Wow, I can’t believe that January is almost over. It seems like just a few days ago we were celebrating the new year and now the first month has gone by so fast. I, like many, find myself asking where the time went, what happened to the full year ahead, wondering what I forgot to do or never got around to doing. I frequently find myself wishing that I could do more outside of work, go more places, spend more time doing things with my family, but at the end of the day/week/month, I still find myself doing the same things, following the same patterns, almost like my life is on “repeat” to an extent.

I posted a couple of days ago about how much I love my job, and this is so true. Unfortunately, the nature of my job and my devotion to it mean that all to often I find I am putting it ahead of my family and myself. By the time I get home at night, even on the nights I’m not on call for emergencies, I’m exhausted, drained, and have no energy to do much of anything. The nights that I am on call, I am hesitant to make any plans for fear of missing a call. (There are times that even showering or dinner put me on edge because I might be unavailable for 30 minutes.) I limit myself so much when I am on call, especially on weekends, for fear of missing the call or having to stop a family event to go in for an emergency. (On a side note, I would like to make it clear that, even when on call, I do not actually live at the clinic. I go home, even occasionally go the the grocery store, and through the miracle of call forwarding I am able to answer the phone when you call the clinic without actually spending every living second there.) I do love my job, but I often give more of myself to it than I have to give because this is what is expected of me.

I fully believe that this is why so many New Year’s Resolutions don’t last long. People start out with good intentions of making a big life change and throw themselves into it with full force. But after awhile, demands placed on us by others start to become more important, and taking care of ourselves becomes a side project. Soon, we are so immersed in pleasing everyone around us that we forget to please ourselves. Our physical, mental, and spiritual health begin to weaken as we try to take care of others before taking care of ourselves. On the rare occasion we remember to be kind to ourselves, we are accused of being selfish or lazy, and the guilt drives us back into the madness of the world. This is why I cannot take a day off for the sake of taking a day off, why I can’t relax even on vacation, because there is always the nagging guilt that I should be at work. This, probably more than any other factor, is what drives people to become workaholics.

The bitter truth is that, we live in a repeating cycle while time moves in a linear fashion. It is only once time has moved far ahead of us that we notice how out of sync we are, creating the feeling that time is moving fast. Children don’t notice this as much as adults because they are not yet caught up in the cycle. They live in a world where it’s acceptable to play, acceptable to pretend, acceptable to dream. As they grow up, they will soon be told that play isn’t allowed, pretending is behind them, dreams are just a frivolous waste of time. Time begins to have the illusion of moving faster, and soon, adults find themselves lamenting the days of childhood and cursing the lack of time to do all the things they want to do. Time is not moving faster, we simply lose the ability to appreciate every moment.

We have “lofty” goals of fulfilling our dreams, but soon bosses demand that the project is finished tomorrow, that the client is cared for above all else, that working late is expected and going home on time is unacceptable when something isn’t completely finished. Other people expect that businesses stay open later and later to accommodate their own schedules of being expected to stay later and later. We have 24 hour businesses because it is no longer expected that people sleep at night, and cell phones ensure that the boss can reach us at all times, even on days off and vacations. We begin to expect that others work as hard as we feel we are expected to work and become resentful when we see people who actually take care of themselves. And then we work harder to prove how hardworking we are, how devoted we are to our jobs, how important it is for us to put others above ourselves, and leave with a sense of resentful arrogance that is nothing short of poison to our souls.

It is not only okay to take care of ourselves first, it is necessary to be healthy in body, spirit, and mind. When we give ourselves away without taking time to replenish it, we soon run out of self to give, and we become living robots, doing the same thing every day out of habit and routine. We lose passion in our work, sometimes even becoming resentful of our jobs. We plan and look forward to retirement, because that is when society has told us it’s finally okay to be ourselves, to do what we want, without worrying about schedules and deadlines. Until then, we are expected to be cogs in a machine that never turns off. But cogs wear out. Machinery breaks down as the parts become overused and overworked. Human beings are no different. We wear out when overused and overworked, and soon we cease to be useful as we run on burnout, and frequently we are tossed aside and replaced. We feel resentment and regret; resentment for working so hard and sacrificing so much just to be replaced, and regret for not taking better care of ourselves, not following our hearts, not replenishing our souls.

I am just as guilty of putting the job first ahead of my own needs, so I am as much in need of my own advice as anyone. We need to take time for ourselves. We need to be able to step away from the job and take a break, appreciate the moment, live in a linear timeline rather than a vicious circular rut. The more we do this, the more we will have to give back to the world. I’m not talking about a series of 6 week vacations every 3 months. Find the little things. Join a club for an activity you love to do. Take a class over something you have always wanted to learn. Take that day off and go to the zoo. Find the things that make you appreciate the moment, that allow you to refill your soul and refresh your mind. We can’t be everything to everyone, and this is not something to feel guilty about. But if we are nothing to ourselves, we cannot be anything to anyone. Step back. Take a break. Be in the moment. Be in sync with time.