Michelle Chhong is a University of Illinois Urbana Champaign alum who has worked her way up the corporate ladder. She is currently the Transformation Programs Lead at Schneider Electric, and she understands the challenge of pursuing the right career while still enjoying life. During my interview with her, I got to learn more about her story and how she got to be where she is today. As we looked into her story, she mentioned how alarmingly easy it is to become swamped with work, forgetting to savor life. In this blog, we’ll explore the dangers of being overwhelmed by work and offer a wake-up call to prioritize enjoying life.
The Relentless Pursuit of Success
We live in an era where success is often defined by professional achievements and material gains. This obsession with success can lead to a never-ending pursuit of career goals, causing us to work excessively long hours and neglect other aspects of our lives. In the process, we might miss out on family gatherings, important celebrations, and personal milestones. This idea is especially prevalent when thinking about members of the AAPI community since many suffer from constantly having to push further due to pressures from family, society, or others. Michelle mentioned that her parents came from Cambodia, and they originally were the type of people to “put their heads down and take any work they could get.” This type of dedication to work not only created a pressure for her succeed but also created a gap in her sense of self-worth. Michelle recounts her process of finally learning to negotiate contracts and understanding that her skills were valuable. While all of this growth was immensely beneficial, there was still something missing that she tried to fill with work, continuously pushing her way up the “ladder.”
Lost Opportunities for Personal Growth
On her journey to climb up the corporate ladder, Michelle mentioned that her priorities shifted to have little time for anything but work. She said that people’s priorities are going to shift and should, but COVID opened her eyes to the life she was missing out on. In college, Michelle was heavily involved in extra curriculars and the AAPI community, but until COVID, she had not realized how little she participated in anything outside of work. Once she decided to shift her thinking, Michelle got reconnected with Shane Carlin, President and CEO of Asian Student Achievement, and she decided to serve on the diversity, equity, and inclusion board for Schneider Electric.
As Michelle found prior to COVID, being buried in work can limit our opportunities for exploration and self-improvement. We miss out on the chance to learn new skills, pick up hobbies, or travel to new places – experiences that enrich our lives and contribute to our overall happiness. This was something that Michelle had forgotten but was working to rectify. Today, she has taken a step back from work and prioritizes balancing her work and her personal life.
After realizing the changes that needed to be made, Michelle set out to get reconnected in organizations that she enjoyed when in college, but what can you do to start creating more balance?
Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. This means switching off from work when you’re supposed to be off the clock. Use technology wisely – resist the temptation to constantly check emails or messages during your free time. One way to do this is to name and visualize your limit. This will help you to separate yourself from the root which will ultimately create a better balance for your life.
Another option that many people struggle with is saying no. Sometimes you have to say no to something whether it be plans, a project, or a favor. Most people struggle with saying no to others, and this fear of discomfort allows others to push your boundaries a little bit each time. This pushing will ultimately destroy the balance that you are looking for, so stand firm on your boundaries, and say no when needed.
Make Time for Loved Ones
In addition to setting boundaries, you should make time for your family and friends. Make a conscious effort to spend quality time with them. Schedule regular family dinners, catch up with friends, and attend important events. Spending time with people you care about can reduce stress and fulfill emotional needs. Sometimes quality time with the right people can make a bad day or a stressful project seem a little less crazy. Life can be a lot, and we need each other to lean on, so make sure you are prioritizing the people in your life.
Balance is more than just physically separating from work. Another way to find balance in life is mentally through mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you stay present in the moment, appreciating life’s little joys. Engage in activities that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, hiking, cooking, or simply meditating. Being mindful can counteract the stress and anxiety that often accompany a hectic work life. It can also help lower blood pressure and improve sleep. Finding a moment of calm and peace, however you do it, is always good to give your mind a moment to rest.
As we take in Michelle’s story, we see that in our quest for success and productivity, we must not forget to enjoy life. Being swamped with work with the sole purpose of climbing a company ladder has consequences for our health, relationships, and overall happiness. It’s time for a wake-up call. There are times when you need to work hard, but there are also times when a break is needed. Prioritize enjoyment in your life by setting boundaries, making time for loved ones, and practicing mindfulness. Life is too short to be solely focused on work; it’s the moments of joy and connection that truly matter.
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