At my first startup job, I did not rest. I was the person that turned the lights off in the office. We left in groups, a gathering of people who stayed later just to get the job done. I remember thinking I was finally with people who worked just as hard as I did.
In my mind, it was a competition to see who would be the last one there. I would side-eye the people leaving early. I felt so much guilt when I had to do the same and caught myself over-explaining every detail of my life to show my manager I wasn’t lazy. That was the worst thing you could be in my family – lazy.
I believed this would all add up to better reviews, higher pay, and promotions. That’s never quite how it turned out on my performance appraisal. I was always one step below perfect. If the top score was a 5, I got a 4. Nowhere on that list of all the things I could do better did they ever mention how late I worked. Instead of promotions or pay increases, I was given more work.
I believe the headlines are calling that quiet promotions. I call it working for free. It’s why I had a violent reaction to a post last week asking if working hard in your twenties would pay off in your 30s and 40s. I responded with appropriate capitalization even if I wanted to put the caps lock on to digitally scream: “absolutely not.”
Working hard will not earn your rest. That’s not how corporate America works, no matter how badly some people want you to think that. I never once got a promotion because I was the last person in the office every day. I never got a pay raise for working when I was sick. I was given no award for choosing work over my family. While I would say I learned a lot in my 20s that prepared me for working in my 30s, it didn’t earn me the rest. The hours didn’t add up to any tangible reward.
No; anytime there was a reward in my career, it has been because of the work I did. The results I produced. The hours I put in weren’t a measure of success. Working all day and night didn’t drive results. It did make me crazy and tired, but it surely didn’t guarantee me rest in my 30s and now, almost 40s. It only made sure that I kept working that way, even when I was the only one watching when I wanted to leave early. It became a habit like drinking coffee every morning or scrolling to escape from my life.
As someone who has finally found a way to prioritize rest despite years of resisting, I know now that you only get to relax more in your 30s if you learn how to work differently. To prioritize the right things. I had to look at my time in a different way and find role models to show me it could be done. Role models to show me how miserable I could be, too.
As a manager now, I have the opportunity to pass down this truth with the way I live. That’s how I can help my team of hard workers see that rest is a mindset, not something to be earned.
You can teach your team, too. The only way you’re going to convince anyone to ignore this bullshit rule about time adding up is to show instead of tell them. The only way I have ever convinced my team not to work obsessively is when I did it first. When I changed my call schedule to only take calls when I wanted to be working, not because it was a time between Monday and Friday. When I started actually closing my laptop by a certain time of day. When I put my private life on my calendar so they could see I took two hours to make ribs in the middle of a Tuesday. (Damn good ribs, if I do say so myself.)
I still suck at this balance, just to be clear. It’s really hard to drop all of these rules about work and success, especially as an entrepreneur listening to the horrendous economic headlines that say a lot without saying anything specific, just scaring you. But truly, the best work of my entire career came with balance that made space for creativity, not working 24/7. I refuse to continue to participate in this burnout culture that pretends hard work adds up to a better life because that’s just not true.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.