Enjoy Your Career. Love Your Life. ™
For decades, I took great pride in being known as a workhorse. I was praised for burning the candle at both ends and didn’t take all my well-earned paid time off. I didn’t recognize the fact that I sacrificed my personal life for my career because I loved my all-consuming work. In the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hit a wall and the unsustainable 90-hour workweeks compromised my mental and physical wellbeing. It was time for a drastic change.
Workaholism is an Addiction
Psychologist, Wayne Oates introduced the term “workaholic” in his 1971 book, Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts About Work Addiction. He described the compulsion or uncontrollable need to work incessantly and connected the addiction-to-work behavior to poor health, neglected interpersonal relationships, and lack of social connection. I was a textbook example of workaholism. The National Bureau of Economic Research study indicates that 48% of Americans self-identify as workaholics. Here are some indicators:
- Working long hours when not necessary
- Losing sleep to work
- Work-related obsessions
- Paranoia and intense fear over work performance
- Deteriorating relationships with others because of work
- Neglecting personal health and well-being due to work
- Missing significant events or milestones due to work
My work addiction was wrapped up in my ambition and my desire to be validated and recognized for producing great work. I was hooked on the brain chemical hits of dopamine, adrenaline, and cortisol (also known as the happy hormones) that I received when I landed the difficult client, solved the insurmountable challenge, or earned a promotion.
While the addiction was mine alone to solve, it became clear that my workaholic tendencies were exploited by people and organizations that celebrated my excessive behavior and welcomed me into an environment where work addiction was encouraged and normalized. I needed to cut the co-dependent tether to organizations that enabled (and often celebrated) my work addiction and design a path forward that honored my wellbeing and my career ambitions.
Celebrate Being a High Achiever
Working with a coach helped me take a vulnerable look at what was happening in my life and what was missing. I now identify as a high-achiever and celebrate my strong work ethic, high quality work, and drive without over working, so I can simultaneously enjoy my life. It need not be an either-or scenario.
The neuroscience validates that shorter sprints of work time are best for concentration and productivity. I now consciously build in daily time to think, reflect, and feed my creative brain to solve problems and exercise the right side of my brain. This shift to owning my high-achiever and letting go of my work addiction took time, effort, and accountability. Like any addiction, the temptation to backslide and return to the comfort of old behaviors is real. My accountability partners help keep me on track and the rewards of a healthy work/life integration have increased my health and zest for life immeasurably.
Design Your Life and Career
If the work addiction concept is familiar to you – I’m here to help. As an executive coach, organizational development consultant, and speaker, I am on a mission to wipe out workaholism and promote healthy and sustainable workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent.
My new book, Your Career Advantage: Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life is a playbook to help you navigate the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world-of-work. What’s different about this career book, is that it also addresses how to love your life while you pursue a meaningful career.
The roadmap to a fulfilling life and career will help you ask tough questions, challenge, assumptions, and give you permission to define happiness and success on your terms. Here is a glimpse of how you can design your life and career to enjoy both simultaneously.
Celebrate Saying “No” – with punctuation, “No.” is a complete sentence. Prioritize what’s most important in your career, so every task is not urgent. Saying “no” to something provides an opportunity for someone else to step-up and gain experience. Consider how delegation can lead to professional development for another colleague.
Prioritize Time to Sleep and Play – rest is restorative and the single best way for your body to heal, recover, and thrive. Take pride in getting a good night sleep instead of working when you should be resting. Consider how you are playing in life to stimulate your creative brain, by enjoying something with reckless abandon and no agenda. Give yourself permission to schedule play time and see how beneficial the results are to your wellbeing and your career.
Be a Role Model Leader – be the leader that honors boundaries, takes vacation, and showcases behavior that promotes wellbeing. Your ability to model-the-way sets the cultural tone for others. Be clear about all-hands-on-deck time for deadlines, important projects, and unexpected challenges, so you can enjoy the flexibility and recovery during the non-urgent work times.
Break the Busy Brag Habit – it’s time to stop bragging about being busy and focus on being productive. Hours worked does not equate with quality, outcomes, or productivity. Shift your mindset to focus on accomplishments and honor that doing less extraordinarily well beats doing more in a mediocre fashion any day.
Digital Detox – carve out time in your day to disconnect from your devices. Get out into nature, stimulate your senses with something other than technology, and set boundaries about when you will respond to texts, emails, instant messages, and phone calls. Your eyes and brain need time to rest from the screentime to be fully functional and healthy.
Schedule Creative Time – if your calendar is booked back-to-back with endless meetings, your brain will not be high functioning. Prioritize white space on your calendar to think, reflect, and be creative. Innovative companies give employees dabble time to work on creative projects and it has increased productivity with measurable success. Overwork and overwhelm stifles innovation and outcomes.
Understanding workaholism is the essential first step. You have an opportunity to create healthy habits and routines that mitigate stress and prioritize room for creative and productive work, as well as play and meaningful time away.
You can be a high achiever that does extraordinary work without triggering compulsive and unhealthy behavior. Defining happiness and success is an individual opportunity and you deserve to enjoy your career AND love your life at the same time.