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Work vs. Health Messages

It occurred to me one day that a belief I inherited from my Family of Origin was that 'work was the most important thing in my life'. This belief was making it very difficult for me to get and stay healthy. Because many of my clients were in the 50s age range and were definitely having a problem with health and burnout, I assumed this was an age-related issue. I have since come to understand that burnout is less of a generation condition as it is one of the familial passings on of what I call 'messages designed to help you make it in life'. For example:

  • Work isn't only important, it is everything.
  • All problems can be overcome by just working harder.
  • You are what you do.

You get the point? These familial messages that come from our parents, and even from our great, great-grandparents, are positive message intended to help 'make it in life'. What I previously didn't understand was that these messages about what is important in life, how we should live our lives, and how we can make it in life are passed on from generation to generation. These messages are our values and beliefs, and what we apparently value most is our ability to work hard. The problem is that what was important in our lives one or two generations ago is no longer appropriate. Grandpa worked six days a week, ten hours a day, just to put food on the table. There was no option, no discussion about choice or health. Necessity guided people's work actions in previous generations. My father worked five days a week at his job with the Canadian Pacific Railway. The other two days, he worked out of the home, gardening and building recreation rooms and concrete pads for other people. This is what he knew, what he understood, to be a good citizen, a good husband, a good father. Like his father, and even though times had changed, he still heard the direction that work is good and necessary: "Not working is wasting time." I heard the same subtle messages, although actually not that subtle at times: "Are you playing ball again? When are you going to finish with that nonsense? I need you to help me with the garden." I grew up feeling like I should be working most of the time. I never understood until I was almost burned out at 40 that I did have an option, and that while work was good, so was play. There needed to be a balance between the two. What I also learned was that is was very hard for people in their late 40s and older to change their behaviour by including more fun and relaxation in their daily lives. It wasn't because they were slow or didn't have the desire to change, but because they didn't have permission to do so. They didn't have many health messages on the computer chip in their brain to play, relax and take care of themselves. As a result, workers who do not lead a balanced lifestyle eventually get frustrated, resentful, and burn out. It is not easy to start creating messages that give permission to take better care of self, but that is exactly what we must do. I would encourage you to re-examine the decision that has you continuing to make work a priority in your life. Consider the difference in you chose a balanced lifestyle that supports wellness and quality of lifeinstead of more work. Hmm! It's your choice!

After me and my family, you're first