I’m Just a Number Amongst Many Numbers

Life-work balance?

This year is my 25th anniversary. Well, officially it is my 26th, but my first year didn’t count. Likely, you’ve guessed that I am not speaking about my wedding anniversary here. Instead, I’m referring to the number of years that I have spent in my profession. That’s a lot of time dedicated to one particular career. Basically, I have grown up alongside my job. I distinctly remember the first few years given that they were so very challenging, the ones in between become a bit of a blur, and the last few have been memorable, but not in the way that I had hoped.

When I first entered my field of study, I was young, ambitious, motivated, idealistic, and proud of the idea that I could potentially make a difference in the lives of others. At the time, I considered my profession a noble one and given that I was the first person in both of my extended families to have earned a degree, I wanted to do well by them all. Especially my parents who sacrificed and worked so hard each and every day to raise us kids and help put us through our various schoolings.

The first ten years of my job were a bit of a nightmare and euphoric at the same time. I was doing what I had been meagerly trained to do (no amount of reading/lectures can replace its real life counterpart), and the reality of it all was beyond challenging and rewarding in the same sense. I was even being groomed for a leadership position which I thought was pretty neat. I was climbing the proverbial ladder. The problem is that I had NO life-work balance (notice that I purposely put the word life first) whatsoever, and I had been regularly missing out on family functions and celebrations on account of my job. It wasn’t right and I knew it. I had created a cycle of work that was practically impossible to keep up with and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive it all long-term. Something had to change.

I stepped away from the idea of leadership noting that it wasn’t really what I wanted, but more so what others wanted for me. It simply wasn’t what I was destined for. I also made a somewhat drastic decision to reduce my work week schedule, which in turn meant my pay, benefits and pension would also be reduced. I felt nervous about taking such an unorthodox approach compared to others my age, and was criticized for it, but my perpetual need to do it all would catch up with me in time to come and I knew that it wasn’t going to serve me well.

That questionable next step in my career turned out to be my saving grace and the very best thing that I could have done for myself which ended up benefiting every aspect of my life. Suddenly, I learned to say ‘no’ to extra work tasks and ‘yes’ to more things in my personal life. It wasn’t easy to become more of a ‘no’ person, but it was necessary and it began to positively influence other parts of me. I didn’t need to prove my worth—I was learning that I was already worthy. That journey to self-acceptance was a long, painstaking one, but oh so valuable both professionally and personally. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today as an individual, and yet there are still occasions when I can feel myself wanting to please. The problem is that I am two and a half decades older now and I have far less energy or drive than I used to. I’m also way more protective of my personal time and my health, which I’ve compromised enough of over the years. I know because I am presently paying for it all now.

On one hand, I envy the younger folks in my position because of their youth and enthusiasm which I once possessed; on the other hand, I wouldn’t dare go back and re-live my first decade of working. Instead, I think I’ll gladly take the wisdom that I have gained over re-visiting my much younger, more energetic self. What is increasingly disappointing to me all of these years later is the reality that I am just an employee number who can and would be easily replaced at the drop of a hat. Somehow, I was under the illusion that as a ‘professional’ who always gave her best, it would be more appreciated by various stakeholders. While I know that my hard work is valued by a few, it’s not the mainstream thinking. As well, instead of things getting easier with all of the years of experience under my belt, the job is becoming more difficult and the demands are ever-increasing with COVID-19 and funding/resource cuts. Again.

Frankly, I am getting tired of it and I’m finding it harder and harder to ‘stay in the game’, as one might say. Unfortunately, now is not the best time to explore other career options given the rate of unemployment and our economic struggles which have really just begun. What complicates matters for me personally is that the core of my work still matters to me and walking away from it after all of these years isn’t as easy as it might seem from the outside looking in. I’ve invested my literal blood, sweat and tears into what I do for a living and I hoped ‘it’ would be invested in me so to speak, but this year of all years, I feel somewhat used and abused in a way. Being frontline workers during a pandemic, you’d think that my colleagues and I would have received extra supports, yet we’ve faced further cuts, all sorts of criticism and we’ve been assigned more duties than ever before.

Sadly, I’m learning that loyalty and allegiance means nothing in the end. In many cases, those type of feelings are not even remotely reciprocated and I’ve seen it happen time and time again from those who came before me. I will say that the reality of it stings more than I anticipated and it’s left a bitter taste in my mouth as a result. I should have known that it’s not about me or us—it is all about the numbers, specifically dollars and cents. What it boils down to is that if my number is up or I choose to throw in the towel, there are a number of much younger numbers waiting in the wings whose youth, enthusiasm and moldability would be welcomed with open arms from an employer standpoint. As we’ve all heard before, ‘they’ will happily take your best years and bid a mere farewell when all is said and done. While this isn’t exactly how I pictured my ‘final’ years of employment going, I really shouldn’t be surprised. My early instincts about my not being able to make it for the long-haul were correct. Hopefully, when the time is right, there will be something else exciting waiting in the wings for me—even better, if my time and efforts will be more valued and appreciated than at present, but I won’t bank on it just yet.

14 thoughts on “I’m Just a Number Amongst Many Numbers

    1. I’m so grateful that I am awakened to it all now. I’ve seen a LOT of my colleagues barely make it to the end of their career only to end up battered and bruised so to speak with not so much as a cookie to thank them for their efforts over their decades of contribution. So glad that I’ve become more protective of my time and that I have learned to say no because no one else will suffer the consequences but me.

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    1. I wish I could retire now. Too early yet money-wise and my decision to go part-time hasn’t helped, but I also likely wouldn’t have made it this far without my Fridays off so I don’t regret my decision one bit.

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  1. I used to live for work years ago and then I realised that I was only a number and easy replaceable. I stopped working full time 15 years ago choosing a part time job up to six years ago when I chose to be a housewife.

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    1. I’m glad that you, also, have been more protective of your time over the years. I don’t want to wake up old and useless one day health-wise because I gave everything I had to others.

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  2. It’s true, these big institutions will roll on over our dead bodies (so I keep telling my colleagues). It’s up to us to draw our own lines to balance life and work. (And you’re right to put it in that order) I am at a point where I think about whether I really want a promotion, knowing I am competing against those bright younger people who aren’t as tired or cynical as I am.

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    1. The funny part is that I remember my younger self looking at the older people on staff wondering how they could become so cynical about everything—now I know that it was for good reason.

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    1. Thank you! I would love to write for a living with Hawaii as a home base, but it’s such a hard market to break into and make a living at… Maybe one day?!

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