Destroying The ‘Innate Workaholism’ Myth

Recently, I had this career planning workshop for high-performing young female researchers. We talked about many things like time management, finding our values, preventing burnout and so on. But one very common theme, at least for me, was the question of “work life balance” (a bad term actually) and something which emerged around it: I want to call it the assumption of ‘innate workaholism’ in this post.

 

What do I mean by ‘innate workaholism’?

Most of these high-performing successful women from the workshop felt like “I can’t not check my emails during a holiday” or “There just is so much work where I’m needed” but also didn’t see that it’s really a mentality issue they have and that this behaviour is probably something they were socialized into. They argued that “No, it’s not a problem: I think it’s more a question of personality. I have always been like that.” Well, yes, maybe you have. Or have you really? Have you really been like this as a small child? If you think and listen closely, can’t you determine the first time you did this? Why did this behaviour serve you at the time? In this post I want to argue that I think it is dangerous to embrace the assumption that workaholism is a character trait. I say it is a behaviour instilled in us by socialization and the societal pressure of what has been called ‘the busy bandwagon’.

 

The societal problem of the ‘busy bandwagon’

Have you ever heard an obvious workaholic justify themselves by stating that they it’s not a systemic problem that overwork is the societal norm and systemically encouraged but much rather, it’s supposed to be a question of “personality type”? In the American discourse, workaholics would be called “type A” personalities. That this is a cultural construct becomes obvious already in the fact that I wouldn’t know how to translate this to German without using some New Age Denglish terminology. Denglish, by the way, is a term for German-English, the fact that many English words become part of German vocabulary or become ‘germanised’ (eingedeutscht). In fact, studies have actually shown that this concept of popular psychology is actually bogus; see here (de) and here (en). If you don’t remember where you’ve already heard the term “busy bandwagon” before, you might want to check out the review of Make Time and my digital minimalism project of last year again.

 

Workaholism as an addiction

In this workshop, I was reminded a lot of some Mel Robbins audiobooks I had been listening to (they’re like coaching sessions). So she will coach a person with a specific problem and then explain the point in a larger perspective. Many of those are audio only and you can’t get them as “real books”. Especially relevant for this particular workshop is Work it out where she coaches women for career success. There are many different situations and problems addressed, different kinds of bosses, not being heard or visible, doing lots of “invisible work”, etc. But she also has definitions of workaholism.

Because how can you really tell whether you “just like work” or are a full-blown workaholic? Like any addict, we tend to be in denial, after all. Most smokers will also respond to you that they “just like cigarettes” when really hardly anyone truly “likes or enjoys cigarettes”. But you don’t want to see that this is a place where you’ve lost your self-control and freedom to an addiction, especially if it’s a socially rewarded activity which, essentially, made you successful in the first place, like it is the case with overwork or an unnaturally hard work ethic.

First point: What made you successful in the first place is not necessarily what will make you successful in the future (as seen in Essentialism One and Two). So the assumption behind societally accepted overwork isn’t actually valid. Saying yes to all opportunities maybe gave you initial success but you will forever plateau there (or burn out) if you continue to do so. So the rationale of “Work hard and you’ll be successful” isn’t necessarily true. It might have been at some point. But it sure as hell isn’t now.

Secondly, addiction really is a quest for connection. Mel Robbins also cites this TED talk where Johann Hari explains that addiction mostly only fills a void. What people really want is connection. You strive for connection but don’t really know how because you’ve linked being loved to achievement, so your default solution is to work harder. Engaging in the addictive behaviour will ultimately ever only be a substitute for what you really want and that is connection. But, obviously, you’re never going to get real connection with real people by throwing yourself into your work and being stressed. So the addiction becomes self-perpetuating and hard to break out of.

The image behind burnout is that of a house which looks really normal from the outside. It might even look nice. But it’s only when you get really close that you see it’s all burnt out on the inside. That’s us. We look successful. The fact of being burnt out is so well hidden that we even fool ourselves.

 

Find the underlying psychological issues

Mel Robbins always maintains in her coachings that even most seemingly strictly work-related problems have an underlying psychological issue which might not at all be obviously connected to or the root of the superficial problem at hand. It’s her philosophy that you need to find this problem. See where you first reacted this way. Most bad habits are behaviours which have served you in the past. Mostly, way back in the past.

For me, working (too) hard, it turns out once I started reflecting about it, is not something ‘innate’ as I had always thought. It’s not ‘part of my character’, even though I have firmly believed so for a long time. I have just built a self-image around hard (over-)work so much that I can fool myself. Thanks to this exercise of asking when and determining the first time this has happened, it turns out that it started when I was nine. It started with a small thing really. My parents probably didn’t think much of it. It happened when my parents told me I had to quit one hobby (ice-skating) to focus on studying more, so I would get into a good secondary school. It was a tiny incident looking back. But it implicitly taught me that my worth is linked to my success. And that’s where I started collecting achievements when I wanted to feel valued.

I’m not saying I’ve solved this since I am still working on this problem myself. But it gets better when you start acknowledging it. You can reverse this. I’m still at a point where I’m really only happy with myself when I perform. But at least I’ve seen now that this is not some a priori innate trait of mine. I have learned to behave like this because it served me in the past. But it doesn’t serve me anymore now. So I owe it to myself to change. And so do you.

 

A utopia to shake up your concept of work

In case you’re still not convinced, here’s a little utopical thought experiment I came up with to help you rethink if you really just work so hard because “you love to work” and “couldn’t imagine another life” or whether it’s something differnt.

Imagine this other society, this utopia where it’s normal to work between 4-5 hours per day. It’s ok to hover in between, to go over 4 hours if you need to finish something. But it’s actively discouraged, even financially retributed if you go over 5 hours because the policy makers’ opinion is that it will make you ineffective to work too long. (This is an actually true and not all that utopical part but that’s probably hard to imagine or believe for a high-performing young professional like you who is expected to work 10+ hours.)

You work your 4 hours like everybody and are pretty much expected to have a very rich life outside of those four hours, for which there is ample time and financing provided. They pay you well in your job because they like the quality work you do. They like how you focus on what’s essential and disengage with any superficial work. In such a society, overwork is discouraged, looked down upon and even punished. There is no way you can access your work projects or data to continue to work after you’ve left the workplace. It is even prohibited.

Do you really think you would still be working 10+ hours “because it’s your personality”? I hardly think anyone would. 4-5 hours is more than enough to make most of the work you love. To come back to work refreshed the next day and perform your best. To not be stressed and feel “haunted” by your work.

 

Jump off the “busy bandwagon”

If our societal definition of success weren’t “being busy” anymore, we could see through the systemic nature of the problem. We would value someone as successful not because they work long hours but because they have banished superficial work from their lives. Then, it would be easy to jump of the busy bandwagon. But if it’s what everybody else is doing and expecting, that’s much harder to admit. Your boss, after all, is a role model everybody is secretly expected to emulate. Especially if you’re a woman who is afraid she could make a bad impression and that then, not everybody would like her anymore. Because apparently that’s what a women should strive for: to be liked by everybody and be very careful. Even tough that’s not exactly a behavioural pattern which will make you successful. How many (successful) men have you met who care about whether somebody might not like them if they did thing XY (which is essential to their career)?

 

Conclusion

I don’t want to say that I am “better than you” now because I’ve started to see through this system. I’ve only made headway on this path over the course of the last year. It’s has been quite a journey. I read lots of books, listened to audio books, took time to reflect, to try out new things and rearrange my habits. It’s not been easy. Things have not worked out right away. Old habits where more persistent than I thought. I have had to face hard truths and investigate psychological issues.

It requires courage to really look into your own mind. We overworkers especially have trained ourselves to look to work for solutions for all the problems in our lives. Or at least to help us ignore them.  But, plot twist: your actual problems won’t just go away if you bury yourself in work and your underlying psychological issue won’t solve themselves. You have to unlearn this habit of throwing yourself into work to avoid your problems. To do so, you have to make an active push against what’s valued in our society. That’s hard. It requires courage. But I encourage you to at least try.

 

So much for now,

Best,
S

 

 

Book review – QGIS Map Design by Anita Graser & Gretchen N. Peterson

While finally doing my revisions and corrections on my dissertation text, I spend my last days of work (meaning work I am actually getting paid for) on maps. In our project, we are working on different names of deities and it would be nice to give a summary to all those names and – a distributional map.

So, I built the map – when there will be enough time, I hope to do a proper tutorial on that – and I collected the data and now I am sitting here in front of my screen … and I do not know how to actually design a proper map, with a layout, with a meaning. It seems rather rude to myself saying that I have not a clue how to do map design, because I am quite fit with the software and I can handle my data quite well.

I know that I need a distributional map as well as a map where I can show how many objects have been located in my known finding spots. I started googleing around on map design and then I found it: “QGIS Map Design, Second Edition (for more information click here), by Anita Graser & Gretchen N. Peterson, with new and updated workflows for QGIS 3.4.

QGIS 3.4 is the current long term release (LTR) and available for Windows, Mac and Linux. I am now working on Windows with QGIS 3.10, and there are not so many differences to 3.4, so I am quite good with it. And I have to say, it actually never crashed: 3.10 works fine as well.

But now, the review: Actually, the book is designed like one of those nice programming recipe books you may know. Its build up in three main parts: Layer Styling, Labeling and Print Map Design.

By flipping through the pages of this book it is possible to gain an understanding of the wide variety of mapping possibilities within QGIS. These pages provide in-depth, step-by-step instructions on how to create the maps shown, a variety of genereal cartographic techniques, and plenty of design inspiration. – p. 205

On more than 200 pages there is a collection of different maps and layouts, focusing on the further use of the map and the shown data. I found this book at our university library and I flipped through it in my coffee break – and I was convinced by chapter 3 that this was the book I needed desperately.

I am no tech native, I am no programmer and I am a learning-on-the-job archaeologist trying to give a proper geographic insight on our project work. A map is like a picture – it tells you a whole story and answers a certain question.

So, when getting started with the tutorials described in the book, I first downloaded the ressources accompanying the tutorials. I played around on various examples. The descriptions are step-by-step and easy to follow. As with all technical stuff, the key to understanding is reading your instructions calmly and concentrated. I was quite impressed by my results and on the next day I started immediately to try the techniques on my own data – you see a glimpse of one of my maps I am going to use for my dissertation project in the header.

I discovered a whole new world beyond the the functions of QGIS I am now quite used to. I suddenly felt a new interest in trying things and I understood the way to think and work with my data so that there will be proper and effective results.

You should have some basic training in QGIS, but there are enough ressources online and as books to get you into the material and the fun part of it. I am still impressed by the great simplicity of the explanations and the possibilities you have as a user of the whole package data you can work on.

So, from one happy noob to the world of academic warriors, especially those in need of nice map designs – try the examples and tutorials in this book! It will change your life!

Have a great time experiencing the wonderous world of QGIS!

Yours,

Astrid 🙂

Block’out Montpellier

I spent some time in the south of France recently. Of course, I couldn’t leave without checking out a local boulder gym. Out of the numerous options available, I chose the Block’Out company’s branch in Montpellier, or, to be precise in Castelnau-le-Lez.

The welcome and setup

I received a very warm welcome with a super friendly employee showing me around. They have a kids’ area on the first floor with short routes where you can warm up and there is this pipe slide you can use to get back down. I didn’t want to try it but it must be a lot of fun.

They have a café where you can sit outside in the summer, an inside and an outside bouldering area, locker rooms with showers, as well as a mixed sauna which is included in the price (you have to wear your bathing suit however). There also is a strength training area, which unlike at most other gyms, is not on the first floor 😉 While there would be lockers in the changing room, most people seem to put their things in the common Ikea Billy style square things close to the mats which many gyms have. And so did I. They also have a water fountain where you can recharge your water bottle for free if you brought one.

Difficulty levels and selection of routes

The levels seem quite similar as in most places, however I found the first two levels weird. They had extremely many holds (like crazy many) but they were not very usual ones I hadn’t seen before. Both those difficulty levels were extremely easy and thus, a bit pointless, I found. The thrid level (blue), however, held many nice challanges. And, like I was pleased to see in Amsterdam as well, they have lots of easy slopers. In many gyms, especially in our home gym sadly, I find that there are very few slopers in general and those usually only start at the difficult levels. So that when you don’t easily master those levels, you are confronted both with your difficulty with the route level as well as having to adapt to this new hold type. I think this is pretty shit didactically and thus, was very happy to find those easier slopers (and even slab routes!) in Block’Out Montpellier and Monk Amsterdam.

I tried out many routes. Flashed a few. But as usual was also not my normal (at-home) fitness level because of the holiday. It’s so extreme how fast a little less training has an impact on your bouldering. It’s scary! But I met a few people and had a nice chat, so it was a success after all.

The price

The price of 16€ for university students or 20€ without reduction for entrance and renting shoes is quite steep. I am always astonished, time and time again, how expensive a hobby bouldering really is. I mean, ok, many people stay really long but I usually come for an intensive workout and see no point in lingering much longer after I’m tired. I don’t usually do multiple sessions in a day. I find it much more effective to come regularly and have quick and efficient trainings. However, the steep prices don’t really allow you to do that when you’re not at your home gym with a monthly pass which makes it a bit cheaper. So yeah, this is the only criticism and it really also applies to our home bouldergym, Boulderclub in Graz.

Hope this review helped someone,

best,

S

Monk Bouldergym Amsterdam

Last time I went conferencing, I also checked out a bouldergym for you guys, Monk Bouldergym in Amsterdam. Here’s the review.

The price

15€ for entry and shoes wasn’t cheap but I wasn’t going to bring my smelly climbing shoes for conferencing in my tiny handluggage. And, then again, it’s a crazy prize if you don’t stay really long (say all afternoon). But you’d pay the same amount in our local gym at home. However, I do think bouldering is really expensive in many places. In Braunschweig’s Fliegerhalle as well as Aloha Sport Club, I paid around half the price compared to most other gyms (!) – around 40€ for a monthly pass.

Observations

I didn’t know the Dutch were so correct. I always thought that was just Germans. But I had never seen people be so “correct” about boulder gym rules like “Don’t sit on the mat”. According to my experience, nobody ever respects that rule more than necessary. At Monk, the mats are relatively small (as opposed to covering all the floor) and there is a sort of pathway in between them with a bank to sit on. People actually sit on this bank. I was even told off for crossing through on the mat rather than the pathway (there was tons of space between the guy on the wall and me – in Graz we often don’t even have the luxury of this amount of space at all). Maybe it was a gendered thing because the guys who did it looked like too much testosterone and I am a woman with rented shoes after all, so they probably thought I needed telling what to do. (Which is actually the most likely explanation for this event. Sadly.)

Another guy who seemed kind of new to bouldering and couldn’t climb my level (which is not massively high since I only started at the beginning of last summer term, despite a good amount of progress made) seemed completely in awe that a girl can climb better than him and followed me around like a (very obvious) ‘shadow’. This seemed to be meant in a nice way. He might have been trying to pluck up the courage to talk to me all along and never ended up doing it 😀

After one and a half weeks of not bouldering due to extended conference travel, I wasn’t fit as usual and tired much too early. I would have wanted to try out many more boulders, so I ended up trying many of the easy level boulders without using any strength. I have been using this technique at many new boulder gyms on my trips now and I feel that it’s actually a really good way of working on your efficiency and body positioning. I highly recommend this exercise / game for days where you’re just feeling tired. Also, don’t forget to climb the route back down to the start without using any strength too!

The routes

The routes, by the way, were really interesting. The levels were similar to Graz. First is yellow in Graz, orange here. Then green, then blue. I am at ease with blue right now, usually. However, here most of the blue ones were a challenge since they were all very sloper-y and we don’t have that much in Graz. But without the practice (I only got around to going once), many weren’t feasible or I didn’t get through until the final pull. Maybe I also just lacked that little bit of strength that day, which can make all the difference in the world with slopers.

Summary

Overall, Monk was a really fun expericence. They also have a nice strength training area, lockers for valuables and a cafe. It’s better to reach by bike. I was there on foot which was some walk from the metro station (and it was raining all along).

I wanted to try more Amsterdam gyms but in the end, there were many social evenings at the conference so I didn’t have the time.

Best,

S