Overachieving at the holidays leads to madness.

I recognize that I was able to survive the postdoc- to jr. faculty transition in part because I work like a dog and I’m very, very demanding of myself.  There is no tougher critic of me, than me. High strung overachiever that I am. For the career- this is a good thing. Perhaps, an essential thing?

It is not such a good thing in my personal life however, and the holidays almost always bring out the worst part of this in me. I’m not sure why. In the last three weeks, I had a review article to finish. Doing this over the holidays, juggling my kids and DrMrA while the babysitter was off, and coordinating with my co-author (who also juggles own family with working spouse).. making sure that Christmas happened for the kids, Christmas cards got sent, kids got to the doctor (my older daughter had Whooping cough and coughed so hard she vomited nearly every day for a month- this was a huge worry) , Christmas parties got attended by entire family wearing appropriate Christmas party attire (and not sports shorts/shirts, what is it with 11 year old girls??? Is this the uniform?)… Is your blood pressure up yet…. playing Martha Stewart (insert your favorite domestic diva here) for guests at our house… well, almost killed me this year.  Because I’ve got this internal pressure to handle it all like it’s no big deal- and anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.For.Me.  High strung, overachiever that I am.

And the meltdown always comes to me over something completely stupid. I myself, can’t even believe how stupid- but when things feel like they are getting away from me (or they are way the heck away from me already)… the straw can break the camel’s back. One day this break, after I spent like 2 nights writing until 2 or 3 am,  DrMrA decided to change the whole TV setup from cable to satellite (long story), and he went to quite considerable effort to research the whole deal, schedule the thing, buy the receivers, etc.  He did an excellent job. But cable was the status quo, I knew what to expect when I flipped on the TV looking for white noise to write by after everyone else was in bed. I just lost my marbles when I couldn’t find the right white noise (or programming) lost in a sea of satellite channels. Felt like I was lost in NYC without a map or money. Lost marbles over TV, high strung overachiever that I am.

I think I’d be a whole lot happier, especially at the holidays, if I could just let go of my overachieving tendencies for some parts of my life. I’m pretty sure that those around me  on a regular basis would be happier too- but I have no idea how to get this accomplished ESPECIALLY at the holidays.

I’ll add that to my to-do list. High strung, overachiever that I am.

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7 thoughts on “Overachieving at the holidays leads to madness.

  1. Every year we head up to my in-laws for the holidays. I used to take along my laptop and try to get work done there. Just like you, I would eventually snap. Always because of something extraordinarily trivial. Now I don’t take work with me. All I do is try to stay on top of email. I think we all enjoy the holidays a lot more. Especially my poor wife who used to be on the receiving end… And I come back to work rejuvenated and ready to go.

    I’m funded and have tenure, so it’s easier to leave work behind for a week or so now. But I gave up trying to work during the holidays prior to tenure and before hitting that first big grant. I’m not superhuman and I need the break. I’ve found I get far more done if I take real vacations (and yes, staying with my in-laws can be a vacation). There’s no point in achieving tenure but burning yourself out in the process.

  2. Odyssey- I’m usually pretty good at keeping work from interfering with vacation. The holidays bring out the absolute worst in me, for some reason. This year was worse than most years. The last couple of days I just went completely off the grid, which is a good thing… Hey, thanks for commiserating with me though!

  3. Uh, ja, I do know such situations. I usually jump at some housekeeping thing that hasn’t been done. What really helped was when we didn’t have internet for six weeks, – we have been all a bit calmer than usual.

  4. FIA- I have consciously tried to avoid the internet at home. We do not have a high speed connection at home for this exact reason- we have a slow dial-up which is still access- but it’s a PAIN to use, so we try to avoid it. You are right- it does help to be off the web!!

  5. Oh…you mean the “life” part of work-life balance….we are only a week into 2009 and I’m already swamped. Crap! How did that happen?

  6. Ugh, tell me about it. Through some odd quirk of holiday scheduling, absolutely no one in my lab took a significant vacation over Christmas/New Year’s. The PI was gone for 6 days but back in lab on Dec 26. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only other person who didn’t work on Christmas. And the two days I took off last week to host a college friend in town…mind you the two days were the 31st and the 1st…when I returned to lab on Jan 2nd I was asked how my vacation had been.

    I know this isn’t exactly what you posted about, but the general perception in lab that if you’re in town, of COURSE you go to lab, no matter what day it is….that really does not help us to alleviate the pressure of work work work. We always know that somebody is doing more. It’s very hard to deal with sometimes.

  7. Hey Bugdoc- Happy New Year!!! I hope 2009 is awesome for you, I’m sure it will be :-). I took two full days off Sat/Sun, and Monday I decided to get started by clearing the clutter out of my office and making an orderly list of all the things that need to get done. I left here yesterday with the comfort that I know where I am going next. Then, of course, first thing this morning I got the reviews back on a manuscript… and everything got derailed to deal with that. Oh well, such is life!

    Dr. J & Mrs. H.- Yeah, there’s that. There is a lot of pressure to work work work. I just happened to have a deadline this year that couldn’t be avoided. But the run up to Christmas is so stressful for me. I don’t like Christmas to begin with, there is so much baggage around this holiday- and everyone in my extended family that matters to me tends to have episodes of depression that are worse around this time. I can’t really say more about it than that.

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