What I Learned from a Simultaneous Breakup and Layoff


Rob Nero

I love work. Or, to foreshadow, I loved work. Work is productive. Work does what I want work to do. I can work hard at it. I can complete it. I can cross it off a list, mark it as “ done ,” deliver it, present it, and spend time on it. Work is a drug. The more you do, the more success you achieve, the more recognition you receive, the more you will continue to do it.

If you haven’t already, read Alain de Botton’s book on the pleasures and sorrows of work.

Loving work comes at a price. You will have to sacrifice, to love work. We all know the saying “you only have so much time.” But loving work is not the same. It’s easy to acknowledge the sacrifices and accept them. I really should go to the gym, and see that friend that I never see anymore, and spend time on that hobby I’m interested in, and explore a curiosity, and just travel and see the world. These are all common sacrifices that I’m sure we have all thought at one point in time. “But I’m talking about WORK here! It’s what pays the bills! It’s what allows me to live in this beautiful city! Life is expensive, how do you think I can pay for it?!

Work, in reality, is not about sacrifice, it’s about having an affair.

For the last four years, I have been having an affair with Work. The number of people I have cheated on, with Work, is an appalling list. It isn’t a long list, but it includes the most dear relationships I have had in my life. It includes the people I’ve loved the most, been the closest with, intimate and plutonic. I have lied and manipulated, in the name of Work. Work was my secret relationship. Everyone knew Work and I were friends, but the secret was that we had a passionate love affair behind everyone’s back.

Every relationship has give and take; compromise. One side sometimes gives more, while the other side sometimes takes more. The goal is balance, at least in the long term. Sometimes I worked late or on the weekends. Sometimes I thought about Work while on a date with my girlfriend. Sometimes I’d rather be with Work than my girlfriend. I made excuses. I secretly texted Work from the bathroom. I defended Work. But like every relationship, there is give and take. And sometimes, work only takes.

Work dumped me. It looked at my performance reviews, my overtime, my dedication, my happy clients, and it ripped out my heart and squeezed it with its forceful hand. “Why!? What did I do wrong?! We can make it work!

At the same time, through a very complicated backstory, I had to come to terms with the breakup of a former love (and I’m still coming to terms with it). Most of my love affair with Work was with this former love. She, by far, experienced the pain of my affair the most. She foreshadowed my demise with Work many times, but I was too in-lust with Work to hear it. I was the love-struct sailor who didn’t heed the warnings while approaching the Sirens. She, on the other hand, was wise enough to plug her ears.

And now, after losing my lover and my partner, I sit here alone, with no one. I poured myself into Work. I saw a long future. I was comfortable. I had goals and a career path. I loved my ex (and still do), but became too comfortable, too interested in Work, and realized too late that investments in people appreciate with time and effort while I am merely a resource to Work.

People. Humans. Friend. Family. Girlfriend. Boyfriend. Husband. Wife. If you give them time, if you give them your attention, if you make them your priority, you will not regret it. If, instead, you think you can share them with Work, or if you have an affair with Work, or if you do not focus on the warm soft person next to you, you will regret it 100%. Believe me, from someone who was stupid enough to go through both at the same time, I am living with my regrets and shame on a daily basis now.

Let Work be what it is, just work. Be passionate about it, be interested in it, be excited about it, but never at the expense of the loved one next to you. When you are hit with tragedy, Work will give you a personal day, while your loved one will be there to help you, console you, advise you, wipe away your tears, and hug you for as long as you want.

Love over work. Always.

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