Many people are not really aware that they use overworking as a coping mechanism. I was a victim of this toxic cycle, constantly pushing myself beyond limits, until one day, I hit a breaking point and everything changed. So, join me on this eye-opening journey as we explore the dark side of overworking and uncover ways to break free.
Overworking as a Coping Mechanism: the backstory
I think a lot of my story has to do with where and when I was born.
I am from Dresden, East Germany. I was born “behind the wall”. I grew up like a lot of people there, without a lot of money.
I was thirteen when I started working because my dad had lost his job after the German reunion.
I realised that I actually liked to have more responsibility and money in my pocket, so I started taking on more jobs.
By the age of fifteen, I was a Team Manager at a Petrol Station, leading a team of people way older than me, with more years of experience on that job.
No matter where I was working, I was always being put in a management or leadership role. I think this is due to the fact that I was not afraid to tell people what to do and to let them know when they were not doing things efficiently.
I was really good at work, and I liked it. I liked to be a high performer and an overachiever. My job performance was excellent.
I began using overworking as a coping mechanism without even realising it. I kept adding more and more work to my life, not fully aware of the toll it was taking on me. At the time, I found some enjoyment in the busy schedule, but I didn’t fully understand the long-term consequences of overworking
Until I collapsed.
When I was 19, I had a cardiac arrest and I was clinically dead for 25 seconds. This happened due to numerous chronic illnesses, but also to overworking a lot.
In Germany, especially in East Germany, we are always told that you have to work hard. Everything is about work. And more so growing up in the 90s. Because of this, there is a lot of workaholism in that country.
After suffering a cardiac arrest, I felt like I must have been doing something wrong. But instead of reevaluating my approach, I doubled down on overworking myself. I had always been taught to work hard, and by the time I was 22, I had become a team manager responsible for 160 people. However, managing such a large team often meant dealing with chaos and putting in longer hours, which led to a lack of sleep.
This turned out in my first burnout by the age of 24, from which I got a spinal injury that damaged not only my mental health but my physical health too.
By that time, I was traveling quite often, but always under my vacation period, which in Germany is 4 weeks. But when I was 26, I decided to try something completely different.
I left Germany for good, and a lot of things happened ever since: I became a Scuba Diver instructor, worked in 9 different countries, visited more than 45, and I built my own business.
I have to say I continued with this whole thing of overdoing things. Because as I found out years later, I was using overworking as a coping mechanism.
I had this work addiction, to always go the extra mile, to always be the best.
Usually, it takes one year to become a scuba diver instructor. But I did it within 8 months, and I had never even snorkeled before. To get the certification, you have to go on hundreds of dives, hundreds of hours. I did this full time: every day I was diving for 10 to 12 hours. After that, I would work in the office, because I was doing this work exchange, so I could become a Scuba Diver instructor fast.
Now I have had a business for over 5 years, and I came back to my roots, which are Project and Process Management and Team Leadership.
Since I lived in so many different countries, I have seen how communication and work ethics are so different all over the world. People always expect that they are understood in the same way that they are communicating something. For instance, I tell someone in Mexico, I need you to do A B C by this date, that is exactly what I mean. But maybe they understood something completely different based on how they grew up, the cultural difference, and the cultural rules about how to be polite, what to say, what not to say. Being very clear can be absolutely offensive for them too.
I brought all this knowledge into my business and I created a Method called The T.I.M.E. Method which builds the strongest foundation that is needed in business and life so that people can finally have time and freedom and they can decide their lives however they like, without the hassle, without the grind, the pressure, the stress, and everything that society usually tells us we need.
How my chronic illnesses impacted my addiction to work
I was born with two life-threatening chronic illnesses. One was a kidney failure, which had to be repaired with surgery when I was 3 years old. The other is a neurological disorder that manifests itself with migraines and epileptic seizures. I also learned a few years ago that I am on the autistic spectrum.
I relate these illnesses to an event that happened when my mom was pregnant: The big explosion that happened in Chernobyl.
We had a lot of radiation fall out in the East and North of Germany.
The problem is that the East German Government was hiding this and refused to tell people about it. This means that for 4 long years until the german reunion, people in east Germany did not know that their water, their milk, their veggies, and every produce were up to 1000 times more contaminated than what you are supposed to intake. And even crazy, the government would take the produce that they were not able to export anymore and they would give it to people at kindergarten and schools.
My mother was a teacher and she was so excited to have veggies because in east Germany we did not have easy access to them.
My mom got particularly contaminated because as a kindergarten teacher, she had access to a lot more veggies than the rest of the people.
This is why I had a lot of extra challenges with my health.
As a child, I was very hyperactive. I was always happy even though I was in constant pain. And you could not see it, because I really looked happy and healthy. People always thought I was just pretending to drag the attention.
My parents took me to doctors for 5 years until they found out I had migraines and seizures.
I cannot explain to people the extreme pain that migraines are. As a child, I wanted to be happy, so I would not tell anyone I was in pain, because maybe by doing so, the pain would go away. Obviously, it did not work out.
This also got me to the hospital a lot because I was not saying anything until it was too late.
With all this background in mind, the only time I felt really great, is when I achieved something.
I started dancing ballet when I was 4 years old. I was one of the best there, and I was always praised, so I did more. I kept achieving more. I wanted to be the best at everything.
Achieving was my go-to coping mechanism with everything. When something went wrong, I would just get more done, and achieve more. And in my teenage years and adulthood, this translated into using overworking as a coping mechanism.
It was very toxic for me, and it killed me.
I see this pattern of overworking as a coping mechanism in a lot of people. Most of them are not even aware of it. They think they are doing the right thing by working so hard. Work addiction makes them feel great. A lot of people who are doing this are victims of childhood trauma too.
How I was able to get rid of this toxic work pattern
Undoing this pattern was real work. I had to find the balance between achieving things without them being toxic and without harming me more than what they were doing for me.
It took me over 10 years.
I was really resilient and really good at suppressing emotions. Being resilient only gets you so far.
I thought I only identify myself as a survivor.
I was repeating patterns a lot. It was a rollercoaster, where I went really high but then I crashed lower than ever before. And then I went up again. I thought I was a survivor, I had tenacity and perseverance. And this happened over and over again.
I had to stop wanting to be a survivor. I kind of liked it. I never realised that before.
There was this pattern in my life where I needed to survive all the time.
The Social Impact of my work
The T.I.M.E. Method framework helps business owners and entrepreneurs. In the past, I was also working with Start Ups and Agencies, but I really want to bring this knowledge to entrepreneurs and business owners, because I feel that there is where it is most needed.
I feel like most of the Fortune 500 and bigger companies already have these pillars in place somewhat, and they have more access to this knowledge because one of their founders or CEOs knows about operations and how to build processes, systems, and (hopefully) leadership.
So I want to bring this Knowledge to people who really need it in order to grow bigger, to build a legacy.
Entrepreneurs have more impact because they are the people who want to change the world, to have some local impact. Most of them want to do something good with their community, with the environment, and with minorities. And I want to be a part of that, and amplify that, bring more impact to these causes.
I always work with Chrono-Energy, which means how you use your energy throughout the day. I teach my clients how to use their energy when it is high and when it is low, depending on their circadian rhythm and their Chrono-Biology. This is different for each person. If you want to know your Chrono Energy type and how you can make the best use of your energy, click here to take the quiz.
Not everyone needs to wake up at 5 AM. Not everyone has to push themselves to drink coffee and red bull until they get things done.
I mostly work with people 1.1. In the first session, I go really deep. I need them to talk, it is very important for me to know everything. Because the more I know, the more I can help.
I can see and hear patterns. so whatever someone says, I hear geometric forms and maps, so I can help them step out of it by listening to them.
As a consultant, I can create habits, routines, systems, and processes for their business, and team structures. sometimes I throw over the complete business model and recreate a new one.
I am one of the very few women out there who is doing this job with a holistic approach and lifestyle design. Most of my colleagues are very much into push and hassle.
High Performance: The Importance of Slowing Down
if you google High Performance, a lot of the things that come up are cars, machines, and athletes.
If you look into what has changed for athletes in the last 5 to 10 years in the performance space, the main thing that has improved is the age of the people still engaged in the sport, and also the age that they retire. They retire later than they used to.
The second thing that has changed is that one of the main focus of high performance in athletes is rest, recovery, and rejuvenation. They now do breath work, sauna, meditation, and whatever they can, naturally, to rest recover, and rejuvenate.
It also applies to machines and cars, you can’t drive your car 24/7. It will stop working. Same with machines. They need to cool down.
Then why should we as humans do that and work nonstop?
Cutting the BS: The most impactful thing in my work
One of the most impactful things I am doing with my clients is cutting the BS.
As business owners or entrepreneurs, we are building up something for so long, so it also takes a long time to UNDO it.
We have so many small, unhealthy habits, behaviors, patterns, and self-sabotage patterns. And during my sessions, I point them all out. So they have the choice to change them or not.
I also talk a lot about nutrition. We have so many things to cut out there. What I preach is to eat fresh food.
I don’t mind what type of diet you have. But you have to eat fresh. Do not go to the supermarket, go to the farmers market, not only do you get fresh food that it is not processed, but you also support the local people.
In regards to thoughts, we have 50 to 80,000 thoughts a day and 90% of them are not ours. We did not make them. The few thoughts that you create by consciously thinking about them, like the food you are going to eat today, are 5% to 10% of all our thoughts, so we should stop blaming and shaming ourselves for all the thoughts we get, but still take responsibility for them.
We can cut the BS for all of these thoughts.
Time is an illusion
The idea that time is time and time is linear is just not really how it works and people can let go of it.
Time is an illusion. while we experience time as linear, I just want to throw the idea that time in a linear form meaning (dates, hours) has been created as a patriarchal system for the 9 to 5 employees to stay in place and to follow along. if you don’t want to follow along and if you feel like you want to create more time freedom for yourself, you can certainly let go of having to follow times and dates.
Yes, we are still living in a society where you have to be at places on time, but as an entrepreneur, we are pushing and pressuring ourselves so much that we have to achieve something fast in a short time, and I don’t believe that this is necessary.
So many gurus say that you need to have 6 years in the first year. But you don’t need to have x amount of figures in your first year. Why don’t you just say, my goal is to live happily and joyfully and have a business that is fun? Who cares if the 6 figures come along in 5 years or in 10 years?
Lastly, I want to say that time is an illusion and you can do whatever you want with your time.
This blog post was created based on the below Podcast Episode of The Entrepreneurial Brain with Maurice Neuwirth.
You can play it here below. Enjoy it.
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