October 7, 2021

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Stop caring about work so much

If you’ve been reading this newsletter a while, maybe you’ve picked up on it: I don’t care that much. No, I’m not a sociopath; I just find it hard to get worked up about most things, including and especially… work.  

Don’t get me wrong, I got here the hard way. I’ve burned out more times than I care to remember; maybe even had a panic attack or two. I had to learn how and when to give up control. I had to stop expecting gratitude. I had to quit worrying about getting credit for things. I had to learn how to say no to things. I had to find the work I like doing and accept the work I don’t like doing. Also: it helps to think about mortality.

Just so it’s clear: I do care about work and take it seriously. But it’s obvious to me that most other people care about work way, way more than I do, and it’s exhausting to watch. I can’t imagine how it must feel. Oh, actually I can: It’s exhausting. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to write a lot of career advice columns, but unfortunately, during that time, I hadn’t yet come around to the best advice that I give now when asked: Stop caring about work so much.

Impossible, you say? Too risky? No, it’s fine. 

Really, it’s fine.

Can we learn to care less? (Ideally, without having a brush with death?) What happens if we let go, just a little?

Not much, assures Sarah Knight, who ran her own experiment a few years ago. After suffering a panic attack in her Manhattan office, she decided to pull back from the perfectionist tendencies that had propelled her to senior editor in the publishing industry. She stopped taking business lunches. She left the office by 6 p.m. She traded her blazers and high heels for Gap corduroys and tennis shoes.

No one seemed to care.

“I was like, I could have been doing this the whole time,” she says.

Yes! You could have! Welcome to the party, Sarah. Happy to have you. 

Caring less about work isn’t always easy, of course. There are bad bosses who will make unreasonable demands. Co-workers won’t respect boundaries. You’ll read an insufferable article about writing a great out-of-office reply and think: “I should do that.” No. No you should not. 

And then there are circumstances and employers that are far worse. If you worked at Ozy Media and didn’t care enough, it meant someone might chuck a book at you (allegedly).

Now, historically, in the accounting world, you couldn’t trade blazers and dress shoes for cords and sneakers. You also couldn’t leave at 6 p.m. during busy season without someone giving you the stink eye. In general, your absence from the office was interpreted as you not doing anything. The pandemic has managed to get the accounting world to loosen up a little bit, but it may backslide. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, the point is that the pandemic has shattered many boundaries around work. The commute, the office, the meeting have all transformed in ways that made work nearly inescapable. It has been liberating and suffocating to the point that most people don’t recognize the difference between working and not working. 

Like most things, knowing how much to care about work is easier by simply avoiding extremes. It’s okay to skip meetings sometimes; it’s not okay to skip all of them. Care enough so you don’t get fired, but not so much that you wind up having a panic attack. Nuance will be necessary. If skipping any meetings will give you a panic attack or get you fired, then you’ll have to find a different way to care less. Maybe it’ll be the little things. Maybe it’s the sneakers. Eventually, you’ll find the sweet spot and you’ll care just the right amount. Just expect some trial and error. No one can guarantee zero panic attacks. 

COVID relief quagmire

I think COVID relief reached a certain level of tragedy when we heard that fraudsters who had secured PPP loans taunted other lenders that had turned them down. Still, this story takes things to another level:

A Florida gas station employee said she’s listed as receiving a $3.4 million COVID relief check that she never applied for and never received.

Holly Hill resident Amy Williams said she’s stunned that her name and an outdated address ended up in the federal database stating that she received millions in COVID Restaurant Revitalization Funds for a catering business. Williams never applied for the funds, never received any money and has never worked in the restaurant business.

Ugh. This was so close to being a Community Chest Monopoly card come to life. “Massive Government Relief Program issues you funds in error. Collect $3.4 million!” 

Instead we have: “You’re listed in a federal database that says you received millions!” when she in fact didn’t, and didn’t even apply to receive anything. That’s just annoying and maybe even a little insulting. 

Fresh from Gusto


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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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