A few months ago, I accepted a job at a highly-esteemed publication. I was excited to share this news with my family and friends. But what I thought would lead to congratulations became a prompting for me to defend my work habits. Two people responded almost immediately, “Are you going to quit something else to lighten your workload?” Another replied, “I’m worried about you.” After hearing their concerns, I started to get worried myself. Was this job putting my health at risk? But, as I knew from the beginning, the extra work wasn’t a problem at all. I enjoyed it.
People often make comments about how much I work. “Are you OK?” is common. One acquaintance actually said “don’t die” when he saw me working on a Sunday. I get so uncomfortable defending myself, I often hide my work schedule from my family and friends. I just don’t have the energy to convince them that I’m fine.
But I know I am. I’m a happy person. I’m not suffering from any physical or mental health issues. I’m extremely ambitious, prioritizing my career over my social life, and these priorities have paid off. And I genuinely like my work, even when I’m doing it on nights and weekends. So, why can’t people get over my schedule?
It didn’t occur to me for a while that this concern could be gendered. But as I talked to more women about it, I found that many had similar stories. Sometimes the criticism took different forms: Some women were criticized for “showing off” their accomplishments; some were called “materialistic” by spending their hard-earned money on nice things; others faced “concern” that they weren’t devoting enough time to finding a partner. Whatever form it took, the basic idea was the same: Women are being criticized for being career-oriented.
“I'm friends with several other entrepreneurs, most of them male,” Kari DePhillips, Owner of The Content Factory, tells Bustle. “I've actually asked them how often they get told that they work too much, and most of them say either not at all or that they only hear that from their partners. I hear it from partners, but I also hear it from friends. … Sometimes, I wonder how often Steve Jobs was told that he worked too much, or Elon Musk — and then I wonder how many times Oprah and Barbara Walters were told the same thing.”
Often, these warnings about working too hard are framed in terms of fear that women won’t have the opportunity to get married and have children and do all the things women are taught to do. Writer Ana Gotter tells Bustle someone close to her once told her, "Don't you think you're working too hard? You'll never find a boyfriend that way."
“I've had arguments with ex-boyfriends who would say things like, ‘You care more about your job than you care about me,’" Heather Kays, a freelance reporter and editor, tells Bustle. “Sometimes, female friends would question my life choices because they always dreamed of being a homemaker.”
Sonya Davis, Founder and CEO of Neqtr, experiences something similar. "I've heard things ranging from 'you'll never meet someone and get married if you put too much focus on your startup' and 'guys won't be interested in you if you display too much passion or intensity, so you should tone it down,'" she tells Bustle. "People like the idea of the work I do but don't understand that I actually have to work more than a typical 9-5 to make stuff happen."
Of course, there is such a thing as working too much. If you’re burnt out, you’ll likely notice that you’re tired all the time for no reason, Krishna Powell, career coach and principal, HR 4 Your Small Biz, told Bustle. But only you really know if you’re burnt out, and even if you are, there are some situations where you may choose to power through it.
People seem to be more accepting of people who power through burnout when they’re men. Elon Musk works as many as 100 hours a week, and Jack Dorsey works 90 hours a week. People don’t act worried about them; they understand that their work is worth the sleep deprivation and compromised social life to them.
“It's expected that men will invest into a career because they're ‘supposed to be’ the providers,” says Gotter. “Women are ‘supposed’ to be thinking about a family. Even though more women are working than ever, people seem to think I'm really only working so much to fill a void of being single and alone.”
After realizing how gendered people's "concern" for women who work a lot is, I’ve become a lot less self-critical of my own work habits. It’s thanks to them that I’ve had the success I’ve had. And my success is worth more to me than someone else’s definition of work-life balance.
Yes, I've given up a lot for my work. I've lost sleep, I've been through extremely stressful periods, and I've maintained very little time for my friendships. But that's OK, because it's all paid off in the end. My work, after all, is important. Women's work is important. We female workaholics seem to understand how important our work is. It's time for everyone else to catch up.