You know the old adage about “all work and no play”, but for a lot of accountant moms, all work can often become an identity. When this happens, the lines become blurred between being an accountant versus being a mom, and can create real problems when trying to have a career as well as a family.
While the struggle with work/life balance is not unique to the accounting profession, it is a huge struggle, especially for accountant moms who are working on average. in one capacity or another, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. For a lot of working moms, the issue can then become feeling guilty at work for having to balance it all, so you wind up becoming a work martyr, wanting to prove that you can do it all.
Work martyrdom can show up in various ways like taking work home so that you can get a jump start on everyone else, not taking all your paid time off because you’re afraid it will look bad, or not being able to delegate because you’re worried that no one else can do the work as good as you. Work martyrdom is also sneaky because it’s often perceived to be normal, necessary, or even worse, rewarded.
The issue though, with work martyrdom, is that it hurts you and your career more than you realize. The perceived need to work harder than everyone else, especially as a woman trying to get ahead in the accounting profession, actually creates less productivity.
I really want you to hear this – the person who stays the latest, works the most hours or has no time boundaries, doesn’t necessarily get more work done than everyone else. More hours spent working does not equate to more work done or higher quality work done.
To get even more real with you, you could have the most billable hours out of everyone, and that still doesn’t mean you’ll be the best or that you will necessarily be considered valuable. Unfortunately, so many accountant moms feel apologetic for their desire to be a working mom, that they try to make up for their feelings of guilt or self-doubt by taking on the role of work martyr trying to prove their worth.
While being dedicated is important for your professional growth, being a work martyr is going to hurt your career and your life more than you realize. What typically accompanies work martyrdom is frustration, resentment and burnout, none of which will help you achieve the success you really want.
It’s important to understand that if you’re feeling insecure as an accountant and a mom, chances are you’re also probably being a work martyr in order to try to overcome that insecurity. Feeling inadequate and insecure then leads you to taking on more, believing that working harder will somehow alleviate those feelings of insecurity.
The truth is that work martyrdom just means that you’re trying to fix a big wound with a tiny bandaid. Thankfully, there is a way to address the signs of work martyrdom and get off that road to burnout
This week I’m going to discuss why work martyrdom is a problem, signs to look out for, and how to stop.
Why work martyrdom is a problem and signs to look out for
First off, the term martyr has always had such an altruistic ring to it. Being a martyr is defined as someone who willingly or unwillingly is put to death on behalf of some belief, principle or cause, often tied to a religion.
Many of these individuals who have suffered for a cause and were willing to die for it, are posthumously revered for their sacrifice and their service. Although the extremism of martyrdom has evolved over the centuries, the term is still often used in our modern times to describe someone who sacrifices themselves and their time for some perceived greater good.
Unfortunately, as women, we are already taught at a young age to make many sacrifices for others and to be happy for and accept what we’re given, even if it’s less than we want or deserve. Then when we become mothers, making sacrifices takes on a whole new life of its own, putting us further and further in the backseat.
So you have the messages you got growing up as a young girl, you’ve got the messages about what good mothers do and the sacrifices they make, and you then add another layer of messaging about sacrifice when you become an accountant. When that happens, the expectations of the accounting profession, mixed with your own desire for professional growth, can often lay the groundwork for work martyrdom for a lot of accountant moms.
We can often get swept up in the tidal wave of other accounting overachievers and perfectionists, believing that more and more sacrifice is necessary while gasping for air as the wave takes us to full blown burnout. The issue is that what’s left when the tidal wave of work martyrdom subsides is often health issues, damage to relationships, overwhelm, unhappiness and resentment.
When work martyrdom seeps into your life, it can become like a poisonous gas that is undetectable until after it’s done its damage. Just like we have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes because humans can’t smell deadly carbon monoxide, you should know the signs of work martyrdom and be able to detect it before it’s too late.
Here are some of the signs to be on the lookout for:
- You automatically reply to emails immediately, regardless of the necessity, no matter what you’re doing or what time it is
- You feel a constant need to show your boss or coworkers that you’re clocking hours even if you’re on vacation, it’s your day off, or it’s 11 pm
- You feel more stress and pressure than others in the office and need to talk about how busy and stressed you are
- You have a difficult time delegating and you believe you’re the only one in the office that can do your job
- You think asking for help is a sign of weakness
- You hesitate or resist taking all your paid time off
- Your extra efforts haven’t translated to more money, a promotion, or a happy balanced life
- In social settings, all you can talk about is work
- You judge others for leaving work early or taking off for family reasons
- You’re devastated by constructive criticism
These are just a few of the signs that you should be aware of, especially if your identity is wrapped up in work or you have a growing resentment towards your work. The hard truth is that being a work martyr isn’t good for your health, your relationships, or your professional development.
Unfortunately, the accounting profession tends to valorize, or assign merit to, people who stay late and are always available, making work martyrdom seem like it’s really not a big deal. The issue is that this creates a model for what to aspire to, leaving a sea of accountants with work/life balance issues or wanting to leave the profession altogether.
While flexibility is incredibly important for accounting moms trying to have both a career and a family, if not looked at carefully, flexibility can backfire. The issue becomes when work demands are so high that there is no delineation between work and life, creating an “always on” culture.
Thankfully, when you become aware of the signs, you can also take some steps to overcoming the need to be a work martyr.
How to stop
If you saw yourself in any of the signs of work martyrdom, I first want you to know that it’s not your fault. Again, you have the messages you got growing up as a young girl, you’ve got the messages about what good mothers do and the sacrifices they make, you have the expectations of the accounting profession, mixed with your own desire for professional growth, and you wonder why you might have some of the work martyr tendencies!
If your initial reaction is to justify the things you do in order to get ahead, I get it, but you have to stop for a second and look at the results those justifications are creating in your life. I promise you that every justification you have is just your brain’s way of defending what it believes to be true, even if those beliefs aren’t serving you.
Your brain doesn’t care that replying to emails immediately, no matter what you’re doing or what time it is, is detrimentally affecting your relationship with your spouse or your children and creating overwhelm. It doesn’t care that you feel more stress and pressure than others in the office and need to constantly complain about how busy and stressed you are.
Your accountant brain sees work as necessary for your existence, dramatically equating work with survival and using work to buffer negative emotions. Because of this, the first step in stopping work martyrdom is to first look at the feelings you are trying to avoid by overworking.
The simplest way to do this is to NOT do the typical work martyr behaviors for a day or a week and pay attention to how you feel. I’m going to bet that what you will feel is some version of fear – something like worry, dread, self-doubt, or anxiety.
Once you know how you feel when you don’t do the work martyr behaviors, you’ve done the most important step in stopping work martyrdom because the reason you’ve been overworking is all tied up in the avoidance of those feelings. The truth is that you have become a work martyr in order to not feel worry, dread, self-doubt, anxiety or any other negative emotion.
This is really important to know because the action of buffering, which includes things like overspending, overeating, overworking or overdoing anything, is always creating a net negative effect in your life. In other words, you turn to certain behaviors in order to avoid certain feelings.
So here’s the key to stopping work martyrdom – you need to become better at allowing the urge to overwork and NOT act on it. You need to become better at feeling negative emotions and not trying to replace them by feeding into the “always on” culture of accounting.
None of the negative emotions you’re trying to avoid with overworking are a problem; they’re just the result of your thoughts. The good news is that you can absolutely manage your thoughts in a way that stops the need for work martyrdom and gives you the balanced, happy life you really want.
What you believe about yourself, your value and your worth, is all going to culminate into the actions you take and the results you get. So if you want a balanced life, you have to learn how to have a more balanced mind first.
I’ve said this numerous times on the podcast, but when you learn how to manage your mind, you can manage everything else. A managed mind doesn’t succumb to the pressures of work martyrdom; it knows how to set boundaries, how to manage expectations, and how to have a productive but balanced career and life.
Just know that you are not doomed to a life of work martyrdom when you understand how your unique accountant mom brain works and how to manage it. The best part is that when you change your relationship with work, you also change your relationship with you.
- The struggle with work/life balance is not unique to the accounting profession, but it is a huge struggle, especially for accountant moms who are working on average. in one capacity or another, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- For a lot of working moms, the issue can then become feeling guilty at work for having to balance it all, so you wind up becoming a work martyr, wanting to prove that you can do it all.
- Unfortunately, the accounting profession tends to valorize, or assign merit to, people who stay late and are always available, making work martyrdom seem like it’s really not a big deal.
- The issue is that this creates a model for what to aspire to, leaving a sea of accountants with work/life balance issues or wanting to leave the profession altogether.
- Thankfully, when you become aware of the signs, you can also take some steps to overcoming the need to be a work martyr.