Nuclear Candy

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High performers and sick day guilt.

What’s wrong with me? Aside from the snot blocking my nasal passages, the fever and the double team of fatigue and body aches, something is plaguing me. And it’s my not-working-but-not-being-able-to-not-think-of-work. (I know that’s probably not a genuine hyphenate, but let’s go with it.)

This is shit. I feel like shit, and I feel like even shittier shit that I’m not able to work right now. Oh, I’m fully aware that business will go on and the company won’t shut down and everyone knows that I must be ill to not be firing off emails every six seconds and getting on the phone to find out where the hell the most recent client invoice is. But it pains me more mentally than the flu does physically that I’m having a sick day. Hence, the shit-feeling and the subsequent shit-feeling for feeling like shit about feeling like shit. Total first world problem, but let’s not pretend this isn’t the world we live and blog in. So it goes…

I wish I was alone in this, some career martyr, an anomaly, not so I can be special (what a shitty way to stand out) but I’m so not. It’s something that is infecting this peer group, crossing specialities and roles, geography and company culture. And it’s stupid and to some degree self-inflicted and definitely not deserving of all the attention it sucks from our already addled and distraction-honed brains. Worse yet, we internalize it. It’s something lacking, wrong, not good enough about us. Singularly. I. Me. Looks like those generation “specialists” got something right: we are making it about us, just not in the bratty, spoiled, entitled way too many articles and infographics focus on. It’s about us not doing enough, giving enough, contributing enough. And we are only blaming ourselves, within the confines of our own individual heads.

I don’t know the why. I have some ideas, and I’m certain that a combination of factors is behind it. Undoubtedly, there’s the personality traits shared by high achievers across time: competitive, personal ownership of success, healthy ambition, persistence, discipline. There’s our current state in life, no longer brand new “grown-ups”, we’ve progressed in careers and personal lives but haven’t hit the peaks and plateaus of middle age, motivating us to push push push keep pushing. There’s the desire to differentiate ourselves from “those” mid-20s to early 30s generational stereotypes, the ones that get shit for being told they were special all their lives and (shock) believe what was ingrained in them every day since birth. There’s the shifting state of business and technology and culture, opening up windows and doors everywhere for those smart and talented and nonstop enough to notice them and dive into face first. It’s all of this. It’s created a mental state of “hustle” and “grind”. Which is great for creating new businesses and new ideas and new models of, well, everything. But it also has the negative side effects of extremely (arguably unattainable) expectations of ourselves. And that, is why I am feeling like shit for feeling like shit for being sick as shit.

Maybe my theories are off base, or maybe they are only true for me. It’d only be fitting, considering the role of internalizing it all has played thus far. What I do know is that this is a trend I am seeing impact some of the smartest, already successful but still most promising people I’ve ever known. And I think we should talk about it. We’re in our own minds too much as is.

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1 Comment

  • Jim

    I think your theory is valid. I suspect we get used to a certain pace and energy level each day — and suddenly jumping off a fast-moving treadmill can feel abrupt. I think the older you get, the more you appreciate the value of recharging your batteries. It sucks to be sick, but don’t feel guilty about laying in bed in your PJs and #BingeWatching #Netflix all day. (But don’t forget to drink lots of water.) You can always crank up the treadmill a little faster tomorrow to make up for it.

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High performers and sick day guilt.