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Thursday, March 13, 2014

When Does the CMU Culture of Workaholism Become Too Much?

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Ask anyone at Carnegie Mellon, including myself, and he or she will most likely self identify as a workaholic, one of the most commonly used works on campus.  This week, I had an experience that opened my eyes to the extremity of workaholism and just how bad it can be if one is not careful.  While my work is one of the most important things in my life, we have to remember what's important: people.

A few weeks ago, I called my parents and two younger sisters and was forced to inform them that while most of my friends would be returning for spring break, I would not.  I had been invited to join one of the organizations that I am a member of on a trip where we would put the final touches on a system, which we would be competing with internationally.

The road trip to the place in which we would be staying was great.  Everyone was excited to go work on the system, and do something great, in which we would be representing our entire nation.  I had been looking forward to this day for months and was highly anticipating the international competition we were going to compete in.

However, during the time I spent there, the team that I was a member of became great victims of the workaholism expressed by the organization as a whole.  Ahead of time, we had agreed with the president to book a hotel, so we could have Wifi access for work and running water, as opposed to being in the woods for a week.  However, each day, he had grown more reluctant to take us back, until we finally had to practically beg for one of our friends to take us back at 2 am.  We knew that the tasks that our team were in charge of required care and full attention.  These two things could only be achieved by a healthy dose of sleep.

While we were working on our own system, another team had requested that we join them in sanding.  We happily joined with excitement and even asked about the quality of our work continuously to the president.  After we had finished giving up time from our own project, we were confronted with hate and vulgar language after the president had discovered that perhaps making a couple of electrical engineers sand would not end in the greatest results.

However, we still moved on, ignoring this.  Throughout the day, the other parts of the organization continually talked about our team, expressing hatred towards us because we were getting more than three hours of sleep each night.  The truth was, we did not believe staying up until 3 am and waking up three hours later would carry the greatest results.  We were right; the result from the lack of sleep that had been pushed onto us was a blown critical component after we were so tired that two wires touched.

I guess my point of posting this is not to complain or to gain sympathy from anyone.  I have pulled many late nights and have had no problem with it.  However, the thing which I would like to bring to light is this continuous competitive workaholic mentality that has taken over many of the students in my university.

We worked hard ahead of time to get our power system working.  However, we weren't winning the competition of who could stay up the longest during the week, so we automatically became viewed as the lazy part of the team.

Throughout the trip, I have been concerned for my safety, as people have driven and ran equipment on much less sleep than they should be.  What many people fail to realize is that sleep is important.  A few more hours of work are not worth becoming anti-social, destroying a critical component, or ending up in the hospital.

I find myself being a member of numerous organizations, while trying to maintain a good GPA, and a social life.  However, I know my limits, and I don't think that everything that I do should be a competition of who can spend the most time or who can get the least sleep.

More importantly, we should remember what comes first: people.  Why is it that we try to always compare ourselves to others, whether through the curve system or through a contest on who can stay up the longest?  Why can't we work together and help where another has a weakness, instead of bringing forth insults for self satisfaction?

Throughout my freshman year, I have done all that I can to balance work and people and have been pretty successful.  However, it sickens me when I see people pushing their unhealthy Red Bull-chugging, sleepless habits on others.  I am automatically becoming the lazier worker because I know that the marginal benefits of working through sleepless nights in chains is slim to none, and that I personally need six hours of sleep to work to my full potential.

While I don't want to give too many details, the scenario which I am describing resulted unfortunately in nearly all of the team in the organization that I am part of leaving.  It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in my life, but I knew what I had to do: leave.  I could not stay and support an organization which had insulted and degraded all of my friends with comments of sexism towards our leader and pure hatred.

I love my team and leaving the organization with them for the semester was an extremely hard decision.  However, sticking with this organization would make me question what I stand for.  I stand for my work, but stand for my work from the heart.  However, I just don't feel that one's work can come from the heart if he or she has to degrade others or simply watch and ignore comments of hatred directed at those around.

So, if you get one thing out of this post, it is that it is possible to be committed to both your work and the people around you.  If you have to degrade others to be satisfied with the work you are doing, chances are you are doing something wrong.  You should not have to compare yourself to others, or fight aggressively to get the least hours of sleep to feel personal satisfaction.  I hope to someday return to the organization that I am a part of because I am passionate about what it does.  However, I will not be returning until the way in which it is run does not conflict with the values that I hold dearest, the value that people come first.  Now, I am happy to say that I will be spending the rest of my break with the people that matter the most: my family.  I cannot wait to see my little sisters and parents, and for the first week this year, put people before my work.
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3 comments:

  1. This seems like a great topic, but I'm not sure I understand your story. Or your thesis, for that matter. I realize you are trying to leave out certain details, but it is impossible to follow this story about your trip. When was this trip? It's currently Spring Break. Why were you out in the woods, why is there sanding? Why did the president need to take you back, back to where?

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  2. @Anonymous: While I agree that the post is excessively vague at times, the details it leaves out are completely tangential to the main point (and thus have nothing to do with the thesis). The thesis is blatantly obvious; it's kind of stated in the title of the post. Here's the thesis:

    "So, if you get one thing out of this post, it is that it is possible to be committed to both your work and the people around you. If you have to degrade others to be satisfied with the work you are doing, chances are you are doing something wrong. You should not have to compare yourself to others, or fight aggressively to get the least hours of sleep to feel personal satisfaction."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am sorry if the left out details have confused you. However, that was
    intentional. It was mainly over privacy concerns and because the point of me publishing this was not to rant about a particular organization or person; it was to describe a certain type of scenario. I wished to make people aware of an extreme condition of workaholism in which people are giving up their safety and respect towards others.

    ReplyDelete

 

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