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"Workaholics Aren't Heroes"


My friend Jennifer Broxterman inspired this post with her recent reminder that "Workaholics aren't heroes."

I was 8 years old when I learned the only way my dad would love me was if I was a hard worker (or at least, that's the story I started telling myself after that fateful day).

It was summertime at gymnastics and we had taken all the foam cubes out of the foam pit because there had been a bit of a flood. We had aired the foam out outside for a few days and it was time to put it back into the pit. Foam isn't heavy, so girls were grabbing massive armfuls of foam cubes, as much as their short arms could handle, and walking it back around the gym and into the pit.

To be funny, I decided to grab one single piece of foam and carry it back around the building before tossing it into the pit.

My coach Sonya, a strict Czech woman with a thick accent, who ate her bananas from the wrong end and always wore too much perfume, didn't think it was so funny.

"Emily!!!" she yelled, as she approached and invaded my personal space to wag her finger in my face, giving me a good dose of her overpowering perfumy scent in the process.

Unbeknownst to me, Sonya told my dad about my foam-carrying antics when he picked me up from the gym that day.

That same day, as we were driving the 2.5 hours to Merritt, my dad, who had his own construction business, told me what Sonya had said to him. Then he said to me, "You know what I do with labourers who don't carry enough two-by-fours?"

"What? I asked inquisitively.

"I fire them," he said.

He sounded so firm and so disapproving, I had no choice but to internalize. I don't think I spoke another word the entire trip to Merritt.

(For the record, my dad isn't a scary man. We have always had a smooth-sailing relationship, and when I told him about this conversation as an adult and how it impacted me when I was going through a personal development course, he had no recollection of it).

But for me, as an 8-year-old kid, I took something from those words he uttered that day: For my dad to approve of me, for him to respect me and love me, meant I needed to be productive and efficient in everything I did in life, even carrying foam.

Since then, I have always felt like my success is measured by being productive. Factor in the fact that I can work from anywhere as a writer, and it means I'm usually always working. Whether I'm brainstorming how I'm going to write an article as I'm driving home, or I'm planted in the bathtub, or I'm writing in the airport, I know the more I write, the more money I will make, and I like spending money, so it's hard to shut off.

Recently, I was in Calgary staying at a friend's place. I pulled out my computer one morning for a couple of hours of writing. All of a sudden, four hours had gone by. In my mind, I had only logged a couple of hours of work that day and I considered it a day off. 

Later that evening, I mentioned to my friend that it had been such a good, relaxed day off. She laughed and said, "But you worked like all day."

I got defensive: "Only from 8 until 10 a.m."

"It was 7:30 until almost noon," she said. "And then when we got back you spent another hour editing that other story."

"But that was just editing. It wasn't hard," I replied.

She laughed and added, "And you were answering emails in the car."

"Well, but..."

Then I stopped and realized she was right: It hadn't been a day off at all.

So here I am in Hawaii for nine days, and I have committed to taking five days off completely. I have some actual deadlines so I need to work a few days, but five days will be off. 100 percent. Zero work. Starting tomorrow: Off the grid the entire day. It's giving me anxiety just thinking about it.

In light of this, I'm putting out a request for suggestions:

For those of you who can work from anywhere, who are always working, and who think they need to be productive all the time, tell me your best tips. How do you unplug? How do you ensure you live a balanced life, where you can truly spend some downtime, where work is the furthest thing from your mind?