The Only Black Guy in the Office

The No-Days-Off Mentality Is Killing Me

Even God rested on the seventh day. But he didn’t have to deal with the complexities of an Out of Office message

Hi, my name is [redacted], and I’m a recovering workaholic.

As a Black person, I’ve always felt the need to be hustling nonstop. It’s as if Diddy is chanting in my head on an infinite loop: I thought I told you that we won’t stop, eh-eh, eh-eh. I was raised to believe I’d have to work twice as hard to earn half the accolades — and that’s generous — that my White counterparts receive. Which, aside from being spot-fucking-on, is also a subconscious means of countering the weird stereotypes that some people associate with Black people in the workplace — that we’re lazy or slackers.

For that reason, I used to feel the need to work, work, work — even outside of business hours. It’s a disposition that the internet, smartphones, and glorious Slack have made all the more practical. On my last job, I’d reluctantly take advantage of the unlimited PTO and only call out sick if I were coughing up a whole lung. It speaks to a lot of those well-intentioned but ultimately harmful narratives that we put on ourselves: Gotta keep grinding. I’ll sleep when I die. Et cetera, et cetera.

As a Black person, there’s always this creeping feeling that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any moment.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that vacation wasn’t encouraged. My time-off requests were honored when I actually did submit them (albeit with a series of annoying “Can you remind us when you’ll be out, again?” follow-ups, ugh). And while I think some people would equate my time off to being unproductive, it’s probably more of a self-imposed struggle — but still a struggle nonetheless.

A few years back, when I got word that my expiring employment contract would not be renewed, I freaked the hell out. It wasn’t like I hadn’t prepared for that probable turn of events — I save money like a survivalist stashes jars of peanut butter — but I was still a bit unsettled. Constantly working or jumping from job to job gave me a semblance of stability. But as a Black person, there’s always this creeping feeling that the rug can be pulled out from under you at any moment, which is exactly what happened.

I still remember my last day at that gig. Doug, a freckle-faced White guy from the e-commerce team, attempted to show me the silver lining. “Why don’t you just take a break — some time to chill,” he said. I looked at him squarely in his bifocaled eyes. “What do you mean?”

I recently heard that Expedia laid off about 500 people from its Seattle headquarters. This instantly made me think about the people of color who were affected — I know it’ll be a lot harder for them to get picked up. That’s how I felt in those three jobless months. I took a week to get my mind right, then I was right back on the job-hunting grind. I didn’t have the privilege to kick back, vacation, and assume things will just fall into place.

Turned out, Doug had a point. The time off was a blessing in disguise. I got a chance to reflect on what I want, fill my time with activities I enjoyed — all while going through some bizarre job interviews that helped me figure out the type of place I’d like to work and weed out the ones with weird, homogeneous vibes.

Yet upon starting at my cushy new startup job, I initially reverted to some of those same no-days-off habits. My roommate, Angie — an endless source of workplace wisdom — helped me look at things differently. One Sunday, when I was particularly anxious about an inevitable interaction with one of my petty-ass colleagues, she suggested that I take a Black mental health day off from work. “We have to have these come-to-Jesus talks with ourselves daily before we even leave the house,” she said. “Any facial reaction or expression we give off — unconsciously or not — can be received in unintentional ways. You might come off as scary to them. Take a day to get right.”

I’d always been acutely aware of the microaggressions I put up with day in and day out, but had rarely taken the time to do the mental work needed to make sure I’m okay. Am I being present? Am I prepared to have these conversations with Mary, John, and Jude? If I don’t speak, will they think I’m mad? I have to make sure that I’m well prepared, have my lines rehearsed and corporate-friendly chuckle on deck.

These days, I’m still all about putting in the work. But I’ve made it a habit to take at least one day out of the month to relax and chill — even if that means working from home. Because if I don’t have my mind right and my shit together, I’m gonna come in to work a mess. And that’s a surefire way to knock the hustle.

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.

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