Stop Rewarding Workaholism


Even as I begin to write this blog post, I struggle to put my thoughts on paper, knowing that the initial draft cannot be good enough or thorough enough to publish online. Excuse the imperfections — it’s an exercise in NOT being a perfectionist/workaholic. 

We live in a society that rewards subjectively “good” and “bad” behaviors. For instance, being a drug addict is categorized as very bad and associated with a number of negative characteristics–not to mention the potential court-mandated rehab or jail time. We also reward (or at least turn a blind eye) to things like caffeine addiction, which is seen as a “necessary” activity to maintain the busy lifestyles we lead.

Related to this busy lifestyle? Workaholism–in a nutshell, an addiction to work.

I would go so far as to argue that workaholism is the most highly lauded addiction in the United States.

I know this from personal experience. I have been a workaholic–although, unknowingly at times–for as long as I can remember.

I can distinctly remember being at a family gathering in the second grade and saying, “I hate eating because it wastes time.” I remember being mad at my art teacher in the fourth grade because she gave me a 99% on my ceramic mug. I remember staying up through the night in the 5th grade, crouched beside my night light because I had a story due for class the next day, and I forgot it was supposed to be written in cursive, and my cursive had to look just right. I remember running through shin pain and anxiety as a middle schooler in track, feeling like a failure if I fell short of first place.

In recent years, I’ve often sacrificed social plans. I will jolt awake before my alarm in the morning and walk straight to my computer before doing anything else. If I told someone I was going to get something done by a certain date, by God, it’s going to get done if I have to stay up all night. Some acquaintances no longer stop to chat when they see me because I’m notoriously hurried or late to something else. I say “yes” to things with zero regard to my current workload or the impact it is having on myself or my relationships. I will often go without eating or sleeping or won’t leave my room until I am satisfied with what I have accomplished.

But you know what’s worse than this “bad habit,” negative personality trait, or whatever you want to call it? 90% of the time, I am praised for such actions. Praised for being such a hard worker, for being so meticulous, so reliable, so ambitious. I have won numerous awards based on such workaholism. So frequently has this addiction been rewarded that I was shocked–offended, almost–when for the first time a year ago a mentor joked, “Now, I know you’re worried about just getting it done, cranking projects out no matter what, but every once in a while, stop and think about what you’re doing.”

Workaholism is not a laughable tendency to put in extra hours at the office or to people please–it is a debilitating addiction, and it needs to be treated as such. While a drug addict might be externally scolded if someone were to see him/her in the act, people will almost always go out of their way to reward my behavior and encourage it in the future. With the exception of a few closed loved ones, I am the only one who can hold myself accountable for workaholism while also facing external pressures to feed the addiction.

It’s very, very hard.

I can turn anything into a work activity. The recurring thought in my head on any given day is, “Okay, what else do I have to do?” Never do I ask myself what I want to do, or what I need to do. I get anxious when I spend time not working because I feel lazy. I am always reaching for bigger and better, and this stress takes a toll on me, negatively affecting the way I handle situations, relationships, and my outlook on life. In prior attempts to treat the problem, I have learned that I genuinely have no clue how many hours would be normal for me to work in a given day.

At the risk of abruptly ending this blog post, I simply want to point out that “hard work” is a positive societal behavior, while “workaholism” that interferes with daily functioning is an unhealthy but treatable addiction. Please do not praise the person who always bends over backwards and sacrifices their own time and personal well-being for the sake of the others, the company, unnecessarily high expectations, etc. It is such praise that makes people like me think that the behavior is okay, despite the fact that it is negatively impacting our personal lives and health.

 

Civil Rights Stereotypes


I grew up in a rural Ohio town with very few minorities.  Although I had witnessed discrimination for various reasons where I lived, racial discrimination was never something that was truly brought to my attention.  It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina during my junior year of high school that my eyes were opened to other races, cultures, and backgrounds.

In many ways it was a shock to move somewhere so diverse.  I have vivid memories of my first encounters with other cultures.  I remember being in Golden Corral and thinking to myself that it was the first time I had ever seen a black family.  Until the age of 16, I had never had a Hispanic friend or met someone who was Indian.  As if moving to the South wasn’t a transition in of itself, I was also curiously observant of all these new types of people I was meeting.

As I settled into my new home, I began making friends with people from very different backgrounds, and I was perplexed by some of things I witnessed and experienced.  I heard white friends and non-friends make racist jokes that were met without opposition.  Sports, clubs, and activities were all very strictly divided by race.  There were things that “white people couldn’t do” or that “black people were made for.”  Students who were learning English were basically invisible.  I noticed that my Asian friends frequently had to laugh at and embody Asian stereotypes and jokes.

I could go into many specific examples, but it upset me how unnecessarily divided the high school and town was; how minority students were treated; and how some minority students had such low expectations for themselves or believed the false stereotypes that others perpetuated.  I had always seen myself as someone who sticks up for those who are ostracized or bullied for any reason, and race was no exception.  Moving to North Carolina had given me so many new opportunities, so many things to be excited about–and I wanted others to feel that they could seize these open doors as well.

If I could not be considered an activist in some form of the word before, then my activism can be traced back to when I joined the Wilson Youth Council during my senior year. The purpose of the group was leadership development and community involvement. To spare you a long story, WYC ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, and I made great strides in sticking up for all students who felt bullied or discriminated against (in any way) as the chair of an anti-bullying campaign.

As you might imagine, standing up for what is right had some consequences. There were a lot of people who didn’t understand what I was fighting for or, worse, denied there was a problem. Some people treated me differently, as if by standing up for minorities (among other groups), I was somehow “less white.” I had a racist track coach that did everything in his power to ensure that I wouldn’t run the 400 m dash, which “wasn’t a race for white people.” My sister, who was equally upset by the situation in our community, also struggled fiercely during this time—she was seen as someone who hung out with minorities (as if you can only have a white or non-white friend base), and she was highly discriminated against as the only white girl on a black step team.

It was frustrating when my family or I were discriminated against when we were rooting for minority equality, but I tried to never let it get to me. I knew that there would always be hateful people in the world and that it shouldn’t discourage or stop me from supporting an equal rights movement. Like any difficult situation, it was going to take patience and understanding from everyone.

The next eye-opening experience I had was my study abroad trip to Argentina the summer after my freshman year of college. I arrived eager to explore a new place, make new friends, and become fluent in Spanish…I had never even ridden in a plane before, so I was nothing less than starry-eyed and hopeful. But when I arrived at my host mom’s house, I quickly learned that not only was she not going to patiently help me learn the language, but that she had clear opinions about white people from the United States. She constantly told me how privileged I was. Random people on the street would glare at me, cuss at me, or laugh at my Spanish. The school coordinator would dismiss my health concerns or reports that I wasn’t being fed by my host mom because she attributed them to my privileged upbringing. It didn’t matter that I was someone who wanted to immerse themselves into the culture, learn the language, and appreciate another way of life—there were some people who would always treat me differently because of the color of my skin and the stereotypes about my country.

It has now been four years since I moved to North Carolina on a snowy December night, and I can say that my views haven’t changed. I still believe in equality and kind treatment of everyone; I don’t turn away from activities where I will be a token white person, and I feel strongly about extinguishing pointless stereotypes. However, after four years of being some form of an activist, I can also say that I am utterly exhausted and unwillingly frustrated.

As a white person with a huge heart and concern for other people, I can only take so many accusations of what white people “are.” Privileged, racist, stuck up, exclusive. There are some white people who are those things. You could argue that many white people are those things. But as someone who has spent so much time fighting for equality—risking my social situation and reputation, in some cases—it was only going to be a matter of time before these comments unintentionally wore me down.

I understand where these catch-all statements come from, and I know that so many bad experiences with a certain group of people can make you feel that they are all tainted or “bad” in some way. (I find this similar to when a girl who has been in bad relationships says that all guys are “pigs” or horrible.) But you can’t let bad experiences in life shape the way you feel about people as a whole; not only does it discourage those who care about you and your situation, but it is also hard to fight stereotypes by accusing white people of being a certain stereotype.

I don’t want some sort of gold star for being the white girl that stands up for minorities. I really don’t need any recognition at all—I just don’t want to be included with other racist or otherwise exclusive white people.

For those minorities who are heavily involved with social and racial issues, think about your audience and who you are trying to gain respect from. For the most part, it’s white people. As it is often pointed out, the people in charge of many of our institutions are in fact white. By basing an argument in the fact that “white people aren’t accepting” or using an accusatory style, nothing will ever change. People will get defensive—both those who aren’t accepting and those who are.

The best way for us to move forward with this conversation is to continue to assert, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that all people are created equal and deserve equal treatment. Don’t push that “white people are given many more opportunities than minorities”—even though you will often find this to be the case, you are only going to upset and shut down the white people you want listening to you. Instead, you should be pushing “we notice that there aren’t as many minorities in leadership positions, and we want to provide more opportunities for mentorship and education.” Instead of arguing that “white people aren’t accepting,” tell people—show people—why it is hard to be a token minority amongst white people without being accusatory.

I know that pointing out discrimination is a touchy situation, and I hope the points I’m trying to make aren’t offensive to anyone—they’re not intended to be. My hope is that anyone who reads this will use it to encourage white activists and to make a stronger argument for equal treatment. Regardless of your feelings of white people or how they behave, the point of this whole movement is to restore equality, and this cannot be accomplished without also restoring harmony. The point isn’t just to force respect—it’s to create a community in which those who are different are valued…where two people of different histories don’t view each other as “privileged” or as someone who “was just handed opportunities,” but as integral pillars of a civilized society.

I warn you—don’t twist this to show how white people are mistreated or to prove I’m subconsciously racist. This is an honest conversation, and no issue is black or white.

The Double-Edged Sword of Being a First-Person Writer


Since middle school, I have written almost all of my poetry and stories from the first-person perspective. Whether or not this habit formed out of teen angst is irrelevant–what’s important to know is being a first-person writer has many pros and cons in effectively telling a story.  Below I explain many of the positives and negatives I have learned about first-person writing and why and how writers should strive to use the third-person perspective.

1. You’re more likely to become wrapped up in the story.

Especially when first beginning.  Using “I” when setting up the scene for your story allows you to immediately delve in as a writer.  You’re the one in this story, not some random character that you had to spend hours creating and double the mental effort to maintain throughout.  Without worrying about staying in character, you can much more easily weave yourself into the thick of the plot.

This is both great and terrible.  Anything that helps the writer achieve a level of confidence when first starting out is a positive, but unless you want to be a one-trick pony, you will have to become somewhat of an actor/actress.

How to Become a Literary Actor/Actress

– Practice by choosing someone you know in your real life, and try to write a story in their shoes.  It will help you get into the mindset of using the “I” without always talking from your own viewpoint.

– Read some examples of third-person writing to see how you can use it in your own.  Revisit Harry Potter or The Giver to see how J.K. Rowling and Lois Lowry manages to successfully tell a story through another character.  Jodi Picoult also does an excellent job of telling a story through multiple perspectives, even within the same novel.

2. You will probably attribute many of your own personality traits to the main character.

This fact builds upon the previous statement I explained.  If you’re telling the story from an “I” perspective, it is all too easy to make the character yourself.  This can be excellent because you can explain how multi-dimensional you are as a character (and real live person), but if you’re writing multiple stories/novels, it can feel like you’re simply recycling material.

If You Choose To Make Yourself the Main Character…

– Recognize both your good and your bad personality traits. Don’t make yourself the completely perfect and unflawed hero of your own story, and don’t make yourself so pathetic and worthless that readers will roll their eyes.  Real people are both perfect and pathetic.

– Understand yourself, your motivations, and the results of your motivations.  To tell a story about yourself that is realistic, you have to truly know who you are.  You have to recognize that even though you’re a good person, you’re motivated by success and recognition and would sometimes make bad decisions based on these motivations.

– Decide whether your story would be more thoughtful as a fiction or non-fiction.  What message are you trying to send?

3. You can provide a much more personal and in-depth account of what is going on in the main character’s mind and heart.

Only you know exactly what you think and feel. Often, in a third-person or omnipotent perspective, inner feelings and thoughts aren’t directly stated. Again, stating them directly can both help and hurt you.

Should You Tell Them How You Feel?

– Remember that in writing, oftentimes the best way to tell the reader how you are feeling or what you are thinking is by showing, not telling.

– However, directly stating some thoughts and feelings can also improve upon your writing of the first-person perspective because it allows the reader to feel like they are inside your head.

– Moral of the story? Feel free to make direct statements, but use them in moderation! If you simply tell your reader everything, it’s not as fun to read.

4. You can easily leave the main character’s appearance out of the picture.

Depending on the goal or message of your story and your style of writing, this could be beneficial or detrimental.  Some stories are better told if the reader can create their own mental picture of the character or is unaware of their style/race/size.  However, appearances also are an important factor in how others treat you.

To Decide on Whether or Not to Include Appearances…

– Determine the overall goal of your story.  Is describing your appearance important to the message of the story? Will it help more effectively tell your story?

 

Being a first-person writer is both a blessing and a curse.  Play to your strengths and be aware of and strengthen your weaknesses!

Sincerely,

Erika

 

Crazy


Mental illness isn’t well-understood by society.  Throughout history, people with mental illness have been mistreated and abandoned by the world because they were simply believed to be “crazy.”  Many cultures perceived mental illness as a type of “religious punishment or demonic possession”*, and this stigma of the mentally ill person as being insane, dysfunctional, and psychotic still exists today.

Mental illness does not mean you are broken.  When you’re physically ill, are you broken?  No–you just temporarily feel bad, and if you don’t treat it, it will get worse.  Of course, when we have strep throat or a sinus infection, getting treatment is easy–we just see a doctor.  There is no shame in being ill and seeing a doctor–everyone becomes ill and must see a doctor from time to time.

So why is mental illness different?  Is everyone the picture of perfect mental health except for the few, incurable “crazy” ones?  People don’t just “make up” having a broken leg, appendicitis, or a bunion, so why is it generally thought that mentally ill people are just weak people who are making it all up?  Who can’t just get over it?  Who are “incurable?”

Don’t tell me that all people don’t become mentally ill from time to time.  Sure, you may not have a chronic mental illness, just like you may not have a chronic physical ailment–but everyone gets sick.  Don’t try to tell me that a woman going through severe PMS, a child being bullied at school, or a husband who has been cheated on are the picture of perfect mental health.  You won’t convince me that kids moving away from home to go to college are the picture of health, nor will you convince me that the parents watching those kids leave the nest are healthy.  The symptoms range from mild to severe and may last anywhere from a day to a month to a year, but these people, in my book, aren’t necessarily mentally healthy.

You could think of thousands of scenarios which may cause a person to become mentally ill.  Different people are immune to different “viruses” or ailments, but all have something that plagues them from time to time: struggling in classes, fear of public speaking, fear of committing to a new relationship, changing jobs, hearing distressing news about your child, frustration over failed diets–the list could go on forever.  In one way or another, we each let ourselves become consumed with worry, negative thought processes, depression, denial, obsessive thoughts, or self-doubt, and without taking measures to “treat” or take care of yourselves, these problems may become debilitating.

Like anything left untreated, the ailment will plague you as long as you allow it.  If you don’t address it, if you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t seek help–it will only affect your life that much longer, and it will keep you from living the life you want to live.

You may not be able to see the illness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Are things such as love and hate, happiness and sadness, comfort and loneliness all just figments of our imagination?

We are only denying ourselves as humans when we claim mental invincibility; when we aren’t honest with ourselves and others; when we hide in shame.

In different ways and at different times, we are all mentally ill.  I am crazy, and you are crazy, too.

Sincerely,

Erika

“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness.  Think of your three best friends.  If they’re okay, then it’s you.”** – Rita Mae Brown

“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.” – Richard Carlson

“My goal is to see that mental illness is treated like cancer.” – Jane Pauley

 

Caring: Why We Should and Shouldn’t Do It


The world needs more people who care.

People who care about other people, people who care about their jobs, people who care what impact they have on the world.

They are the people who make this world a better place.  They are compassionate shoulders to cry on, dedicated employees and students, passionate pioneers of change.  They are the teachers who make potentially great students believe in themselves; the I.T. employees who spend the night at work when something needs to be fixed–even if they’re not getting paid extra; the amazing stay-at-home mothers and fathers who coach the soccer teams, run for their child’s PTO board, and spend extra time helping their children with homework when they don’t understand.  They are the medical students pursing ten or more years of education to save lives; the people who try to see the world with an open, unbiased mind; the teenagers who continue to make good grades and display their musical, artistic, and athletic talents, despite the stereotypical view against them.

The world needs more people who really don’t care.

People who don’t care about their looks, people who don’t care what other people think, people who don’t care about the failures of yesterday or tomorrow.

They are the people who make this world a better place.  They are models of self-love and respect,  highlighters of humor, couragaeous, unbridled fighters.  They are the teachers who foster the importance of education and character, not appearance or popularity; the I.T. employees who realize you cannot work your life away, who know when to put their foot down;  the amazing stay-at-home mothers and fathers who don’t get wrapped up in school or sports politics, or put undue pressure on their children.  They are the medical students who are undeterred by a poor exam score or a rejection; the people who see the humor in everyday situations; the teenagers who put together unique, creative outfits, no matter how out-of-style.

Maybe it’s not that we need more people who care, or more people who don’t care, but that we need more people who know what to care about and what never really mattered in the first place.

~~~

“Too  often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening  ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the  potential to turn a life around.”*   –Leo Buscaglia

“Never  believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all  who ever have.”*   –Margaret  Mead

“Caring  about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people,  brings happiness.”*   –Harold Kushner

“As  soon as you get over caring what people think, you can have a nice  time.”*   –Lara  Flynn Boyle

“I  have friends who wear Star Wars costumes and act like the characters all day. I  may not be that deep into it, but there’s something great about loving what you love and not caring if it’s unpopular.”*   –Kristen  Bell

Sincerely, Erika

*Quotes taken from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/caring_4.html.