Dear Dr. Norquist:
I never thought, at age 35, that I would be so unhappy with my life. I have been in the same job for the past seven years. It pays well but is torturous. Seems like I can never do enough, no matter how much time I put in. I work overtime regularly to try to catch up. Consequently, I am always feeling burned out and end up crashing and going to bed soon after my late dinner.
I don’t have any close friends and haven’t even had a girlfriend since my mid-twenties. I just haven’t met people I can feel comfortable with. Being busy all the time doesn’t help matters. I’m pretty lonely and miserable. What can I do to make my life better? This isn’t a good time for me to change jobs – so that isn’t an answer that works for me right now. What else can I do?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your current life is not working well for you. Let’s look at what you can do about it. There are the outer conditions to consider (an unsatisfying job, and a lack of meaningful relationships) as well as the inner conditions (your inner state of mind).
Despite outer circumstances, life becomes for each of us whatever our experience of it is. Victor Frankel, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, exemplified this by how he was able to turn his incarceration in a concentration camp during WWII into a meaningful experience in his life. The life you describe sounds lonely and unhappy. If you focus on working to change your inner state, it will be easier for you to effect changes in your work and interpersonal life.
So how do you change your inner state? You can start by changing the way you view and respond to your work situation. If you see it as torturous, then you are creating the inner experience of being victimized. Victims feel trapped and powerless to effect change. Try on a different viewpoint and see how your inner experience changes. Consider these alternative viewpoints: “my work environment presents me with many challenges that create opportunities for inner growth” or “my dissatisfaction with my current job energizes and encourages me to find a job that better serves my needs and talents.” Either of these views would re-align you with your sense of personal power and your ability to create more satisfaction with your work life.
You say that you are tired and ‘crash’ from over working, at a job where you can “never do enough.” A healthy and positive inner life requires periods of relaxation, fun, enjoyment and stillness. Providing yourself with enjoyable breaks from this driven work mode is a self-care responsibility – as important as providing yourself with proper sleep and nutrition. Fatigue and burnout severely diminish your quality of life. I encourage you to find ways to refresh your spirit. Try to refrain from pushing yourself beyond your limits and consciously provide time each day for relaxation, laughter, and enjoyable activities.
Establishing meaningful interpersonal connections starts with your relationship with yourself. The more comfortably connected you are with yourself, the easier it is to connect with others, and the easier it will be for you to find people whose company you enjoy.
I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2014 Chaitanya Counseling Services