Hello, everybody! We are back to the normal question and answer format this week. I really enjoyed episode 100, in which my friend Dan Fields interviewed me as a guest. If you haven’t checked that one out yet, I suggest it! Next week will be another interview as well with an awesome guest.
It’s Sunday night and my boss and coworkers have been emailing the whole team about a project we’ve been working on last week. It’s as if Saturday and Sunday were just two more workdays. I finally turned off the work email on my phone, but not before I gave into guilt and did some extra work myself.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have given this a second thought. Now, I have a two-year old and I’ve made it a point to be a parent who isn’t work-obsessed and has a good work-life balance. I can’t help but feel my decision to no longer keep up with my boss — who nights and weekends — may end up putting me in a career disadvantage. Should I just quietly set an example and try to build my own confidence in my work-life balance? Should I say anything to my boss?
It’s not just weekend emails; with flex time and telecommuting the boundaries between work life and personal life are blurring. Any thoughts or ideas on how to navigate this new reality?
This is a great topic and one that I actually find myself talking about with my therapy clients quite a bit. You’re totally not alone in this. It seems like the work-life balance line is so blurred for most people these days. Access to the internet, email, project management, remote desktopping etc. are all things that contribute to it. But I do think that it is really important to have some semblance of a boundary between work and home life. If you don’t, you can find yourself in a constant state of drain or if you have anxiety, you can be in a state of high alert just waiting for the next work related thing to steal your attention. It’s like you have one foot out the door and that sucks. You deserve better than that.
It can be tough, though. Especially when you have had fuzzy boundaries before and people have the expectation that you are going to be available at a moments notice. I think the major thing in your email that is signalling to me that something needs to change is that you got to the point where you needed to turn off your work email. You’re actively trying to get away from this and are only having partial success so far.
Your values are clear. You want to be able to enjoy the time with your kid and you want to model a healthy balance for them. You don’t want to miss things because you aren’t fully present. I don’t think that there is anything morally wrong with working on weekends. I work every weekend, but only in specific time slots. I work during my 2-year-old’s nap time and that’s usually about it. The thing is you need to do what is consistent with your goals and your values as a person.
In terms of what you should do, I think that it is a good idea to model a good balance. If there is an expectation that you will be available on the weekends, especially if its in your contract or something like that, you will want to address it with your boss. It could be something as simple as: Hey I wanted to let you know that I’m trying to make some changes for the benefit of my family and my own sanity. I won’t be checking work email on the weekends. I’ll have an autoresponder on and I will catch up on things when I’m back in the office on Monday. This will allow me to be fully present for my kid and then hit it hard and not waste time during the week.
When you worry about being put at a career disadvantage you need to be cognizant of what it would mean to move up the ladder by doing what you are doing now. In all likelihood that would lead to more of the same fuzzy boundaries and overworking, just on a larger scale. I believe that we have a problematic pattern going in the workforce today where there is almost this culture around burn-out and overwork. People don’t realize that when you never give yourself a chance to rest, you are putting yourself at risk of burning out completely and then having to do something drastic like take a leave of absence or wind up in the hospital. Either way, if you never turn off, there is a good chance that your work will start to suck.
An alternative way to work is to have strong boundaries and work hard during your work hours and then invest the quality of your future work by resting and living life on those off times. If your boss has a problem with that, I’d suggest you ask them to put their money where their mouth is and pay you for weekends or ask them to let your work speak for itself.
I’ve had this problem for a long time where I have a really bad “social” memory. In school, I’m an A student at the top of my class, but in social situations, I can’t seem to remember things I’ve said to people or basic qualities about even my best friends. It’s embarrassing because I know it can look like I don’t care about them. The most common thing I do though is repeat things over and over thinking the person I’m talking to hasn’t heard it before. I remember once I repeated a trivial story to my friend 3 times within one week without realizing it. She was able to finish my story for me because she knew it so well by then. Is there any way to improve my memory in social situations? My therapist says I have a problem with worrying about people judging me due to my anxiety and depression, so maybe it’s because I’m focusing too much on what they think of me while I’m talking to them. Any recommendations would be appreciated; thanks!
This is not totally uncommon and I imagine you’re a pretty damn intelligent person. I can actually relate to this quite a bit. It find myself looking at facebook to remind me of someone’s name or make sure that I’m not texting them on a day that’s not actually their birthday, yet I’ve been able to earn a doctorate and be a top student throughout college and grad school.
You have to realize that there are some fundamental differences between academic learning and social learning. One is that you rehearse information that you need to learn for an academic purpose. Memory takes effort. Writing notes, speaking the content out loud, practicing test questions, or writing content based on the information are all ways of elaborating and practicing the information. Socially, we don’t do that. In business, they will often tell you to say someone’s name a lot when you’re trying to learn it. That’s a method of rehearsing it so you don’t forget. This isn’t something that is typically done in casual conversation though.
The other thing is the importance and emphasis. You obviously have a lot at stake for information related to school. With social situations, not so much. There are a lot more distractions and it’s really not a big deal if you forget something in a social context. It’s not going to be reflected in your grades.
Your therapist is definitely on to something that there could be an interplay with depression and anxiety here. It sounds like you are very focused on people’s perception of you, which can be distracting. Not only can it make you only be partially present in a conversation, it can make you beat yourself up even more for accidentally repeating yourself. In reality, I’m sure that very very few people care that you tend to forget things. It’s probably an endearing trait about you. An easy way to compensate would be to say “wait, did we talk about this already?”
It’s also possible that you are putting too much pressure on yourself to fill silence and talk a lot. That’s common in people who are a bit anxious. If your mind is in another place, it’s easy to go on autopilot, which can lead to not paying a lot of attention to the conversation. Sometimes you can just sit back and respond rather than filling the space.
In terms of improving your memory. Step one would be to work on the anxiety and such so that you’re less distracted in general by the things going on in your mind and in your body. Step two would be to try to give your attention to what’s happening in the moment. Practicing mindfulness can be helpful for this. I have a post about mindfulness on my blog here. Step three would be to ask questions if you can’t remember something. You could be funny about it and say “you guys know I can’t remember anything! When was your birthday again?” Or something like that.
You could also write some things down after the fact if you really want to remember them. But overall, just recognize that you might be overestimating how much this matters. It’s okay to be a little aloof when you have other things that you are focusing on. Has it actually hurt or offended someone? I don’t mean the stories you make up in your head about how people might be annoyed or angry at you, but has anyone actually ever confronted you with it? If not, then it might not be that much of a problem. You can take the heat off of yourself and try in little ways to be a little more present and attentive.
I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (when it was still a”thing”), and to make a long story short, I have been dealing with a lot in the past few years, going back to university, passing my driving license, trying to keep up with living on my own, raising awareness by public talks and now studying. I know all of this is too much, but I am the kind of person that keeps going until I can’t. Even if it means metaphorically crawling on the ground and moving a couple of millimeters (inches? I don’t know the imperial system) at a time. Anyway, all of this is catching up with me and after thinking I was experiencing depression, I heard about his idea of autistic burnout.
I don’t think it is conventionally or academically recognized, but the exhaustion (mental especially) and disengagement dimensions of burnout are definitely a fit. When looking for more info on the topic, I found videos of people on the spectrum and texts written by organizations saying that a good coping mechanism was stimming, because it helps deal with a lot of sensory overload – which is exacerbated when exhausted-, and has this “soothing power”.
My question -sorry for the “rambling” beforehand- is this: Do you think that it can be an effective coping tool? What I mean by that is that I have been spending so much time either controlling my stimming or finding “stealthy ways” of doing it in public (such as wearing a tight watch, rubbing my hands together instead of flapping so people think I’m cold instead of just weird, etc) that I am afraid that sort of “indulging” in it will just destroy all of this effort.
And I wish I could live in a world where stimming in public would be okay, but it has gotten me in so much trouble when I was younger (as in bullying or verbal abuse by my family etc)… And noone takes me seriously as an adult or a psychology student if I do it now as an adult, so I don’t want all of this (even though it is normative) effort to go to waste.
Thanks for the great question! Asperger’s is the old term that was recently done away with in the DSM for autism that doesn’t usually have language delays or cognitive impairment. Often people on this end of the spectrum are able to pass to a certain extent as someone without autism. I’d be very reluctant to say that its less severe because it’s still pervasive and has it’s own unique difficulties in the society that we live in.
Back to the question – it sounds like you have been a total badass over the past few years. Great job with all of those accomplishments.
The way I see it is that as a person with autism you have to live multiple lives at the same time. You have to try to live a “normal life” which is one that seems like what neurotypical people do and you also still process things through the unique brain that you have. It can be exhausting to do both of those AND try to make progress in your life. It can be harder to keep those defenses up when you are burned out as you said.
What you are asking is whether stimming or self stimulating behavior is a valid coping mechanism to self-soothe and reduce the impact of this burn out.
I think so. I think it’s great that you have found your ways to disguise or redirect your stimming in public to make life easier for you, but I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with letting loose sometimes. I would challenge you to be objective about it. If you allow yourself the chance to stim in an unrestrained way whether that is flapping, rocking, playing with lights or whatever sensory activities are satisfying and soothing to you, take note of the effect that has on you as you go back out into your public daily life. If you find that it is indeed harder to keep yourself from stimming in public because you allowed yourself to do it openly in private, then maybe your instinct was right that indulging it might have a negative effect.
My instinct says that this probably won’t be the case, though. It can be a lot to hold in and knowing that you have an outlet to get it out in private may actually make it easier to redirect or hold it in in public settings. Aside from stimming, though – you may need to take a look at how many demands you are placing on yourself and determine whether it makes sense for you to pursue so much at the same time. You could look at other people as a model and compare your actions to theirs. That could also be a good way to identify things that other people do for rest and relaxation. They may or may not work for you, but it could be worth trying.
For you, it may be helpful to track your fatigue level using a scale from 0-100 and you can write down your rating 3 times per day along with the activities that you were engaging in to see what is draining the most of your energy and identify patterns. Overall, I think you are doing a great job. It’s good that you are paying attention to your fatigue levels and potential burn out because in some cases when you become too burned out, you may have a difficult time recovering. It’s better to address before it gets to that point.
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