As a career coach, I believe everyone should love their work. After all, the average person spends about one-third of their lifetime on the job. It’s not only much more enjoyable when you’re doing something you care about; it’s also a lot easier to accept that time commitment when you’re invested in the work.
But it IS possible to care too much—and believe me, I know how dangerous that is from firsthand experience. Learning how to develop healthy professional detachment is an essential skill for long-term career fulfillment. Keep reading to learn more!
The Dangers of Caring Too Much
Caring about your work is not, inherently, bad. In fact, it’s a sign of engagement and a critical ingredient for high performance. The problem is that there are different “levels” of care. A certain amount is positive and healthy, but too much becomes negative and toxic. It’s a fine line, but once crossed, you could experience some very destructive consequences.
Here are some signs that you might care too much about work. See if any look familiar:
- You’re unable to separate yourself from work to be present outside of it.
- You take your feelings about work out on others in your life.
- Your work impacts your relationships.
- Your work impacts your personal health.
- You experience extreme emotional responses to work situations.
- You don’t have much of a life outside of work.
- You spend significant time outside of work thinking about work.
- Your career is the most important part of your identity.
- Your self-esteem and self-worth are entirely tied to your successes and failures at work.
Each of these things can be “normal” in moderation. We all have bad days that follow us home from time to time. We all experience joy when something positive happens at work and frustration with negative situations. We all think about work in the middle of the night on occasion.
But, when taken to extremes, these things can be very detrimental. It’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve seen (and experienced) the incredible physical, mental, emotional, and social impacts of caring too much. Without exception, it’s been a key factor in every case of burnout I’ve seen.
Professional Detachment is a Necessary Skill
If caring too much is an issue for you, it’s time to take control of the situation. Learning how to detach from work is a fundamental skill you must learn—or eventually, you will pay the consequences.
Professional detachment is the skill of emotional separation. It involves understanding that work is, indeed, important but it’s not everything. You are a person outside of work too. Your worth is not inescapably tied to your career. When things go well at work, you can feel good. But it doesn’t change your identity. You can be proud of your contributions without letting it create a false sense of self. Likewise, when things go bad, you can be disappointed, but it doesn’t have to go deeper than that. You don’t have to beat yourself up and feel like a failure inside and out. You can leave work at work.
In short, professional detachment is about dialing down the intensity of work.
Passion and enthusiasm are great…within reason. But they have a point of diminishing and, ultimately, negative returns.
Tips to Develop Professional Detachment
If you’re struggling to detach yourself, consider the following tips:
- Re-evaluate your definition of success. What does it mean to have a successful life? Is it really ALL about work, or are there other components that deserve equal care and attention? Make sure your thoughts and actions are aligned with this big picture vision.
- Develop a rich personal life. Take up a few hobbies, build new relationships, find other things to invest yourself in.
- Establish limits at work. You can’t unconditionally say “yes” to everything without eventually hitting a wall. You have normal, natural human limitations that must be respected. If you want your life to be about more than work, you need something left to give.
- Stop talking about work. No one really wants to hear about it anyway. The more you talk, the more it will dominate your thoughts. Talk about something—anything—else.
- Visualize a wall. Build a virtual wall between you and your work. You are in control of what happens inside the wall (your thoughts and feelings). Your work is outside. You can care about it, but it still lives outside of you, on the other side of the wall. You can visit, but you can also leave.
If you’ve mastered the skill of professional detachment, drop me a note on LinkedIn and let me know what you’ve done to make it happen! If you’re struggling, give these tips a try and let me know how it goes.