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4am revelations

I woke up at 4am on Monday morning.

I slept the whole weekend away, and still I did not feel rested. On Monday morning, I realised why.

I woke up at 4am on Monday morning.

Now, you must understand this. I've always been someone who is very passionate about my work and my job. I have always been in high stress jobs, always took on more than my fair share, but that was how I learnt and grew. Working 24/7, as much as I physically could, was never an issue for me.

Until recently.

My stint at the Gourmet Catering firm was physically tiring. I lived in fear of my phone ringing and inane questions and unreasonable requests filing through. I never knew how to handle them - I never had to, before this. In the past, work was work. Soon it was filtering into my life, uninvited for once.

Then I landed the job in this firm, a dream job, a fantastic opportunity by all counts. I love the job, I am grateful for the chance given. For 7 months, I was on contract, rushing deadlines and pulling my hair out to fulfill my KPIs. However, I was on a project basis - there was no emotional involvement per se, there was no need to worry about this and that apart from that one project. I lived from report to report, meeting to meeting, finishing one presentation after that.

Then I was invited to join the firm full time. Their words of flattery and apparent trust bought me over, it was a great firm that I would have given my 2 left feet to join anyway. The sheer amount of competence in this firm overwhelmed me - I was peeing in my pants everyday with the worry of looking stupid in front of all these brilliant people. I took on the job and soon the obstacles hit me very fast. Soon I was working an equivalent of 16 hours a day, occasionally working overnight. I took it as paying my dues, earning my stripes, but soon I saw load upon unrelentless and unforgiving load on me. I learnt quickly, but stubbornly refused to give in and reject work. I had a lot of judgement on how my predecessor worked - I still do - but I also always knew that it was partly due to circumstance. He was a good man, and a hardworking one. But he also once warned me to keep my head down because the ones who try to change things, even for the better, never end up well here.

Among all these I noticed something weird. I became very reluctant to work on weekends, often procrastinating or never switching my laptop on. Even on weekdays, if I could stay in the office to finish my work instead of bringing it back, I would. I did not want to bring work back into my personal life. Oh, I liked to talk shop. But that was that - talking. Not actual work. To maintain this, I stretched my weeknights longer - often working through the night. It was not common for me to work through my meals and survive on coffee and cigarettes - something that I was used to doing.

I don't think I have changed. Rather, I think I have moved to a stage in my life where I want to still get a career but not at the expense of myself. I want to still enjoy my work, to feel the passion burning in me, and not well, gastric burning in me. Which comes back to Monday morning, and the whole grandfather story on this.

I woke up at 4am on Monday morning.

I woke up thinking about work. It has happened before - during times of conflict and high stress periods, like submissions. But it has never happened during a "normal" period. I have realised that I am always stressed anyway and this is not good for work. I make bad decisions, snap at people, am highly unproductive when I am stressed. "Chill Out" is not an option when you are in my situation - you know those cartoons where the walls are coming in and water starts flooding the room? I am in this situation. Try telling them to "chill out". No, maintaining your sanity in these situations require a tactic to manage the work and people around you, people who think that they can do a better job, people who look at you in scorn and push work to you, people who sometimes outright sabotage you, of all things. And escape is not an option to me, I want to stay here, I want to grow here. So I learn to manage.

This is where I should be tagging some HBR articles. But this blog is not a "work blog" in that sense. The 4am wake up was, well... a wake up call.

I left work at 6.30pm last night. I went home, I had dinner with my family. We bought a new lightbulb. I went home and showered and slept before 11pm. I woke up today at 5.55am, totally recharged. I went to work, hate slowly filling my head with angry thoughts of inequality and injustice at work. I recognise the pattern - so I manage. Or, I aim to manage. I take point by point and decide on how to deal with it. Whether or not I deal with it that particular way is irrelevant to this process - the whole idea is to prevent the hate from festering.

You have seen some of our friends like this. So busy at work, no time to eat, no time to sleep, everything is not as important as their work. You understand their point, and "work never ends" is never quite as impactful because sometimes work does not wait. The good thing about work is that it never fails you. Your input will not be reduced - if you put in 60%, nothing can change the fact that you've put in 60%, whether or not others recognise it. You know you've put in 60%. So there are good things about work in that sense. It is fulfilling, it brings passion, it engages your mind. But the most important thing is that... if you go down this way, you will fail your work. And you will fail you.

I don't want to fail me. Do you?

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