January 19, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons • On the Job
Sometimes, a career can actually diminish one’s mental capacity. It happened to me. Before I became a lawyer, I was a fairly creative person. I immersed myself in activities that required a good deal of concentration, patience and free thought. I read deep philosophical books, I knitted an intricate stuffed elephant toy for my niece, I baked bread by hand, and I even experimented with watercolors despite my lack of natural artistic talent. And then, I started my job and my after-work and weekend activities took on a decidedly more mindless quality. I just didn’t have it in me to think very hard after thinking so hard all week long, and my creativity levels and desire for self-improvement plummeted.
Part of becoming careared is feeling worn down and defeated by a job. This is exactly how I felt. Not only did my job affect my attitude and thoughts during the time I was at work, but it also dampened my spirits and left me mentally spent when I was away from the office. While I was once ambitious with my free time, I found myself spending more and more time watching movies and engaging in mindless activities that wouldn’t be too taxing on my fried brain. I began to perceive many of my former interests as chores, requiring too much creativity and concentration.
The problem wasn’t just that I was tired or lacked time; my attention span was completely warped by my time spent at work, and the effects spilled over to other aspects of my life. While working, I became used to a million interruptions throughout the day —- an email would disrupt my train of thought while writing, a phone call would result in an unexpected half-hour diversion, or my wandering mind would find an excuse to escape with a five-minute internet-browsing break. Needless to say, these interruptions took a toll on my productivity on the job, but my mind was all over the place outside of work too. I seriously wondered whether I had been afflicted with adult-onset ADD. That knitted elephant was out of the question.
It is a constant struggle to prevent negative effects of a job from carrying over to one’s personal life. Even if one is successful at fending off a bad attitude or work worries after leaving the office, there are other subtle ways that a career can invade precious personal time. The brain drain I experienced was one side-effect of my job that was difficult to fend off, in spite of my valiant attempts to maintain a boundary between work and life. It was frustrating to be so mentally depleted all the time and disappointing that I no longer took pleasure in activities that had once provided much fulfillment. There was really no solution to this besides leaving my job.
Once I did leave my job, I began to reclaim pieces of myself I had lost to my career. Thankfully, my creativity was one of them, returning slowly as my frazzled mind once again assumed its normal functioning. Sort of like a haze that had lifted. I can write these pieces, for example, something I would never have had the time or clear-headedness to do while I was practicing law. And maybe someday I’ll tackle another knitted elephant.