self care plan was not only foolish, but also in essence selfish. Selfish because instead of making a committed effort at being mentally present while spending time with my family, better planning my work days, saying no to things that could have waited and simply saying no to additional (optional) undertakings… I made a personal, self-centered choice to feed my workaholic, out- work, out-hustle, out-grind self identity.
In essence, I developed a monster fed by results, accolades and things that in the end turn out to be “fools gold” (when compared with my lost time with family, friends) in addition to high jacking my ability to devote quality time to my family and mental well-being. I put myself on a fast path to burnout… After what must have been a six year window of no slowing down, it took some deep and personal soul searching, multiple heart to heart conversations with my wife and a couple of career setbacks and kicks in the head or what I like to refer to as “Refinement Opportunities” to help me snap out of it… I had to make the selfless approach of making a thought out, legit effort at self care. This enabled me to better take care of those that I committed to care for on a personal (spouse, family) level and to better serve those whom I had been entrusted to lead within my unit. To put it bluntly, I had to put aside the selfish desire to feed my ego and take on the selfless need to take better care of myself in order to properly care for others.