by Ozlem Eva Davis, CPA/CFF – Owner of Peer House, LLC
About five years ago, my husband and I were sitting in our family therapist’s office trying to solve our parenting woes. I was laser focused on our impossible toddler and our increasingly rude teenager. All I wanted was for her to give us actionable steps to solve both and make being working parents easier. Instead, she kept circling back to the two of us:
“Tell me about your daily routine.”
“Tell me about your relationship.”
“How is your marriage going?”
And last, but not least: “Do you trust each other’s judgment?” After throwing each other a quick glance, we each promptly replied with a solid “No.”
NO, we did not trust each other’s judgment; YES, Michael desperately needed more quality time with me; YES, I desperately needed him to help around the house more; but other than that, we were FINE. Being working parents with impossibly strong-willed kids is what we had both signed up for.
“Let’s go over your daily routine,” our therapist suggested once again. So, I gave in:
- 5:30am: Awake and try to get ourselves mostly ready for work.
- 6:10am: Wake our daughter and start the process of fighting for her to put on clothes.
- 6:30am: Begin the first of several rounds of “Get up!” warnings to our teen.
- 7:12am: Endure our teen’s morning grumpy “cold shoulder” routine as he finally shuffles out of his room moments before the bus is due.
- 7:18am: Hope for at least a grunt in our direction from our teen as he heads out the door.
- 7:20am: Exchange quick “I love you’s” with Michael as he leaves for his office.
- 7:30am: Hastily fix our toddler’s lunch with all kinds of pre-packaged items and dash out the door with her.
- 7:42am: Drop our daughter off at daycare (which I resented so much; Why couldn’t I spend time with her all day!?!) and race to work.
Afterward, I would be at work up to 10 hours every day, so it was Michael’s task to pick up the kids, settle them in at home, and oversee our son’s homework.
The only time I spent with my family was during the rush of this morning routine and briefly at bedtime, but even during those moments I was multi-tasking. My reason was honorable: I just was working myself to the bone to provide them a “better” life. I thought they would see and appreciate it.
Looking back now, I see that I was really hiding in my work. At work, things were within my control, but at home I felt completely out of control. I told my family I was working for THEM, but they were seeing through me and they were not appreciating it.
Both kids were getting more and more difficult to handle and I was growing more and more upset with them for not appreciating us.
I described to our therapist how I was stretched so thin with responsibility from 5:30am to 11:00pm that I felt like crawling into a ball and sleeping under the covers all day long. I desperately needed sleep and cooperation from everyone in the family. I could not even cry out my frustrations. I am a logical problem-solver, after all: I did not have time to cry! I could solve this if only everyone did their assigned parts as I saw them and stopped making my life more difficult all the time!
I was excelling in the workplace with a successful career, but by the time I stepped in the doors of my house there was hardly anything left of me to offer to my family. As a result, Michael was in much the same boat. We only had enough energy for everything to go-exactly-as-planned: Husband and wife would help each other with cooking, feeding, cleaning and bedtime. Kids would cheerfully and respectfully do what they are asked to the first time, not talk back, get themselves ready for bed, and stay in bed. Only then – maybe – we would finally get to crash on the couch together. But even when that happened, it just meant me instantly zonking out into oblivion before the crazy morning routine started again.
At the time, looking at me from the outside, you would never have guessed that I was struggling with overworking as much as I was. I absolutely loved my career and I absolutely loved my family. Yet I was getting crushed under a lot of pressure, much of it self-imposed. And when you carry it so well on the surface, have poorly defined boundaries, and desperately want to people-please, others naturally assume you have it all covered and tend to offer even more weight to your plate. You feel compelled to expand your comfort zone even one step further to ensure everything gets done.
My daughter’s pre-school teacher once told my husband that I was “suffering from a hyper-inflated sense of responsibility.” He told me because he had been saying the same for quite some time.
Why am I saying all of this now? My mental health was suffering. I was not okay. I was stretched thin and did not know how to break the cycle. I see that a lot of us are stretched thin and often just one step away from a mental breakdown.
Four Kentucky lawyers committed suicide within three weeks following Christmas this year. I was deeply saddened over these precious lives we lost. I did not know them, but imagined their loved ones, their hopes, dreams, and happy memories that they chose to leave behind because they could no longer take the pressure under which they suffered.
How sad a moment that must have been for each of them. I cannot even fathom. So, although I strongly dislike writing, I decided to type this blog spot and share with WLK my desire to sponsor a speech on mental health awareness. We need to break the stigma around this topic. The fact that we struggle under pressure does not mean we cannot also be exceptional at what we do in our careers.
I am married to an attorney, so these recent tragedies concerned me. I asked Michael if he was okay and if he felt under immense pressure in any way. Thankfully, he is one of those blessed individuals that is not a workaholic. He leaves work at work, sticks to his boundaries, and makes plenty of time for self-care and family. I often feel jealous…
Others like me, on the other hand, far too often sacrifice their well-being while working to reach career goals. It is vital to break this cycle so that we do not work ourselves to self-destruction.
- How do we help ourselves?
- How do we help each other?
- How do we help a friend, a colleague, or a loved one avoid the decision to end their lives?
- Not only that, but how do we help each other thrive?
I believe the key is AUTHENTICITY. The more authentic we are, the more joy and freedom we offer to others. The world desperately needs it; particularly young ones who are looking up to us.
The following paragraph is straight out of Wikipedia, you can find the references linked there:
“Suicide is a major national public health issue in the United States. On average, adjusted for age, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000 people, the highest rate recorded in 28 years.
Surging death rates from suicide, drug overdoses and alcoholism, are referred to by researchers as: deaths of despair.”
We must refuse to suffer in silence simply because we are afraid of appearing weak. It takes strength to be authentic, and we all need more of it.
- When you feel pushed beyond your limits, ask for help!
- When you notice someone else pushed beyond their limits, offer your help!
I had many challenges after I came from Turkey to the United States and finding community was essential. I know firsthand how life-saving a compassionate outstretched hand can be.
Today, I am a proud woman business owner. At my company, we focus on fostering team members’ well-being so that they will then be able to live their best lives and in that way also provide the best work product and service to our clients.
Living an authentic life tends to reduce stress, guilt, worry, and fear.
So, how can I live authentically?
- Be the real you and no one else. We are all perfectly imperfect beings. How amazing is that!
- Do not compare yourself to others. Period.
- Live in the present. It is a gift!
- Always tell the truth. My favorite saying is: “The truth has invisible armies.”
- Keep an open mind and trust your gut.
- Make time for yourself and your loved ones.
- Ask for help, accept it when it is offered.
- Help others and cheer them on. Do this without taking on their responsibilities.
- Own your mistakes and learn from them. Make the effort to fix them.
- Stop trying to make everyone happy. You cannot.
- Finally, define your boundaries. You do not need to apologize for them.
Once I asked one of my mentors to share the biggest lesson he had learned in his 35+ year career. His answer came easily: “Well, Oz… I learned that things are usually not as good as they seem, but they are usually not as bad as they seem, either. So, do not let news in either direction rock you off your solid ground.” Those words have gotten me through many challenging days.
Back to the question of WHY?
Toward the end of the therapy session, our therapist asked me: “Why do you work so much?” It was a very simple question that left me baffled. “What do you mean, WHY do I work so much?” I responded. Aren’t we all supposed to set goals, work hard, and do our absolute best in life to achieve them?”
“At what cost?” she said. “Is it truly worth it? Do you think your children are happier that your career is getting the best of you and they are left with what hardly remains?” I was left speechless. Until that moment, I had never thought of a different way of living.
She went on to tell us the story of an executive mom with whom she is working. This mom had worked for decades in a high pressure, demanding job that required a lot of travel. In her mind, she was doing it all as a sacrifice to secure a “better” life for her kids. Yet the kids grew up missing her. Her 14-year-old daughter was filled with so much resentment that she was declaring she wanted nothing to do with her mom anymore. We all can easily guess that in her heart-of-hearts this young girl wanted nothing more than being close to her mom. Still, that would not change the heartbreak and defeat this hard-working mom must have felt during those days. I hope and pray they are doing much better today.
I will try to never forget this story and the very important questions our therapist asked me that day:
- “WHY do you work so much?”
- “At what price are you reaching your goals?”
- “Is it truly worth it?”
My husband and my mother-in-law are my accountability partners. Please reach out to someone you trust and clearly let them know your personal cues of exhaustion and overload. Be someone’s accountability partner for mental health. Who knows, maybe the fact that you cared to ask these very same questions will open that person’s eyes to a different way of living and might even save a precious life from losing its light.
Ozlem Eva Davis is a CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. She has 20+ years of accounting experience. She puts that experience to work for her clients as the owner of Peer House, LLC | CPA & Consulting Services. www.peerhousedata.com
Quality, commitment to excellence, and continuous improvement are the foundations that Oz and her team live by. You can connect with Oz at email@example.com or (859) 200-9034.