For many people, today marks the start of the first full week back at work after the Christmas break. But don’t be tricked into thinking you have to have your shit together, says Stylist’s Moya Crockett – because no one else does, either.
Somewhere in the strange, bleary hinterland between Christmas and New Year – that befuddling period when nobody knew what day it was, and I’d been wearing the same pair of slipper socks for a shamefully long time – I decided to sit down and think about my new year’s resolutions.
One: take up tap dancing. (It’s been playing on my mind ever since I saw an old clip of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to the jazz song Begin the Beguine.) Two: get better at spacing out plans with friends. (No more packing tonnes of socialising into a two-week block, then collapsing into a hermitic heap.) And three: be more considered about my career.
That third resolution was prompted by the realisation that while I love my job, I have a tendency to get sucked into the day-to-day whirl of deadlines and meetings, without taking the time to step back and assess where I am and where I want to be. I always feel like I’m playing catch-up; I rarely feel as though I’m mapping ahead.
I follow lots of brilliant, accomplished women on social media, and regularly feel slightly guilty as I read their posts about their thriving side hustles and their plans for the next steps in their glittering careers. These women, clearly, are strategic about their work. I am not being self-deprecating when I say I couldn’t strategise my way out of a wet paper bag.
So in the run-up to my return to work, I felt fired up. I would, I was confident, be clear-eyed, clear-headed, and ready to grab the year by the horns. I would stride back into the office in my best getting-s**t-done double-breasted blazer and I would WRITE SOME TO-DO LISTS! Admittedly, this plan was scuppered when I remembered I’d be working from home for the first two days of the working year, but – still!
I pictured myself sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded by shiny new notepads and a pot of fresh coffee, my finely-honed ‘Working’ playlist on in the background (James Blake, Sharon Van Etten and Babeheaven, since you asked). I would cheerfully crash through my work like someone hacking their way through a jungle.
But fast-forward to midday on my second day, and this energetic, can-do version of myself had shamefully failed to show up. Instead, the old me was working on my laptop in my bed, fighting off a cold, wearing the biggest, oldest jumper I own.
Despite the fact I hadn’t had a drink since New Year’s Eve, my head felt strangely fuzzy. And while the work I had to do was getting done, the peppy gusto I had imagined was conspicuously absent.
I know I’m not alone in experiencing the return to work as a slog. According to a recent survey of 2,000 Brits by the charity SPANA, most adults don’t feel like they’re functioning properly at work until they’ve been ‘back in the saddle’ for almost a full working week. Search the hashtag #backtowork on Twitter and you’ll find countless people groaning and moaning about having to change into outside clothes and make office-kitchen small talk for the first time in over a week.
But even though it’s normal to feel sluggish upon returning to work, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was letting myself down, somehow; that I should be raring to go, rather than wishing I could crawl back under my duvet until February.
Really, that’s not surprising. Thanks to social media, individual careers have never been more hyper-visible: huge swathes of ordinary people now dedicate their entire online presences to promoting their professional brand, creating the sense that everyone but you is killing it 24/7.
Not only that, but viral articles and essays implore us to get out of bed between 4 and 5.30am so we can Get More Done, while the culture of ‘hustle porn’ – the veneration of grinding yourself into the ground in the name of a dazzling CV – has become so pervasive that Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian has even spoken out against it. Is it any wonder I felt bad for not springing back into professional action as soon as the New Year rolled around? This, after all, is the sea in which I swim.
And so for my first week back at work, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack. That’s not to say that I’ll be slacking off (hi to my bosses reading this!), but simply that I’m not going to harangue myself if it takes me a few days to get my groove back. I’m going to speak quietly, get through those to-do lists, and try to leave the office on time.
Most importantly, I’ll accept that I’m not going to be at my sharpest or shiniest in the first week of January. But that’s OK – because neither is anyone else.
This article was originally published in January 2019.