When You Put Your Identity in Work
Written by Founder Kayla Hollatz
I’m a recovering workaholic.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve poured everything into my work. Sometimes that looked like an exhausting workload of college-level classes in high school, a demanding cashier job, or a not-so-inspiring 9 to 5 job.
So where did my work-centered tendencies come from?
Every workaholic I’ve ever known has a specific reason why they became what others would call “work obsessed”. I used to think it was in our DNA, that we were all just really hard-working people by nature, but I’ve come to realize it’s usually a learned trait.
My workaholic tendencies came from my upbringing. I lived in a household of two working parents, but my dad took work to another level. When I was younger, I would wave to my dad out the door and say “Daddy work”. It was my most said phrase as a kid. My dad would leave early in morning and leave the office late at night, even on weekends.
My dad was my superhero growing up (and still is), so when I found out we were moving from Arizona to Minnesota, I thought it was just to be closer to family. Later I learned that the biggest motivation for our cross-country move was that my dad had completely burned himself out at the office.
Within the first year we moved to Minnesota, my dad bought into his brother’s landscaping business and ran it with him. I remember him coming home with a grass mustache every night and a perpetual layer of dirt underneath his fingernails. While he was incredibly busy in the summers, he had four to five months off in the winter because of the snow.
I was young, eight or nine years old at the time, but I could feel how my dad’s personality shifted during each season. In the summer, he was vibrant, confident, and strong. In the winter, he was uninspired, mildly apathetic, and disenchanted. I could tell his happiness was found in his work.
Because I desperately wanted to be like my dad and make him proud, I put all of my energy into work too.
From elementary school onward, this looked like getting good grades, being placed in the “gifted” classes, and winning academic awards. I was determined to work with the same fervor as my dad even if I wasn’t old enough to be a part of the workforce yet. My teachers gave me the title of “little worker bee”, which made me beam with pride. If that meant I was just like my dad, I was content.
Fast forward to post-grad life.
I was catching up with my good friend Katie over tacos and queso, filling her in on all that had happened since graduation a few months ago, and started talking about my day job.
“I like it enough. The work is okay. I’m just left wondering if this is all there is.”
It was the first time I had said it out loud, the question my inner voice kept whispering over the years: “Is this all there is?”
The question terrified me. I had been working my whole life to graduate high school with honors, get into a good college, graduate Summa Cum Laude, and secure a dream public relations agency job position shortly after.
I had done everything I sought out to do, everything I had devoted my life to, and yet I still felt… empty.
The kind of empty that can’t be remedied by promotions, new job opportunities, or a nice bump in your paycheck.
I missed birthday parties, holidays, family reunions because I was working. I missed out on being a kid because I was too afraid sports and extracurricular activities would take me away from my academics. I missed school dances, sporting events, and bar nights.
While everyone else was making memories, I was making a splash with my career. I was proud of what I accomplished, but of course, it came at a cost.
Now that I run a full-time business, it seems like an odd time to shift from workaholic to balanced professional.
I often laugh about the irony of it all too, but it took me leaping from my agency job to a full-time business I had just started to show me how much I’d continue to lose if I didn’t take a step back and give myself a break, a real one.
I didn’t go on a year-long sabbatical or a vacation around the world, but I have made changes in my everyday creative routine to help me re-center and better prioritize my to-do’s. I take at-home creative retreats when I need to refuel, I try not to check email first thing in the morning, and I read more books for pleasure than business now.
I’m giving myself the grace and space to explore a new lifestyle, one where my work fits effortlessly into my life rather than consuming it.
I hope you’ll join me.
KAYLA HOLLATZ, FOUNDER OF #CREATELOUNGE
Kayla Hollatz is a copywriter and social media strategist by trade and a community builder, poet, and storyteller by heart. She founded #createlounge, the first ever Twitter chat for creative bloggers and entrepreneurs, and has grown it into an online movement. She can frequently be found fighting Minnesota winters with a cup of hot chocolate in hand.