The Danger of Emotional Working
I had a college friend who made social plans based on whether or not he felt like he should be working. The keyword here is “felt.” You might think that a decision to work depends on whether or not there is a specific task with an impending deadline. But for this friend, as with many students — both undergrad and graduate — such logic is hijacked by emotion.
And this is dangerous territory…
Do You Have a Working Disorder?
Let me ask you a few simple questions:
- Do you frequently make decisions about whether or not to do school work based on guilt?
- Do you ever go to the library just because you worry you haven’t been there in a while?
- Do you frequently discuss your workload or the times you’ve been working; are you unusually interested to learn when and how much your friends have been working?
If you answered “yes” above, you might have what I call a working disorder. We focus a lot of our attention on students who don’t do enough schoolwork. But in this post I want to address the less well-known, but equally devastating curse of working too much.
A working disorder means you have allowed your work quantity, not your work output, to determine your sense of self-worth as a student. Once you start down this path, you will experience increasing bouts of guilt and anxiety. You will also rob yourself of relaxation and free time that could be devoted to the type of shenanigans that students — who have no boss or time clock to punch — really should revel in.
Toward a Cure
These problems can be severe, but, at the very least, recognizing you may be suffering from a working disorder is a good first step. Beyond recognition, keep in mind the following facts:
- Many of your peers might also suffer from working disorders. Do not use their work habits as a point of comparison for your own.
- All that matters is your work output (be it grades or research). Track this closely. Compare this, not hours, to your peers. If you like your grades in a class, you’re fine; even if you’re not suffering through all-nighters.
- Student work demands are highly variable over time. Just like there will be times when you have to work late, there will also be stretches when you don’t have much to do. This is expected. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t force busywork into these lulls. Enjoy yourself.
Finally, your best defense can be captured by a simple question. Whenever you’re about to work late at night, or on a weekend, first ask yourself: “what exactly is it that I’m worried about not completing on time?” If you don’t have a good answer, crack open a beer and leave the guilt to us over here at MIT — when it comes to emotional work disorders, trust me, we’ve got you covered.
Do you, or someone you know, have a working disorder? If so, what have you observed that helps?