i have been working for over 2 years now to vanquish my Type A tendencies. Type A personality traits are typically associated with motivation for high achievement, impatience, overworking and competitiveness. I call these the 4 Horsemen of Type A. And their uncontrolled impact on your life can be deadly.
Don't be fooled that these only show up in work life. They infiltrate your private life and family. Hobbies are competitions and mine was gardening. I maxxed out at 175 tomato plants one year and didn't even think it was a problem. Two years later we are still living off of the canned tomato products that I made from that harvest.
You also tend to project these behaviours onto your kids -- why have fun playing hockey when you could try to be an NHLer? Or your happy journaling girl is suddenly heading for a Nobel Prize in literature. Or making your track loving boy watch hours of the Olympic to "motivate" them. So much for hobbies for fun.
This is where the problem lies. Us Type A riders take normal, fun activities, and make them all competition for success and acknowledgement. And our achievement seeking leads us to be really great at our jobs.
These traits are not, in and of themselves, harmful, except that our culture HIGHLY prizes the results these traits bring. When you ride with the Horsemen, the exhilaration, the public succes, and the financial rewards make it nearly impossible to get off the horse.
We have been taught since grade school to seek out external validation - from winning reading awards, to science fair competitions, to striving for grades significant enough to get us scholarship -- all this validation sets us up to continually be striving and putting off things that are more esoteric, calm or quiet. We are bombarded with effort/reward scenarios from the time we are born and our parents start us off on the journey often living out some of their unfulfilled history and we, in turn, pass it along to our children.
Our desire for this external validation becomes the source of some of our biggest burnout activities in adulthood.
Much like grade school, our work lives have report cards. Evaluations, performance reviews, 360s, even Accreditation, all fall into the work/validation vortex. And here is where Overwork becomes the Horseman you can't escape.
Organizations are under massive pressure these days -- more than ever there aren't enough people to do the work, so the work gets piled onto those who are already engaged.
Why don't we notice and respond? Because it happens in increments. You start out working 45 hours in your 40 hour week then suddenly and surprisingly you are at 60 -- not counting the hours you work at home.
Non-work activities get cancelled, rebooked, ignored, and forgotten. Your kids look at you and learn. Jim Croce called in in Cat's Cradle as a kind of Cassandra doomed to foretell the future and have no one believe her.
So we find ourselves working more, living for the adrenaline of the top marks in performance review, the possible wage increase for excellent performance, and continue to get pulled back into the negative vortex until we can no longer see the problem. "Somebody has to do the work".....
But let's really think about what our riding the Overworking horse means -- fundamentally it means we are enabling the system to continue on without having to change.
Yes, we are the reason that the system hasn't changed!!! It relies on both our tendency to value overwork as a signal of success AND our refusal to allow our colleagues to work short.
This is the sword that kills us. That we must stop doing the overwork in order to force change.
It won't happen fast. All the data the system uses to function is based on decades of overworking employees and it is scary to step into the unknown where people ONLY work their designated hours.....time has come to get off this horse.