Being Busy Is Making You Sick: How to Recover as an Office Martyr

Last week, I shared the concept of “office martyrdom” and explained why it’s an easy trap to fall into yet potentially very destructive.

The office martyr considers themselves a victim, taking on extra work, staying late at the office, and giving nearly everything for their career, all the while complaining about the extra burden they supposedly have to bear. This can quickly turn into a vicious cycle of victimhood and alienation from co-workers, friends, and family.

Working yourself to the bone and sacrificing in the name of work can only get you so far.

The extreme stress you’re putting yourself under is costing you in more ways than one. Not only can all the worrying drag down your productivity at work, but it can also prove corrosive for your personal relationships.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? It’s your good friend’s bachelorette party this weekend and all your girlfriends are geared up for a night out. But you have so much work to finish before Monday and tell her that you won’t be able to make it. Although you tell her over and over again that you’re super bummed that you’ll be staying in, secretly you feel like it’s almost a higher calling.

But fast forward a couple years—that friend has moved 3 states over and you rarely see her. You miss her all the time and wish you were closer. Right now, in this moment, do you have any recollection of that “urgent” project you stayed in to work on that weekend? Was it really life-or-death important? You realize that you totally regret having missed out on that milestone moment with the people who actually mean something to you—all for what, exactly?

If you’re so wrapped up in being busy and making sure that others know that “you’re OMG super busy” and “things are just crazy at work”, you’re unable to cultivate solid relationships and could even be missing out on valuable once-in-a lifetime-moments.

If you think you may be falling victim to this cycle, here are some steps to take to break it:

To start, it’s important that you admit that you have been playing the victim and acknowledge that you genuinely want to overcome it.

Get clear about the specific ways your martyrdom has been taking form and how it’s negatively impacting you (“my coworkers are starting to lose their patience with me,” “I haven’t seen my best friend in two months and she’s expressed her hurt,” “I haven’t had time to sit quietly with a novel in months, and it used to be one of my favorite activities”).

Let go of the myth that your hard work will be magically rewarded.

In school we’re taught that hard work = praise and recognition, but in the real world, it doesn’t exactly work that way. As harsh as it may sound, your boss is busy and more concerned with whether or not she’s looking good in front of her boss than if you’re getting adequate recognition. It’s up to you, now, to advocate for yourself, and complaining about your workload and sending emails late at night isn’t going to do the trick.

Help others help you.

Understand that if you’re going to stay afloat, you’ll need to delegate. This may seem terrifying, but one way to make it easier is to be super-specific about how you want things done. For example, instead of requesting something like “Can you get me this report ASAP?” be specific and say, “Please send me this report by 3pm as a PDF document.” By showing others how to work with you, they will learn to adapt, which will make everyone’s lives easier in the long run.

Ban catastrophic language.

Have you found yourself saying or thinking things like “this always happens to me,” “this will never improve,” “these things always go wrong”? Using language like this and looking at your situation through a “worst case scenario” lens creates a false reality that makes your challenges appear insurmountable and unsolvable which will keep you in the martyr cycle. Ban these words from your vocabulary so that you can see situations more clearly and objectively.

Sneak in fun and inject humor into your daily schedule.

How can you incorporate pure, innocent, playfulness into your day? Start small, such as by turning on your favorite song to listen and dance to as you get ready in the morning. Sneaky little ways like this that let you have fun and give you reasons to laugh during the day can help you take your work situations with a grain of salt and make your day more enjoyable and manageable.

In the workplace, there’s room for all types of working styles and personalities, but in the end, no one likes the victim. By allowing yourself to relinquish the martyr act, you’re opening yourself up to healthier relationships with your work, your colleagues, your friends and family, and most importantly, yourself.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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