Some summers back I earned a highly coveted internship at a renowned design studio. It was like a dream come true – I really couldn’t have asked for more. Little did I know that it was going to be a huge reality check.
Halfway through my internship, it dawned on me that my soul was withering. All because of OT – working overtime.
I loved the work. I really did. I was learning so much and I was working on projects that I previously could only have dreamt of.
But I worked late on my first day there. Then on the next day. And the day after that. Then I realised that everyone there worked late nights almost every day. If I ever left on time, I carried with me a huge boulder of guilt – even if I had completed my work for the day.
I felt like I was expected to stay late, and so I did. I started working almost 10 unpaid extra hours a week. I lost count of the number of times I had to cancel on friends at the very last minute and the number of appointments I had had to skip. It was as though life outside the office ceased to exist.
One night, after another long day at work, I broke down at home. I dreaded the thought of having to wake up the next day for work.
I was mentally drained, physically tired and emotionally unstable. I realised I was feeling this way partially because I’d pinned unrealistic expectations on my job.
I thought that working in my dream job would mean that I would be having the best time of my life since I was literally “living the dream”. My mind just couldn’t resolve the conflict between my expectations and the reality I was experiencing.
One night, after another long day at work, I broke down at home. I dreaded the thought of having to wake up the next day for work, and to be trapped in the office for most of my waking hours again.
My soul was beginning to detest the place I had craved to be in.
DRAW YOUR BOUNDARIES
I also learnt that my inability to just say “no” was a large part of the cause of my extra hours.
In their book, Boundaries, psychologists Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend put it aptly: “Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.”
And that was what happened to me. As an intern, I knew my place — at the bottom of the totem pole. I didn’t dare to set my own boundaries, and as a result I gave up the freedom to protect my own work-life balance.
I couldn’t say no when someone asked me if I could do them a favour; neither could I be courageous enough to mention that I had other plans arranged when someone asked if I could stay late to help them work on something.
These things weren’t part of my job scope, and I knew that. But my fear of upsetting people ended up upsetting myself the most.
So I gave up my say in the matter. I lost my voice.
BITTER, ANGRY – AND ENLIGHTENED
It was getting difficult not to be bitter about the situation I was in. I was bitter and angry with God. I wondered why He’d led me into this place, only to abandon me there. “Where is He?” I constantly asked.
Of course He was there. God was there as I worked. God was there when I broke down. God was always there. He was the only reason I made it out intact each day.
After my internship ended we had to file a report to the school on our experience. I was ready to air all of my grievances. Then I realised the entire experience was a reality check. A wake-up call.
Did I regret pursuing my dream? No. I loved my work as a designer. I was passionate about my work and I saw purpose in it.
Always question why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t just blindly do what the rest of the world does.
But the onerous hours meant that my imagined fantasy of a designer’s life was completely shattered — and that perhaps was what God knew what I needed. Through it I learned that I knew nothing about setting my own boundaries and keeping to them. Through it I realised how important it was to use your voice if you’re given one.
Always question why you’re doing what you’re doing. Don’t just blindly do what the rest of the world does. I never understood why everyone stayed late at work even when they had nothing else to do. I never asked why; I simply followed suit.
It wasn’t working extra hours, unpaid or not, that crushed my soul. I allowed my soul to be crushed.