I used to be American. In a shameless blog post I once wrote, but never posted, I bragged that I’d never taken a sick day. I qualified this by accounting the time I’d worked through the worst stomach bug I’d ever had: the norovirus. Laying on the floor, I shot off emails in between stomach cramps that doubled me over.
While searching for blog starts left unfinished, I came across this story of pushing myself through pain, like my very own torturer. What kind of person pushes unrelentingly and then brags about it, no less?
An American. That’s who.
While working to help rebrand a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) company, I learned about the American way of rugged individualism—which holds constant achievement, along with a die-hard work ethic, as hallmark values.
Pitying those who fit this description, I’ve slowly come to realize that I am one of them. However, new books, podcasts and influencers have brought me to the truth, which is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Yet, old habits die hard.
When the pandemic hit, I reverted back to pushing myself, but this time at a deeper level, driven by an internal fear about my place within a volatile market. Over-working, over-delivering, over-compensating—for nothing other than leftover insecurities.
Spiraling in self-pity, I wanted out. But my regressed patterns told me I needed permission to rest. The only permission I could imagine was getting the coronavirus. This was before the vaccine, when morgues lined city streets. I saw the young mothers on the news, hooked up to ventilators, fighting for breath. And yet, I secretly wanted the coronavirus.
Eventually unraveling myself, I found different ways of existing within my home’s new patterns. A new meditation spot and online exercise outlet eased my self-imposed over-delivery system.
And I did end up getting sick, as the immunocompromised often will, but never with the coronavirus. I worked through some of the milder parts of the sickness, never fully taking a day off other than holidays. Feeling dragged down, I held onto my secret wish of catching the dreaded bug. Only then would I have the permission, given by an unknown Dictator of Expectations, to rest.
But Omicron’s mild-mannered ways have enabled workers across the nation to continue from the safety of their own homes, even returning to work after a mere five days, symptom-free or not, depending on the industry. Thank you America.
This has come closer to home than news reports of hospital staff working through the illness. Acquaintances and business contacts, none of them with the Veracity team, have been showing up in Zoom calls and phone calls with the bug, sometimes giving off a sense of American pride.
Possibly I should be grateful for their dedication to our collective work. And I understand the need to keep pushing on. But my excuse from the grind has been stripped away. Afterall, my Dictator of Expectations will remember every one of these instances, comparing my performance to that of others.
But what if I refuse to fall into this trap, this American way of being? Sometimes, when I tire of the constant pushing, I imagine myself on a beach in Mexico, replacing the hustle with peace. Although, my un-fucking-shakable work ethic reminds me of one very key thing. I love my job. I love my clients. I love my team. It’s just my mind that needs to change. Therefore, I’m striving to ease my American grit, put my Dictator of Expectations on notice, and plan a relocation to Mexico, if only in my mind.
Featured image courtesy of engin akyurt via Unsplash