My Holiday Season Resolution Is to Quit Eating Lunch At My Desk

According to HuffPo, 79% of Americans eat lunch at their desks. I'm guessing it's because, like me, they're all desperate to please people who probably couldn't care less where we ate.
Publish date:
November 15, 2012
food, work, stress, lunch, job

I’ve been starting to feel a little boxed-in lately. Maybe it’s the weather, but I keep finding myself getting to Friday afternoons and clapping a hand to my forehead.

“How was this week so short?” I’ll wonder aloud, then slowly lower my head to my desk. “And so, so long.”

I’ve just been feeling really caught up in my own chaos. I keep meeting really new and interesting people who I want to hang out with and maybe kiss a little, I’m taking some bomb improv classes and my housemates and I have been burning through "Twin Peaks" every Wednesday in an effort to connect with ourselves as infants. But most significantly, my job has been really ramping up over the last few months.

I feel like I've been approaching my weeks like they're slicked up logs on a river, trying to hop frantically from one to another as they spin faster and faster below me.

To be fair, I enjoy a lot of this high-octane entertainment. I hate sitting still, both literally and figuratively, and there’s nothing like the little zip of dopamine that floods my brain every time I hit a deadline or satisfy a client.

“HUSTLIN’,” I’ll think to myself as I bang my mouse against the desk to send completed content.

“LIKE A BOSS,” I’ll say to my very patient actual boss, who does twice the work I do and somehow still manages to field interactions like those with grace.

I like my job a lot, but I'm afraid this pace is starting to wear on me. I’m drinking more coffee, eating more crap and hitting bars harder on the weekends, all to add more and more force to my inertia. I’m moving faster and treating other people with less care -- a few weeks ago, I broke my toe on my housemate because I was blowing by her too quickly on the way out the door.

Every time a co-worker approaches to ask me a question during the day, I snap my whole body around and bare my teeth a little.

“WHAT?” I’ll say, straining toward my laptop and resisting the urge to chew on a cubicle wall.

I keep getting the sneaking suspicion that I'm ignoring some warning from the universe: a whisper at my neck saying, “You’re pushing too hard.”

This all came to a head a few weeks ago when I went home to Sacramento to visit my grandma for her 94th birthday. My dad is in Peru for some reason, so my mom and I got to spend some quality time together, which mostly meant sitting side-by-side at the kitchen table on our work laptops.

“I’ve got a belly,” I said on one of these nights, poking gloomily at it. “It’s all that beer.”

“And the stress,” my mom said, pulling up her shirt to show me her own belly. “Makes you gain weight in your abdomen.”

“Oh, girl, that’s totally it,” I said, giggling maniacally when she shot me a Look at “girl.” “I’m stressed all to hell.”

“Cortisol,” Mom said authoritatively. “It’ll kill ya.” With that, she turned back to her laptop. Apparently, my mother values her 14-hour-workdays over abdominals that Zac Efron would break a tooth on.

The thing is, I love my mom, but chances are she didn’t have to work that whole night. She’s just an overachieving, MBA foam-mouth who can’t stand the idea of leaving a project unfinished for the morning. Which I totally get, because I’m right there with her.

But I also don’t like the idea of spending 20-odd years at the same job, busting my ass, and growing steadily more miserable because I’ve never learned how to give myself a break.

I’m not sure about my mom’s job, but my own has been pretty great about trying to set realistic expectations and ensure that their employees get enough sleep. As a desperate-to-please, overachieving asshole, however, my instinct is to forego these expectations in favor of a high-pitched MORE MORE MORE WORK HARDER MORE.

Usually, this culminates in kind of a home-stretch sprint -- I get more and more manic until I cross whatever I’ve deemed to be the finish line, then collapse with a great flailing of limbs and treat myself to luxurious porn-writing for the next week. Unfortunately, the next break I’m getting probably won’t be until Christmas at the earliest. So in the interim, I’m going to try to take baby steps.

I eat lunch at my desk every single day. A few weeks ago, my co-worker tried to physically tug me from my chair to go outside, and I almost bit off her fingers. It’s not as if I’m particularly productive when one hand is occupied stuffing food into my mouth -- it just plays into that continued need to prove myself, like no one will believe I’m worthy of professional success if I leave my desk for two minutes. I’ve actually gone into near-tears panics when I think I’m going to be a smidge late for work, despite the fact that my boss doesn’t even work in the office.

“I’m industrious!” I can feel my body language screaming as I shove Pad Thai into my mouth with my paw. “I’m committed!” I’m going to give myself a blood clot, more like.

79% of polled Americans stay at their desks and work through lunch. Why do we do it? Is maintaining this baggy-eyed, frantic persona really worth it?

What on earth could be so urgent, every single day, that would prevent me from taking 15 minutes of my afternoon to go eat kale by the flock of geese that terrorizes our office park?

Pretty much nothing. And that’s why tomorrow, no matter how hair-tearing I feel, I’m going to eat my corn chowder on the balcony of our building rather than in front of my computer. And I’ll probably only check my phone a dozen times. See? Progress.

Kate is constantly seeking approval at @katchatters.