When I was a kid, my dad used to jokingly say, “You gotta look out for Number One”.
“Number One” is yourself. Ultimately, your workplace doesn’t really care about you. You are replaceable. You have to look out for your HSP-self first and stop worrying about everyone and everything else.
A few months ago, a friend was struggling at work. She was overwhelmed by too many responsibilities and was ready to quit. I posed the question to her: “What would happen if you didn’t get all your work done on time? What if you couldn’t finish all the tasks?” And her response was something like, “I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world…” But I could tell that she wouldn’t even consider letting some things slip through the cracks. She was a hard worker who cared about her performance.
She was either going to do a great job, or no job at all.
I told her, “You are ready to quit your job. What will it hurt to try caring less first? If you can care less about work, then you won’t feel so stressed about not getting everything done. Just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”
Look. I know you care deeply about details, my HSP friend, but please remember that worrying and stressing about your job isn’t productive. You probably care more about your job than many people do; you are loyal, committed, and hard-working. But when you stress because you feel like you aren’t doing good work, or that you are behind on a project, ask yourself, “Who cares?” Hopefully this will help you put it all into perspective and take a little stress off your shoulders.
This post is also featured at QuietRev.com.
Thanks for this useful reminder Kelly! I nearly killed myself – quite literally, I had a nervous breakdown – in my last job because I was trying to do the job of three people. As an HSP (who didn’t know it for a long time) I grew up letting people impose stuff on me, and trying to prove myself worthy of their acceptance and love by going way beyond my capacities. To prove what? When I finally faltered out of sheer exhaustion, ‘Who cares?’ was indeed the question which forced me to see the ugly truth. Since then – that was three years ago – I have started looking out for Number One and I feel so much more balanced, serene and happy. And it comes as no surprise to me that the job I left was not filled by anyone else! No one else would be so ridiculously committed to doing a job which needs three people to do the work well. It was a lesson I needed to learn and hard as it was it has really helped me to move on.
Vera, thank you so much for this heartfelt comment. I am happy this post resonated with you. For us HSPs, we care so much that the concept of *not* caring never crosses our minds! I’m glad you were able to get out of a toxic job environment!
This is so true. You can still do a good job even though you don’t care as much. Your performance won’t suffer but in my cause get better. By not being stressed out you make fewer mistakes and you are more pleasant to be around. My co-worker asked me why I wasn’t affected by an event at work. I replied because I don’t care. I do my work, that I am paid to do, and I do it well. Why get upset about something you can’t change.
Thank you for this, it’s exactly what I needed! I’m really struggling right now in a very toxic and unorganized firm I started working for 4 months ago. I want to leave more than anything but need the job. Trying to figure out how to block it all out and it’s been very tough.
Lisa, you and I are in the exact same position. I started working at a completely unorganized, highly unprofessional firm about 4 months ago as well. I am being compared to my predecessor who had about 3-4 years of experience doing exactly what I do. When I started, my training literally was only about 1 day and a half. The attorneys working at the office are EXTREMELY unapproachable so everything I did, I had to learn on my own. They claim that I am not working at even 50% of my capacity, yet I kill myself trying everyday. And I feel as though I am the one doing most of the work. It has gotten to the point that I am suffering through a mild form of depression. I cannot remember the last time that I was happy. All I can think about on my free time is work and about how they feel as though I am extremely incompetent for this position. It is hard for me because I am a HSP as well as a perfectionist, so to have people question my work ethic is killing me. I semi need this job as well but it has gotten to the point where it has become unbearable. I plan on quitting very soon and although it makes me feel bad that I am essentially giving up, I need to put my health first and I need to take the time to make myself happy. I wish peace of mind for you as well.
Thanks again for sharing. I’m at the position at the moment where I am doing 3 people’s job-again (because I am the only one who cares and will do it). I’m super-stressed, exhausted etc etc. I really need to care less, but it’s really hard for me as I have pride in my job. NUMBER ONE is really the most important. I will try!!
Kelly, I just discovered your site today, and have been wrestling with not only being an HSP (thank goodness I finally know what it is, rather than thinking it’s something I didn’t have enough therapy to cure in my 20s!), but with this notion of caring LESS at work. I was like Vera and Lisa and Marina for years — I’m always the GO TO GIRL, the one who can do everything, learn everything, communicate effectively with everyone, soothe ruffled feathers, and was still willing to do more. DO MORE / DO IT BETTER has been my mantra from childhood onward, only back then it was “I’m going to love people better, not cause pain.” Then I grew up and that expanded exponentially to everything. But since I turned 40, my gut feeling keeps speaking up: “You’re exhausted, we don’t wanna do this anymore, where is this getting us anyway, aren’t you done?” You’re right, it never occurred to me to let anything go, or to become the “I don’t care” girl. The guilt is definitely the worst thing to wrestle with…but I’m starting to see that this is more of a survival issue, a health issue, a sanity issue. Besides, let some of the lazy buttheads in my office take some of the load for a while. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder.
I’m sitting here at my office desk, holding back my tears, after reading your last sentences above – they were directed straight at me! So absolutely true and I recognize myself fully. One job that I now see is NOT fit for a HSP person is HR – I have been taking other people’s worries too hard! About 400 persons…
I am about to change to another job within the same company which hopefully will be less stressful!
Why do you care?
Posts like this tend to end up pretty preachy and shallow, so let’s start from the deep, gooey center where the “why” lives. Before you sign up for my revolutionary 8 step program to not giving a fuck, ask yourself: why do I care? Really ask yourself. What is the reason for all those fucks you’re giving? Are you 30 years old and still trying to impress your father? Are you afraid that you’re going to fuck up and lose your job? Do you genuinely care about what you do? Once you’ve found your answer, ask yourself if it’s a good enough reason for you to keep caring, or if you’re in need of a change.
At the end of the day, you should only care if what you care about is benefitting you. If there’s no personal gain, then there’s no reason for you to be so worked up about it. I mean it’s great if you’re inventing the cure for cancer or raising the next generation of children to not be terrible people like us, but if it makes you feel bad, is it worth it?
How to care less about work
To get started, we need to become less attached to our notions of work. The Buddha helpfully suggests that there are “three poisons” at the root of our attachments: attraction, aversion, and indifference. In this case, to become less attracted to, and therefore less hung up on, notions of career success, you should pay close attention to how those occupying positions of power are often over-extended, run ragged by infinite demands and herculean ambitions. They are rarely leading well-rounded or well-ordered lives. The cost of their single-minded striving for success is unvoiced suffering, loneliness, and the loss of other things worth caring about. If career success too often brings misery, then should it be esteemed as highly as it usually is?
Once you’ve detached the notion of success from that of happiness, you need to work out how else to find that satisfaction—but without actually achieving anything. This exercise opens us up to Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum, “All art is quite useless.” We can refute total work’s claim that only useful things are valuable by taking Wilde at his word, and considering how we can perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives.
For example, we could partake in the “art of roaming” without an aim or plan. This is an idea advanced by French theorist Guy Debord, who proposed that we let ourselves “be drawn by the attractions of the terrain” and the encounters we discover. Alternatively, we could write a haiku, walk through the woods in the spirit of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku), or lie perfectly still in a moving rowboat, as 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau reports having done in Reveries of the Solitary Walker. We could take part with others in breaking out of an escape room, immerse ourselves in sensory deprivation tanks, or practice calligraphy, an art that master calligrapher Kazuaki Tanahashi calls “brush mind.” By these means, we can plunge into life, engaging our senses while suspending our buzzing, noisy workaday concerns.
Once we’ve gotten the knack for embracing the idea that certain things in life are wondrous because they’re not focused on getting through, onto, or ahead of something, we can turn our attention to ourselves, inquiring into our own lives. Socrates’ great insight involved showing his conversation partners that they thought they knew themselves, but it turns out that they didn’t.
Following Socrates’ lead, we can ask ourselves, “If I’m not just a worker, then who am I?” Let this question sit in the back of your mind for a few weeks before you try to answer it. “Who am I?” you might ask while getting bogged down at work. “Who am I?” you might think while you notice your thoughts inclining once again toward completing tasks, planning, strategizing, and making insurmountable to-do lists. “Is this who I am? Is this all I am?” This philosophical question, posed over and over again, is intended to arouse great doubt in you, inviting you to prod your deepest ambitions, why you’re here, and what it’s all about.
Exasperated, a character in Voltaire’s Candide says, “Let’s stop all this philosophizing and get down to work.” What a waste of time, he seems to be saying—and maybe you’re thinking the same thing.
We could, of course, follow his advice and just keep our heads down. Or we could insist upon working less without caring less about work. Or we could try to find a time-management guru who would allow us to continue a regime of total work by plying time-saving techniques. But aren’t these approaches just more of the same: total work in action? If the solution to your anxiety is keeping your head down, easing up a bit, or working more efficiently, you’ll someday regret the awakened life that will have ultimately, tragically passed you by.
Exercises like these shepherd us beyond the world of total work, helping us to remember why we’re here. They allow us to shed our worries, anxieties, irritations, and busynesses. By caring about work a little less, we can afford ourselves experiences of what is truly meaningful, and let us rest for a while in the unfolding present.