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Breaking Free from The Work Hamster Wheel - Finding Balance and Purpose in Your Career

Updated: Jun 20

Our career can give us a sense of purpose, pride and achievement, but sometimes it becomes a hamster wheel of stress. Notice in the image that the person looks, stressed, tired even a bit overwhelmed as they try to push past their threshold of tolerance.  When we work past our threshold and stress sets in, our nervous system provides bodily clues such as muscle tension, racing heart, feeling tired and isolating. There are also costs to overworking, beyond what we experience in our body. We may neglect our physical needs, such as sleep and our personal life may suffer due to our reactions to stress. When our mood and emotions are impacted by stress, irritability, reactivity and anxiety ensue causing relational challenges. Studies show that overworking , even taxes our body to the point, we actually lose productivity and creativity. Given all the costs, you maybe wondering why would someone neglect themself? That is because over-functioning can be a symptom of covering insecurity. Overworking can become a habit or compulsive behavior to help us to falsely feel fulfilled. So, without self-acceptance, we worry that the other shoe will drop, so we push the limit most days. We are set up in early life experiences create doubt and false self-beliefs that we are not enough, have to get it rightl I’m, be perfect or are not worthy in someway. We develop an inner critic that is hard on us and drives us to overwork to prove our value. However, our value is inside us and not about our projects, job or anything we do. The insecurities that often begin in early childhood, stay with us. So our past gets connected to our present issues. We are often unaware of our insecurities and when they get activated, we beleive we are flawed, criticize our work and worry that we will be judged.

Why does this happen? Children are egocentric and falsely make issues "their fault" It is part of survival strategy. For example, if a parent overworks and has no time to play and interact with their child. The child might feel sad and lonely. And, will tell themself, I am a burden, if I were better, then my parent would spend more time with me. Or, in another example a child might blame themself for a parents divorce, Thinking its my fault because, I am the problem, I am unlovable and the reason my parents are not together. These core erroneous beliefs of being unworthy is often unconscious, and left unresolved does impact behavior in adulthood. How do the erroneous beliefs turn into overworking, you may wonder? When a person feels unworthy that leaves a wound of emptiness that needs to be filled. As adults our work is rewarded with money, accolades and accomplishment, but these are temporary external rewards showing up in the brain as short-term dopamine boosts. When we have attachment wounds, we don't realize our worth is already inside us: we cannot truly feel worthy. The cycle of reward begins by seeking external gratification to fill the emptiness. For example, If someone is trying to prove their worth thru accomplishments, they often end up on a hamster wheel of overworking because no matter how much is accomplished, the emptiness is never filled. We worry about each, project, customer or result. Thus, more judgement and fear ensues, our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol, so overworking and overachieving continue, we put pressure on ourself fearing failure or being an imposter. Overtime this pattern can become a never ending cycle because the root cause of the emptiness is never addressed and the external rewards are short lived. And while this is an issue for the person not able to set limits on work, it also impacts the people close to them. Breaking free of the hamster wheel is a process. Here are some tips to get started.

  1. Awareness- begin to notice how you talk to yourself about work. Are you critical? Do challenge your perfectionism, fears and self-judgement? Notice your stress level and if you are judging yourself or others, take breaks and use positive self-talk.

  2. Check in - with your family and friends, are they feeling neglected or asking for your attention? Pay attention to your own needs for connection. And the connection needs of your significant other, children and those close to you. Ask yourself, what is the cost of overworking?

  3. Begin to set small limits on your work hours or how late you work. Avoid skipping meals and do take breaks during each workday. Get up from your desk or work space and eat lunch with colleagues. Set boundaries to define a work life balance and clear you schedule when on vacation or during time with family and friends.

  4. Seek professional help such as therapy to work through unresolved issues that perpetuate overworking and increase your sense of internal worthiness. Learn worth is not something you earn.

  5. Invest in yourself to find what you like to do in your time off. Overworking robs you of joy and truly enjoying those you care about.

  6. Begin a list of your strengths and what you like about yourself as a person.

  7. Be patient and kind to yourself, it takes time and practice to feel worthy and accept yourself.


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