Don’t be a martyr: The glorification of being too busy in your 20s

Gen is a Bay Area native that works as a Talent Development Manager in San Francisco. If you can't find her, she's probably crafting, cooking, taking pictures, or stretching in her studio apartment. She will always take two scoops of ice cream and renown chefs are her celebrity. See more of Gen's extracurriculars at


It was the year I turned 22, just on the tail end of “you can eat anything without consequences,” and “meal prepping is just a Pinterest lie.” I was equipped with my first under-paying job and the best initiative a private school education could get you.

The need to prove myself started on day one. Perhaps it was the culture that was cultivated at my company or this life was chosen by every single employee, but I was working 12 hours a day within my first month. It was what I thought I needed to do to prove my value.

According to a report from the Harvard Business Review, and also to you and every one of your friends, millennials are actually workaholics. They’re specifically referred to as work martyrs.

Through literature, the word “martyr” has become romanticized. It describes a person who is willing to lose everything in order to prove something or to get something they love. But according to Merriam-Webster, their third definition for “martyr” is as follows: “Victim; especially: a great or constant sufferer.”

I was a work martyr.

I romanticized my long work days. I Instagrammed photos of dinner in the office, I would tell my coworkers that I hadn’t had lunch yet when it was 4 p.m. and I was proud of my coffee addiction. To me, I was shaping my reputation as someone who was so indebted to the company that I was willing to work and live in a place that paid me.

After a year full of martyrdom veiled in complaints and brags, I approached my manager and asked why she thought I wasn’t ready to be promoted. Her feedback was simply, “If you can’t take care of yourself, how will you be able to take care of a team?”

Sure, there is something to be argued in my defense. Long hours could have been a product of workplace culture, and that starts with leadership (of which I was not). However, as I’ve grown and developed as a working professional, my biggest learning is that you have the right to choose how to react to what is prescribed to you. You also have the right, as an employee, to feed yourself and be treated with respect, even if that respect has to come from you.

At the end of the day, be a workaholic if you’d like. Even skip a meal. But remember that no one is forcing you to make these decisions. Think about who you’d want to be lead by, and try to exemplify that. When you recognize the agency you have in your life, you are empowered, and as you progress in the workforce, that will resonate.

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