Working constantly in my 20s bought me my house, but it also led to debilitating depression. Still, I don't regret anything.
The author is not pictured.
- My parents never wanted me to have a job while I was in school because they thought it would distract me from my studies.
- They were right - when I got my first job in college, I ended up dropping out of school to focus on work and earning more.
- I worked hard through my 20s - including through three healthy pregnancies - and it bought my family a home, but I sacrificed my mental health and eventually developed fibromyalgia. Still, I don't regret it.
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My parents never approved of me having an after-school job as a teen. They didn't want me dedicating myself to anything other than college prep and knew a job would be a distraction.
My dad promised that once I started making money, I'd never want to stop. My dad's first job was at age 9, slaughtering goats in the back of his uncle's South Texas grocery store. It was a disturbing task, but he would have done anything to support his 10-person family.
My mom was just as reluctant. She had been a teenage runaway and high school drop-out after a gruesomely abusive upbringing. At 17 years old, she got her first job at a fast food restaurant as her only means of support.
She'd remind me that I already had everything and had no reason to work - school was supposed to be my job, my mom would stress.
While my need for independence was nowhere near as dire as my parents' experiences, I soon got my chance at employment. At age 18, in my first year of college, I got a job at a popular organic grocery store. Though I started as a part-time worker, I quickly became a supervisor. A year later, I decided to stop school and make this my full-time job.
The money was better than my chosen teaching career, so I left college permanently. My dad was right - the money was a big draw.
A big promotion - and a baby on the way
Soon after, my fiancé and I made the decision to move back into my parents' house to save for our own home buying. Feeling more prepared than ever, I took a huge leap and accepted a promotion to assistant team leader - around the same time I discovered I was pregnant with my first child.
Though I was pregnant, this didn't mean I could lighten my workload. Living up to the standard I set for myself meant working long hours, ignoring doctor's restrictions, and staying on my feet all throughout my pregnancy.
In fact, the day before my maternity leave was to start, I got up for work and my water broke! I actually had to call into work and explain that I was in labor.
This grind didn't stop after maternity leave. Six short weeks and I was back working those same extended hours with a newborn baby to care for at home. The non-stop revolving door of training new hires and the failed attempt at breastfeeding (simply because I couldn't pump at work) began to wear on me mentally.
The recession decimated my retirement savings, but I kept grinding at work - and it paid off
Then, a couple of weeks after I returned to my job, the Stock Market Crash of 2008 happened. As a part of that crisis, America lost $10.2 trillion in wealth in one year.
At ages 22 and 21, my husband and I lost a combined $9,000 in 401(k) savings and stock options. To lose that was like a blow to the dream we were working towards. I remember crying all night because that amount was meant to go towards a down payment for a home for our family.
Aside from that, though, my family was thriving in the years after the recession - thanks largely to grinding at work. Between 2009 and 2015, I had two more healthy pregnancies. My husband and I also bought a home, paid off two cars, traveled to Europe, Mexico, and Canada, and helped my parents financially.
Career-wise, I was still working at the organic grocery store and making more than my husband did - hell, I was making even more than my dad ever had - and I was on the trajectory for a promotion that would at least double my salary.
While all this seemed like I was living the perfect life from the outside, I was terribly unhappy. In order to achieve that level of success, I had to dedicate so much time away from my family. I often feel there are parts of my kids' lives I only know from pictures.
Despite our financial gains, my health was suffering
Also, I was starting to experience the onset of fibromyalgia. The challenging hours and labor put a lot of stress on my body and made the condition worse.
The biggest drawback of grinding so hard in my 20s is the manifestation of mental illness that hit me hard in my 30s.
It seemed to start back in 2013 after my youngest was born. I began developing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and paranoia. I was certain everyone was secretly thinking badly of me. I would fantasize about going into comas just so I would no longer be a burden to my family. My nerves were so terrible that I only left home to go to work. I found no joy in life. I had no hope.
Though I had sacrificed so much to get to that point in my career, I had to leave my job to get help for my mental illness. I had worked so hard for what I had and yet, that hard work had broken my body and mind.
Why I don't regret it
Though it eventually lead to pain, I'm glad I had the opportunity to have a job that I loved for so many years. While I spent more time away from my kids than I would have liked, I'm lucky I had great health insurance that allowed me to bring their little lives into the world.
Even though I'm still working through my anxiety and depression, I'm privileged to have had access to all sorts of financial rewards for my hard work, like the home my husband and I eventually bought. I don't take for granted that my family is financially stable. I've always had my husband's support, and my children have always been fed and cared for.
But even though I've worked through these hard times to come through better on the other side, it's not realistic to expect this to be the case for everyone.
If my personal experience wasn't enough to show that long hours of hard work and stress are bad for the body and mind, tons of research has been done by doctors and psychologists about how overworking impacts our health.
For example, in 2015, researchers at University College London compiled information on how stress, work hours, physical activity, and other risk factors impacted the health of 600,000 workers.
They discovered that the employees who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13% greater risk of a heart attack compared to those who worked less than a 40 week. Additionally, those who worked longer hours were 33% more likely to suffer a stroke.
It isn't just a physical toll that your body takes, either. When you undergo stress from overwork or anxiety, your brain produces the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone has been proven to be harmful when produced in large amounts.
Most recently, a study in "Neurology" reviewed the effects of cortisol on 2,000 subjects. The researchers found that higher cortisol levels were associated with physical changes to the brain. These changes were often seen as precursors to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
These health concerns point to a risk that not everyone would be willing to take. Is it worth it to work hard for your far-off payday if you have no guarantee that you'll ever be able to enjoy it? That's a question you'd have to ask yourself. Essentially, it's a question of what you need.
Just like with my dad and mom's first jobs, the work I did in my 20s is what my family needed at the time. And I don't regret a thing.
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