A lot of us are debating the life-work balance these days. From productivity apps to coaching and self-help, we’re all eager to get more quality time to do what we love.

The sad fact of the matter is, though, that as an expat, you’re likely a workaholic, and no one is ever going to tell you. If you don’t believe me, take my simple quiz below. I’ll bet you, or someone close to you, literally doesn’t have a personal life.

Sacrificing life in favor of work, in the work-life balance approach, just seems a little like missing the point. I prefer to look at things another way: all of us, to be healthy and happy, need to find out what really matters to us.

We find health and happiness when we live our deepest desires and values. For a lot of us, having a fulfilling international aid job is part of that vision, and it’s only natural that we want to feel a close connection with our work. I choose aid work because I wanted to make the biggest possible difference with my life, and maybe you did too.

But somewhere along the line, especially when there were things we’d rather not face at home, like loneliness, boredom, or distant partners, we chose to lose ourselves in over-work.

I’ve come to see overwork as a form of self-punishment. No one needs you to work harder. We need you to work smarter.

And you know as well as I do that when you overwork, you’re doing it to distract yourself from something deeper — a loneliness that needs to be soothed, a worry you need to quiet, or even just the need for peace and quiet and genuine relaxation. Overwork becomes a particularly self-perpetuating cycle when others around us, our friends and colleagues, encourage us to overwork by doing so themselves.

In small offices or on new assignments, it can also be easy to work hard to prove yourself, out of a insecurity or to demonstrate seriousness and commitment. When we’re having a hard time adjusting to a new country or when things have become more challenging in our romantic relationships, our self-care suffers and it becomes easy to lose ourselves in too much work.

Another reason for overwork is that it hooks us into an unhealthy relationship with stress that literally becomes addicting and hard to avoid. Think about the physical reaction you get when you think about your boss calling late at night or on the weekend. Can you set good boundaries? Does the thought of setting boundaries stress you out?

I’ve worked in some places famous for not having weekends, where it was normal for people to work until 11 pm at night and never take weekends — even the government worked on Saturdays. In places like that, it can be hard to set and maintain clear self-care boundaries.

But trust me — you need rest and relaxation, away from your work. Hence the need to get a life. Take my quiz:

Expat Backup QUIZ: Do You Need To Get A Life?

Answer Yes or No:

  1. Did you work last weekend?
  2. Do you stay in the office at least twice a week after 6pm?
  3. Has more than one person told you that you work too much in the last month?
  4. Have you missed more than one social event in the last month because of work?
  5. When you take work home, do you find yourself working on it at all sorts of hours, in all sorts of places or even while all sorts of people are visiting you socially?

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, it’s likely that you overwork. The truth of the matter is, you’re headed for burnout and I’m worried about you. Well, I’m less worried about you because you’re reading Expat Backup, but still.

Fear not. A little self-care and time away from the office (and your laptop and your smart phone) will do wonders. Try it for a weekend. Stay away from the Internet as well.

I do this myself, or I wouldn’t be recommending it! I find time away from work makes me more focused and clear about my goals, and also more creative. Let me know what the work-life balance means to you and email me at elie@expatbackup.com.

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