“If you’re not breaking your back working, are you even working?”

This story has been an interesting one that I’ve heard over and over again growing up. The more my parents instituted this idea of working to the point of exhaustion, the more it didn’t make sense to me.

Like I mentioned in a previous post, my dad worked almost til the day he died. He put so much effort, blood, sweat, and stress into his job that it consumed him. It became him. If you asked anyone about an Asian land surveyor in the GVRD, they would probably refer you to my dad because well, let’s be honest, it’s a white man’s game in that industry. I watched him work and he enjoyed it. Which I was so happy to see. He truly loved to do this work. Outside of the family, it was his pride and joy.

The same goes for my mom. No matter what she did, from volunteering, making my dance costumes, cooking, to working at Rogers Arena, she would put her everything into it. It’s what she took pride in. And she instilled that way of thinking in me.

The part I don’t agree with, from both parents, was letting the work consume you. Where you ignore all the pain signals your body is sending you until it becomes too late.

It Became an Obsession

I started dancing at age 2. I choreographed my own dances, put on my favourite dress made by an aunt and performed for my family. Then my mom signed me up for proper Chinese folk dance lessons. And I had one of the hardest dance teachers from China push me to my limits so I could go beyond them. Which was great, in a way. But it also broke my body. When I felt an odd pinch in my back during dance class, I ignored the warning signals my body was sending me and kept right on dancing.

That’s when it happened. I could feel fire shooting down my legs. But you know what I did? I kept right on dancing. I ignored all the warning signs my body was throwing at me. That’s when I barely walked out of class that day. And I couldn’t even stand up straight. Thankfully, after years and years of physio, acupuncture, massage, RMT, everything, I can now sit without screaming in pain. But I can’t dance professionally. Or at least that’s what I’ve told myself.

Then when I started working in the fashion industry, it was intense and stressful work. There were days when panic seemed to be the word du jour in the office. The harder I worked, the more I could feel the stress leaking into every part of my body. But I learned to ignore it, as I did with my dancing. I cut off all signals from my body to my brain just so I could hit deadlines.

Because what’s more important in life than deadlines, right?

Am I Really Even Working Then?

Cut to today. After my car accident waking me up to the life path I was going down (which definitely wasn’t for me), I finally started to listen. Like, really listen to my body. It had been trying to tell me so much about how wrong I was, how when I pushed myself to get results I didn’t want, and how all those choices lead to me being so unhappy.

But I didn’t get it. How could my parents, my dance teacher, society, be wrong? I was pushing myself, sometimes to the detriment of my own health to deliver something. Did that mean I wasn’t really working? That I’m not trying?

It’s taken me some time to work through this. I still have days when I don’t make my health a priority. For example, I’ve been sick this entire past week yet I decided to head out and do work. Which was a mistake because I didn’t let my body rest. And it pushed my recovery back. *insert eye roll*

Coming Out The Other Side

I’m working on not being “perfect”, on not obsessing over something, and not questioning how it might look to others on the outside. Because not everyone knows what’s going on behind the scenes, right? There are so many factors there. (I also have one of those obsessive personalities where I’ll keep at something until I get the sweet release of finality, i.e. the whiteheads on my nose. After my dance teacher opened my eyes to them, I spent a good 2 HOURS digging almost every SINGLE ONE out. That kind of obsessive.)

I laugh now because there will be days when I push myself to get something done, for the sake of doing it. My foot may not be pressing the accelerator to the floor entirely, but I’ll still move forward.

Will I follow this idea of not breaking my back working every day? I’ll try. But I won’t guaratee I’ll always do it. Because I’m human and I know I’ll fall back on old habits.

But that just means I get to keep trying the next day.

Do you have this sort of mindset? How did you move past it? Leave a comment below.