Throughout the past year, work in all its forms has dominated my life — including the lack of it, as well as its fickle nature and overwhelming presence day in and day out. I was applying and interviewing for full-time jobs constantly, in addition to carving time for freelance work. Conversations with friends, family, and acquaintances revolved around our work experiences, aspirations, and frustrations. 

This exhausting reality weighed on me even after I secured a contract job — that is, until I had a conversation with my 73-year-old yiayia, in which I asked her about her dream job since she hadn’t been able to access many opportunities as a young immigrant from Greece. She laughed and said she didn’t have one. When I pressed for more information, she told me, “It’s important to work hard, but never let work be the center of your life.” Then my yiayia followed up with an effective tip: “Never talk about work in your off-hours.” 

Not talk about work? I couldn’t recall the last conversation I had that didn’t include the subject. And that realization called me to action. For the life of me, I would try my best to avoid talking about anything work-related in my off-hours. 

Of course, the task proved more difficult than I anticipated. When you’re working or trying to find work, the bulk of your day is committed to your job or the hunt for one. Some days, you may feel like your life revolves around work, and if you’re anything like me, your downtime may be defined by your workday, too. 

But other areas of people’s lives took a backseat during the pandemic since socializing in-person was risky, and the bleak period left a profound void in day-to-day life. Many homebound workers decided to fill that void with more work. Telecommuting also served as a safe and accessible way to connect with other people, especially if people were on friendly terms with their coworkers. “Many employees report having a ‘best friend’ at work, and for those that do, their work engagement is likely to be higher,” Nicky Garcia, the co-founder and Chief Customer Officer of Cappfinity, tells Apartment Therapy, noting that sometimes throwing yourself into something you know you’re good at can be a coping mechanism during turbulent times. “Taking pleasure in our work and working to our strengths has also proven to reduce stress and increase our capacity to be resilient.” 

However, the lack of work can lead to stress and insecurity, according to Garcia. “For many people, work is a critical part of their identity,” she said. So it makes sense that friends would offer up details about their job when I asked how they were, and why I felt unmoored when I couldn’t respond in a similar way.

Curious about my yiayia’s advice, I tried to avoid talking about work altogether. When my family asked how my day was, I tried to avoid centering my workday and would tell them instead how I went for a morning walk and made a salad for lunch. On calls with my boyfriend, I realized I had little to say about my day outside of work, and even after I told people about my experiment, most people couldn’t help but bring up the subject. 

The more I put my yiayia’s advice into practice, the more I thought about how much of my time connects back to work, from reading articles to jotting ideas down in my notes app. “Working can give us meaning, fulfillment, a sense of progress, and a feeling of usefulness that play a major role in our overall well-being and how we interact with others,” Chambers says. But those positive feelings can balloon outward. “For some people, the passion they have for work leads to hobbies, socializing, and downtime that all connect back to work, which can lead to a feeling of almost living at work.”

I realized that I wanted to stop living at work and start investing in my overall well-being. I became more intentional about how I spent my off-hours by reading books for pleasure, swimming, taking my dog for walks, and enjoying an occasional episode or two of reality television. In turn, I had more to share and less to vent about during my quality time with loved ones. 

According to Chambers, achieving what he prefers to call a “work-life harmony” makes it easier for people to perform at a high level, concentrate on tasks, collaborate, and overcome conflict. That might include telling loved ones that work is an “off-limits” topic when you’re not on the clock. “We are able to connect to work more powerfully because we have fully disconnected and recuperated, and this leads to a higher productivity, creativity, and optimism,” Chambers said. “But more importantly, it allows us to have more energy and be present when we are doing the things outside of work that we love and enjoy, whether it be parenting, interests, or socializing.”

The pandemic forced me to question a lot of things, but my yiayia’s advice galvanized me to reevaluate my relationship with a fundamental aspect of my daily life. I don’t want my career or workdays to define my identity, dictate my relationships, and determine my value. It’s certainly a privilege — not everyone has a job where they can immediately log off at set hours — but by keeping work within its set margins, I can lead a more balanced, fruitful, and fulfilling life. And now, when I head into each workday, I feel more energized and excited to work. 

Andie Kanaras

Contributor

Andie Kanaras is a freelance culture writer based in NJ. She loves candles, reality tv, and pasta.

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