It’s that time of year where scores of people will start to present with symptoms of colds or the flu, many of whom will not stay home from work, therefore, sharing their viruses with everyone in the building via everything they touch, and probably the HVAC system.
This makes me a little crazy.
Our bodies are biologically programmed to alert us when we’re sick or injured; hence the reason we feel pain. Our bodies are also programmed to know exactly how to heal themselves (high-five to God for that one, right?!), which means that when we fall ill, it feels like you’re shutting down – you can’t keep your eyes open, you feel exhausted just walking across the house, you can’t think straight. This is because you are shutting down; your body needs to rest, and it’s going to figure out how whether or not you “have time for it” right now.
It’s become commonplace in modern American culture to claim bragging rights over how much we’ve worked, how much sleep we’re not getting, how much we gave up of our weekends to work at home or run into the office for a few hours, and that we fought through bronchitis to get a report in on time. Of course this shows dedication, commitment, work ethic, passion and competency, doesn’t it? It’s impressive, isn’t it? Doesn’t that insure your advancement up the proverbial ladder? It might, most likely yes, it will probably help (I won’t get into why I think that’s flawed logic, maybe another day…). My question is, why is your health; mental, physical, spiritual; and the health of others, less important than your career aspirations? Why are we trying to be the super heroes of gray cubicles?
I’ll never forget overhearing a gentleman walking by my cubicle years ago, bragging that he’d not taken a vacation day in 21 years. The company I was working for at the time used to have a policy where they would pay you for unused vacation days at the end of the calendar year. This gentleman felt that it was in his best interest to take the money, rather than time off. Now, I don’t fault him for lacking the wanderlust my husband and I have truckloads of, but I remember feeling sorry for him that he never gave his mind and body a break, and never took extra time to invest in his relationships with his wife and children. What was likely lurking behind his boasting about being a workaholic?
It’s why we won’t stay home and nurture our bodies when they desperately need it. This is why we give up precious vacation time that could be used to create memories with loved ones – time we’ll never get back. This is why we work insanely long hours, and age our bodies far beyond the calendar years we’ve actually lived. This is also why as the years tick by, we feel progressively less creative, ambitious and energized.
The fear of losing our jobs and our income over not showing up at work because we’re gravely ill is ridiculous. You won’t lose your job because you contracted pneumonia and stayed home (you might lose your job if you contracted a “need to watch every season of Dexter on Netflix in one day” and stayed home), and I think that deep down, we all know this. The real fear comes when we guess that we might be ordinary, replaceable, average, insignificant. That no one really needs us. That things might run just fine without our presence.
The good news is that we ARE replaceable. Even the President of the United States has a back up, and he has a back up, and he has one, and so on down the line. If you stop to think about it, it’s very liberating. You are not carrying the world on your shoulders, it will still revolve, the sun will still shine, the work will be there for you when you get back (and if you never get back because you decided to live by the beach in Antigua instead, it’ll be there for someone else, and that’s totally okay), and no one thought less of you because you stayed home and took care of yourself when you were sick. Seriously – they didn’t.
Our lives are all simultaneously so important, and also so incredibly fleeting. In the grand scheme of the universe, we’re everything, and very little, all at once. This is fantastic. This means that we can relax, we can let go of our over-inflated sense of importance about “what we do” so that we can be who we are. I promise that once you let go, you’ll be surprised at how much more awesome you are at life, and by default, at work as well.
I sincerely hope you don’t get sick this winter, but if you do, take good care of yourself, and do your best to not spread flu all over the break room.