Confessions from a Recovering Workaholic

And warning signs for the undiagnosed.

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Last week I was invited to be a part of a mastermind group which included 10 other High Achieving Millennials. Each member of the group owned their own business, and the convening concept was to have a safe space to discuss our challenges and support each other’s growth. Going in, I only knew the organizers of the event (and not the other eight invitees). I didn’t know how open the group dynamics would be to vulnerability, but it was certainly worth exploring.

The moment one gentleman spoke up to admit that he was struggling was the moment we realized we were all connected. He said something like this… “I can’t turn my phone off. Dinner parties, watching a movie with my wife. On vacation. I cannot stop checking and responding to my emails. And I don’t have any balance as a result. I’ve created the expectation that I’m always on–and I liked that. But now, I’m realizing that it’s impacting my relationships with the people I love. Especially when I’m called out for it, and have no excuse for what I was doing.”

BOOM! It hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes! I know that gnawing + addictive feeling!

As a newbie, I sat back to see who would respond. What was so painfully apparent? Every single one of us was currently suffering from, or had suffered from, this unhealthy technology-induced state of being “on”. As a few folks offered their tips, I knew it would be harder than any single tip could muster.

So, I spoke up… “I was diagnosed with a work addiction 4 years ago.”

Typically when I make this pronouncement, people are slightly taken aback. First, they usually don’t realize it can be clinically diagnosed, so that’s being processed. And then secondly, they want to know…Do I have a work addiction, too?

I make my statement with a slight tinge of shame for my past, but mostly pride that I have made extremely positive progress in re-thinking and re-designing what “success” and the correlated “work” looked like and meant for me. There was no quick transition, but it started by realizing that I had a problem.

And I had gone on for years, not thinking I had a problem. Unlike more commonly thought of addictions, my workaholic behaviors were rewarded, made me seem like a super-achiever and earned me praise and positive attention. It wasn’t until my husband pointed it out, that I realized how unhealthy my life had become.

My routine looked something like this:

  • Head into the office at 8:30 am
  • Work non-stop all day until 6:00 pm (including responding to emails at traffic lights + multi-tasking through each item of the day)
  • Attend or host an evening networking event until 8:00 or 9:00 pm
  • Come home and say Hi to my husband, eat at my computer and finish up more work until 11:00 pm
  • Fall asleep on the couch until 2:00 am
  • Wake up with racing thoughts on all the work I needed to accomplish and go back to work until 4:00 am
  • Fall asleep again on the couch until 6:00 am
  • Work for a couple of hours before going into the office at 8:30 am

It wasn’t until one morning when I had broken this routine, and I actually made it into bed, that when my husband woke up at 5:00 am, rolled over and said to me “It’s so nice to see you.”

What did he mean? I SEE him all the time. But really, I didn’t. I was so busy with work I rarely even saw him when I was at home. It was his kind and loving words that made me realize: I have a problem. So I started to go to mindfulness-based therapy to un-learn all the bad habits that were ingrained in me from my work addiction.

Do you think you may have a work addiction? Here are 10 questions to help you evaluate your personal circumstances:

  1. Are you putting in long hours at the office, even when not needed? (Including responding to non-urgent emails on nights + weekends)
  2. Do you lose sleep to engage in work projects or finish tasks?
  3. Are you obsessed with work-related success?
  4. Have you neglected or lost personal relationships because of work?
  5. Do you have a defensive attitude toward others about their work or lack of commitment to it?
  6. Have you ever been told by others to lower your expectations or standards for success?
  7. Do you feel like you’re always busy and in a hurry to move from one thing to the next?
  8. Do you become stressed or panicked when you’re unable to get work done?
  9. Do you lower the importance of hobbies, fun activities, and fitness in exchange for more work time?
  10. Do you avoid taking vacation or sick leave because of your workload?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you have some clear warning signs of an unhealthy relationship with work. If you answered YES to more than 5 of these, and want to change, I encourage you to seek support. I did and it has changed my outlook on work, life, success, and happiness.

I feel so strongly about this that I encourage you to email me if you want to do something to change your relationship with work ([email protected]). I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some starting blocks.

One thing should be clear in life: We’re not meant to just pay our bills and die. Let’s take control of our relationship with work, and create healthier norms in our lives and with those whom we impact.

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