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Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

This is the final of four essays this week in which readers tell how they live with the bruising demands of today’s workplaces. Read part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Nine months ago

It’s 5 a.m. and my alarm goes off. I don’t recognize the song, probably because a few months ago I accidentally hit the dial on my clock radio, altering my usual alt-rock station to one that plays Bollywood music. It would make sense to change it back, but the idea of turning the dial feels like an expenditure of energy I’m not prepared to make. This is the start of my every day.

The thought of working out crosses my mind fleetingly and is quickly shoved aside. “Tomorrow,” I say, as much to my dog, Sophie, as to myself. I am grateful that the chances of her holding me accountable are low.

I don’t NEED to get up this early; I don’t NEED to go to work this early. So, then, what is it that I want to?

The piles of paper I shoved into my credenza drawer last night are calling to me. I can almost see the flashing of the red light on my smartphone, which I’ve deliberately left in the kitchen overnight so I won’t check for e-mails in the middle of the night (as if I’m saving lives or something). I am not saving lives, but this simple act of defying my smartphone feels as if it might be saving mine.

By 6 a.m. I have showered, dressed, checked my phone three times and responded to a number of e-mails. Instead of eating breakfast at home I’ve talked myself into a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks, en route to drop Sophie at doggy daycare. My life has been so “busy” with building a career in the financial industry that I forgot to build a life. I have replaced children with a dog and relationships with my love of Netflix.

“It’s just for now,” I tell myself. “Once I become a [fill in the blank], I’ll …” I’ve been saying that through each rung on the career ladder.

I arrive at the office to discover I’m not the first one in: It’s not yet 7 a.m. and at least three other people have already arrived. Keeners. The day ebbs and flows between “under control” and “alert status red.” Usually, I leave my office for about 20 minutes midday to grab fast food, which I down at my desk; that is, on days when I don’t have someone else grab lunch for me and I don’t have a lunch meeting. If I don’t have a work-related event to attend, I leave at 6.30 p.m. to ensure I pick up Sophie before the daycare closes. I’m thankful that she’ll be tired from a day of playing and won’t need a walk.

Drew Shannon for The Globe and Mail

I hit the almost-empty downtown streets (most commuters have left far earlier) and on the way home I grab something for supper. I’m not interested in cooking. God forbid anyone knocks on my door: I stripped out of my business suit and stepped into my pyjamas the minute I crossed the threshold. I take my meal, smartphone, laptop and dog to the living room and turn on the TV. Most nights I fall asleep playing Candy Crush and binge-watching TV, between e-mail responses and project updates.

Some relevant facts

  • No one asked me to be at work that early. But if the boss is there, shouldn’t I be?
  • No one expected me to put parts of my life on hold. But if I wanted to continue to be noticed and move up the ladder, where was the time or energy for anything else?
  • No one told me that I needed to continue to climb the ladder. But constant questions from leaders across the organization about what jobs I was chasing and where I would be in 18 months, five years, 10 years made it feel that way.

Isn’t it funny, how we sometimes tell ourselves we need to do all of these things and then lose ourselves in the process? So I stopped. I burned the ladder down, and created my own ladder.

Today

My alarm clock is back on my alt-rock station. There are still many mornings when I don’t get on the treadmill like I tell myself to – but I do walk Sophie a minimum of once a day and farther than ever before. She still goes to doggy daycare a couple days a week just to socialize with her pals. I still watch Netflix – it ebbs and flows.

I don’t regret the career I had – it was amazing. I worked for an organization that helped me grow, challenged me, mostly supported me and gave me hope. In my 15-year career, I gained friends, business acumen, flexibility to move (seven times in 15 years), the courage to complete an MBA and the vision to seek a path for myself. This allowed me to take everything I’d learned and start my own company coaching and consulting on personal and professional growth.

Now, I always have enough air in my lungs. I see my family more and I feel inspired every day. I had allowed myself to become consumed with my career and the company I would have bled for.

In order to be consumed with life, I had to step away from the need for status, role, title and the acceptance of those around me. I’ve realized it is far more important to find that acceptance from within.

Christy Hemmingway lives in Calgary.

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