“You cannot afford to mix your personal worries with your professional life. They are unmixable”, told my manager.
She was cautioning me on our one-on-one meeting as I let it slip that I was at a personal low. It was my first job (and also the dullest to date), we were in the middle of our busiest season, and I was stretching myself thin. I took those word to heart. Never let anyone know that you are tired.
Years later, I was planning my wedding. Once again, I found myself stressed out about the details, the finances, and the family drama, all the while coping with the demands of a full-time creative job that I adored. My Team Lead found me doodling ‘overwhelmed’ all over a random piece of paper and enquired what was bothering me.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just the wedding planning taking its toll. But nothing major, I know better than letting all that affect my work”, I hastily added, remembering the lesson I’ve learned from my first job. Don’t let it known that you are vulnerable.
But my TL surprised me. “It’s ridiculous to expect anyone to keep their personal and professional lives utterly separate. You are one person juggling all these things, and it’s only natural if one dampens the other. Its okay, its normal, its expected. Just let me know if you need any help, won’t you?”
I was touched by his thoughtfulness. He didn’t judge for being overwhelmed. He understood. I wasn’t expected to keep it all together all the time. That knowledge did me a lot of good!
We all have days when we wish we didn’t have to get out of bed and go about our days, keeping up the pretension that we enjoy doing so. Days when we struggle doing everything, counting minutes until we can go back home and let ourselves be. Low days, bad days. Days we wouldn’t dare admit we are miserable because that is frowned upon.
Throughout our careers, we are told that any sign of weakness or frailty will ruin our professional image. That others will seize up these opportunities. And we heed to this advice.
You hide your vulnerabilities and march on, labeling unrealistic demands as ‘challenges,’ shaming vacations because they are for slacks, and counting sick days as a luxury. What began as a one-off becomes a habit. Until they become bigger than everything.
You replace sleep with coffee, mix-up weekends with catching up on work, and in that jumbled mind of yours, more hours at your desk make more sense than your gym hours. You push the exhaustion to the back of your head until it gets too big to fit the back of your head anymore.
Until your days stop being just bad and become catastrophic. No one plans for a burnout!
Contrary to what you might believe, nothing will cease to exist because someone took a day off. Sure, there are deadlines to meet, projects to be rolled out, processes to be streamlined, and stuff that you believe cannot wait. Except that things can wait.
For nothing is worth an exhausted, disgruntled, and inept person (read burnt out person) who is sick of things and has given up trying. Burnouts are a thousand times more destructive than just feeling low.
If you want your employees to avoid or overcome burnouts, you may want to let them off the hook occasionally. Proving how much you care about the job shouldn’t be at the expense of your mental and physical health. Be the kind of employer who wouldn’t hold it against an employee for being low. The manager who wouldn’t judge a person if he has too much on her plate. The boss who’d let his team have bad days.
Unlike what you might think, bad days aren’t a waste! Far from it. Recharged, rejuvenated and with a heightened sense of purpose, they’ll likely pay you back for the off-day free of judgments with a commitment and drive that’ll amaze you.
Let’s admit it. Bad days happen. And indulging yourself is a good thing. If an occasional lousy day can keep-off the bad month, wouldn’t you want to have it too?
Maybe it’s a day spent baking brownies, or reading that book that was always there in your bedside table, or binge-shopping online, going out with someone dear, visiting family, or spent curled up with a bottle of wine and Netflix….whatever helps you break the routine. Whatever recharges you!
I, for one, appreciate my bad days. Often, those are the days when my mind is furiously at work, planting brilliant ideas amidst a million silly ones, ensuring that I don’t lose sight of what’s important to me. I report to work next day feeling like I’m back from a month-long vacation, feeling brand-new!
Bad days carry a stigma that they don’t deserve. When enough is enough, say so.
Let’s stop shaming someone for needing a bad day!