David and his wife were scheduled to have dinner with us on Sunday, a date established months before. Alas, three days before our gathering, David sent us a picture of his face and an email that said he’d have to cancel. His face was covered in hives and the doctor was running tests. The doctor said it was a food allergy exasperated by stress.
As David explained, “There’s simply a great deal on my plate of late including multiple projects at work, over committed on my volunteer work and contemplating impending retirement. Typically keep my head down and power through such periods but this is a bit different. “
But maybe, David isn’t so different.
In doing research for my book debuting in August 2020 but available for pre-order on Amazon.com, Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to refuel, recharge and reclaim what matters, I am uncovering a number of “Davids”, men and women of different ages who are reporting physical symptoms that range from eczema to even passing out from exhaustion. In every instance, their explanation to me is that felt they just had to work at that pace and take on so much.
Amazing how our internal self-talk overrides what our body is telling us—if only we would listen! Two people said they were trying to live up to their parents expectations. Another individual said that getting accolades and raking in commendations and financial rewards had been paramount. Fortunately, his body literally collapsed, and he now is serious about what really matters.
I say “fortunate” because in 2013, 21 year-old Moritz Erhardt was discovered dead, sprawled across the shower floor and slumped against the door. Erhardt had won a highly competitive summer internship at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London but it was a costly victory.
An article in The Guardian quoted one City intern who told the reporter that at the time of Erhardt’s death, working for more than 100 a week was normal for interns.
In my current research, summer interns in many global financial institutions are still expected to work from 9am -2am. Sure they are paid handsomely for it but one has to ask “what price is being paid with their body?" While Goldman Sachs issued an edict in 2015 that stated interns have to stay out of the office from midnight until 9am, it’s not so mandated in investment firms. Rather, it appears that perceived pressure to be seen as one of “the team”, pushes individuals to extremes that might be harmful. Perhaps some team members have the stamina of a thoroughbred and can go the distance. But other members might be better suited to the deliberate pace of a Clydesdale horse.
(Recall the Budweiser horses.)
My point is not to single out a specific industry but rather to raise a caution flag. Your body is a machine that—like all machines—needs to be cleaned, tuned up, oiled, and plugged into an energy source. Machines wear out when used non-stop and so do our bodies. Ariana Huffington’s personal wake-up call came in the form of a fall from her desk, resulting in a nasty gash over her eye and a broken cheekbone. That experience literally woke her up to write Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a life of Well-being, wisdom and Wonder. Huffington is now strongly committed to ensuring that her company puts in systems and processes that help employees live balanced healthy lives. Her voice is one that facilitates these sessions at the yearly World
Economic Forums in Davos.
But we don’t all work for Ariana. You and only you are the first defense in breaking out of a physically unhealthy pattern of work.
Consider and LISTEN closely to your body.
Ignore the voice in your head that says things like: “you’ll be seen as a laggard.You’ll let people down. You can rest later. You’ll never get everything done if you stop now.”
Yada, Yada, Yada.
Imagine how much better your brain will function on rest. You won’t have to redo so much or make so many errors.
Truthfully, ask your body if it is a thoroughbred or a Clydesdale?
And when you hear the answer—have a glass of champagne or a beer