A toxic relationship
Sometimes, only a real thunderstorm can make you realise that you have been in one and only toxic relationship for all your life - a relationship with your work.
Polish schools do not really teach kids how to properly rest and chill out. Starting at six years old, you always come home with a homework. After 6 - 8 hours spent at school, you arrive back around 2 - 4pm and you still need to fulfil your duty and do the homework for every single class. Sometimes it takes up to 9 or 10 pm in order to finish everything. There are 8 - 14 different subjects at school (starting from Polish literature, through maths, biology, history, English, etc. to physical exercise). It is a norm to have a progress test every few weeks in each of these multiple subjects. That means that effectively, you have to pass 1 - 3 progress tests every week. Since there is no time allocated for studying for the tests in your weekly schedule, you need to find time for this during the weekend.
So, Polish education system does not really teach you how to protect your free time. When you turn 18 and go to studies, officially you can choose to go for the least heavy schedule (which is about 30 standard credit points per semester) and peacefully study. However, depending on the major you chose, it can still mean way more work than a typical working week. For instance, as the Faculty of Physics of University of Warsaw, undergrads have 35 - 38 hours of classes per week. This schedule does not include self-study time, the time necessary for fulfilling assignments or preparing for mid term exams. As a result, the actual study time is often as much as 60 - 70 hours per week. And, those who study more lightweight majors such as Psychology or Sociology (where you can squeeze in your total study time to 30 - 40 hours per week) are usually prepared that they will have to struggle in order to find a job after their studies. This is why they usually choose to start working part-time as early as possible in order to gain some professional experience. Honestly, I do not know anyone met during my studies in Warsaw who would have a habit to close their computer at 5 pm and chill in the evenings; everyone was always busy, running from one task to the other for the whole week, no weekends or evenings off.
In the Netherlands people have way better work-life balance, and are highly protective of their free time. Even though I spent a good few years here already, I still feel I am quite poor at saying ‘no’ to new duties and other people’s inquiries, even if they do not really fit my schedule. Working in science obviously does not help in catching this balance; academia is more of a lifestyle than a job, and professional and private relations often naturally mix with each other. I recently also started messing around with entrepreneurs (see: https://www.nataliabielczyk.com/blog/2019/7/7/what-i-learned-past-few-months) where the tendency is the same, namely building businesses is based on informal networking, building circles of trust and making deals with befriended entrepreneurs. This also does not help in fitting into the standard 8-hour working schedule. And I clearly have a problem with stopping to think about all these projects, even when I am not technically working. It is just hard to switch off your brain if you are a passionate and creative being, and a problem-solver.
Why am I saying all this? I had a lot of thoughts about my relationship with work over the past few days, after I (again!) was ditched in a relationship. And, one of the primary reasons was because I talk about work too much. Of course, at first I had that thought that I had met a person with whom I apparently did not fit, and maybe the next time I could be more lucky and meet someone who accepts me for who I am - even if it means accepting my workaholism. But then, it also came to my mind that it is me who is in minority here. Most people in this country prefer to ‘enjoy life’ in free time, and if I do not learn how to separate work from life very soon, I will never find a partner and develop a family.
So, tomorrow I am starting an experiment: in an attempt to regulate my work-life balance, I will try a 12/12 strategy: wake up at 5am and do all the things necessary for work until 5pm. And then log off from all applications which might send me notifications and focus on going out, meeting people, reading books, watching movies etc. And, no work on the weekends (which is probably going to be the hardest part of this). I am not sure how this new lifestyle will go but let’s give it a try!