Life of a recovering workaholic

Alex Tran
7 min readNov 12, 2020

10 days before my 27th birthday, I went to sleep in tears and woke up with the biggest eye bags and an unsettling mind. It’s Friday, I usually would be all happy and chirpy about how it is the last day of work before the weekend, but not today. Even though I have all the reasons to celebrate because I’m taking the whole week off next week, but my head is heavy. My stress level is off the roof.

I have a long list of to-dos and about 3 meetings to attend, much less than other days but enough to give me dizziness. I have to prepare for some coaching sessions with the team, delegating work to the reps, screening new candidates for new roles, working on the internal promotion process, and making sure the team is performing. Oh, and one of my very talented team members resigned this morning. She called me last night at 8pm, my heart was crushed but I saw it coming. I wondered what I could do to make a difference for her, to help her reach her potential while staying on my team and at the company. The thought put me in tears and guilts. If you asked me to describe my life in three words at that exact moment, 7am on a Friday, they would be: I am suffocated.

I had a dream not too long ago, I was in the middle of the ocean, all alone. The dark blue water was calm but I was panicking, I screamed and cried and tried to swim to the shore. I couldn’t see the shore in sight so I had no clue where I was swimming toward, I swam so fast trying to head to nowhere. I gasped for air. My arms were paddling and I got tired, so tired that I thought I should just give up trying. Then I woke up, totally forgot about that dream, and got on with my day, walking the dog, eating a quick breakfast, going to never-ending meetings, making dinner, eating, showering, sleeping. It’s not until this week that the dream came back to me like a deja vu. I’m drowning. I’m sick of living life on autopilot but that’s all that I’ve been doing. I haven’t been happy nor fulfilled, I can see my soul dying day by day out of exhaustion and burning out. I have never truly enjoyed my full hour of lunch breaks — I eat at my desk while working. I start before 9 and stay until after 5. I usually joke that my work never ends, if I decide to work all day and night today, I won’t have less work to do the day after. My life was a living nightmare but somehow I convinced myself that it’s not, until the universe slapped me in the face and asked me to wake up.

We go through life and oftentimes forget what we’re living for. People say that what you do from 5–9pm is what defines who you are. I call that bullshit. We live in a world where we have 4 hours a day for ourselves. Sometimes, much less if we decide to work a bit longer. And that 4 hours is the precious time that we spend doing maintenance work on our body, not to develop it. We cook, eat, shower, unwind, work out — those are not the activities to take us to the next level, those are things we do to make us functioning human beings. The same idea applies to the weekend: it’s the time for us to maintain our well-being by sleeping a bit longer, paying the bills, visiting parents, catching up with friends, cleaning the house, getting groceries. I find myself gasping for time — I need time to work on myself and I can’t do that from 5–9, and I can’t do that on the weekend. When was the last time I learn a new skill that I’m fully invested in? When was the last time that I created a project and ran with it? I cannot recall. All we do, as responsible adults, is going to work and contributing the best years of our life, the best hours of our day to a company so that the company can progress to the next level. But you will do everyone, especially yourself, a disservice but you don’t grow. What does that next level even look like to you?

I know that I need a break when I’m no longer present in daily conversations. I’m no longer in tune with what everyone is feeling. My head was clouded with thoughts and there’s no escape. My female intuition and psychic ability that I was born with and developed during my teenage years all disappeared. All I’m left with is a robotic mind like an excel spreadsheet with crazy formulas on how to optimize X, let X be a task at work that needs to get done by Y time. I’m a candle burning out with no more fire to give. I need to recharge, and I need it now.

There are so many things I wanted to do that I never have time for, one of them is to do nothing, to have no agenda, just go with the flow and what I feel like doing. The thought of having no agenda irritates me a little but that’s exactly what I need to be in tune with my body. I need to slow down, I need to listen, what I am feeling right now? Do I feel like eating or do I feel like biking? Take it one step at a time, one thing at a time. Relax. There’s nowhere to be and no one to be — I can just be me. Learning to relax and letting go of all thoughts and judgment is truly a skill set, it’s a shift from doing to being, from taking actions to observing things taking its course.

I have done lots of things for myself in the past few days off, and it feels incredible to be in touch with myself again, to love my inner child, and nurture her with all of my abilities. I bucket the things I do into three categories:

  • Be with the mind: read, meditate, journal (a lot), watch documentaries, playing the ukulele, sleeping 9 hours/day, write to myself and reassure myself that I’m loved and I’m whole.
  • Be with the body: breath, yoga, work out, taichi, biking, hiking, cooking delicious and nutritious food, baking cookies, enjoying chocolate and espresso, feeling that mind-body connection in every moment.
  • Be with nature: cold exposure by going in the river, photographing moss on my hike, and sitting by the river and to have my mind rest at ease.

We packed our bag, put on raincoats, and set out on the journey to the forest. There’s a river behind our house. The river leads to a trail, the trail leads to the forest. The forest leads to my soul.

Earlier today I was doing taichi barefoot and it was raining. When there’s enough grounding, enough “Earth”, you yearn for water and flow. It’s cold and rainy, but I went to the river. I dipped my head in the water and hold it for 3…2…1… My brain wanted to freeze but my breath stayed with the water, embrace it, love it, be with it.

The air feels heavy today, you can just put your tongue out and feel droplets of water from tree branches coming to you, thanks to gravity and to the rain earlier. I love the forest in the fall because it’s where I see life and death. Leaves falling to the ground giving all the love and wisdom to enrich the soil, the soil feeds the whole ecosystem of trees, ferns, mushrooms, and of course, moss.

Leaves are dying but mosses are thriving. Moss on the roots of dead trees, moss on the side of the bridge, moss on the rocks, moss on living trees, and branches, moss on the fence of an abandoned house deep inside the forest. Moss never dies and nothing can really kill it. Let me be like moss, let me be soft yet strong, let me be green and full of life. Let me grow wider and deeper in the forest of awareness and wisdom. Let me seek lights and be at peace with the shadow. Let me contain water and carry it with me wherever I go.

I find myself broken and hitting rock bottom, but I also see hope and light. The universe and I made a secret agreement, that I will be fine. May I be safe, may I be happy. Ask and I shall receive.

Describe my life now in three words: I am whole.