Take it from me: Don’t be a workaholic.

Just one more cup of coffee, and I’ll be ready to go.

My parents are intelligent, fabulous, awe-inspiring… workaholics.  I grew up witnessing the aches and pains of confusing who you are with what you do.  Through my first jobs, I’d remind myself daily about the toll that over-investing in a job or career takes on a person.  I’d lecture my little siblings, re-telling stories of strokes that took time to heal, heart attacks that caused panic, and family events that were missed in the name of a job.  We had a good childhood, don’t get me wrong– my parents are the sort of people that managed to give their full undivided attention to a million people at the same time.  They never missed a big moment, but I’m not sure if they were ever entirely present for the small ones, because they ran their lives based on the equation:

Job = Person
  • If their job was not going well, they weren’t doing well.
  • If their career required late nights, they didn’t sleep.
  • If someone in their industry needed their help, they were there.

None of those things are inherently bad, but all together– they form a life dependent on the success of a job in order to achieve happiness.

I would ask my father to take some time off, and rest himself.  He would quote to me from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches:

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

Those are beautiful words, but Dr. King wasn’t exactly the best example of work-life balance, now was he?  On top of that, I’m pretty sure he was talking about destiny in general, a blueprint to being who you truly are– not about working so hard at street-sweeping that you have a heart attack.

Like almost every I belief I had in my possession before I met him, Dave complicated this thought, too.  You see, my husband is an artist.  I don’t mean to say that he paints, or that he writes.  I mean that he lives, breathes, writes, and thinks in artistry.  His job is his career and his passion.  Still, several years of late night novel writing, and skipped meals in favor of painting is the closest thing to a “reason” that the doctors could give us for his diabetes.  Once again, I gave my heart to someone who had such a passion for work that they bettered the world by living, and increased the profitability of the local emergency room at the same time.

So again, I’d offer advice to my siblings, my loved ones– Distinguish who you are, and let that stand alone, from what you do for a living.

When what you do starts to hurt, to strain, to take away from who you are, something needs to give. Not just something, actually– YOU.  You need change.

To give a soft reason, you are worth more to the universe than just a mathematical calculation of what you produce.

To give a blunt reason, you can’t do your beloved job if you’re dead. 

Years ago, I started a dream job.  It was at a comfortable, family-oriented business that looked after the interest of its clients.  Two years in, with changes to management, a lot changed.  I started getting funny feelings about the work I was doing, and my Intuu trainings kicked in full-time.  I sniffed around for a source, and when I couldn’t find anything specific, just tried to institute changes that would make it easier for me to keep on working.

I worked at that job for 3 more years.  By the final year, I came home crying or ranting on most days.  I missed the small moments of life because I was too emotionally exhausted to enjoy them, and the big moments because they would routinely call me in to work and, unlike my parents,  I would go.

Still though, I was the first one in and the last to leave, and I think I was actually proud of that fact– like being great at a job that was bad for me was an accomplishment instead of just a waste of effort and cosmic energy.  I was connecting myself to my job:

  • I couldn’t quit — I had built this career.
  • I couldn’t leave — this business was my baby, even if I didn’t own it.
  • I couldn’t stop working late nights — they needed me.
  • Job = Me

When I finally realized I was living my parent’s equation, I quit– and that led to another epic story of lessons learned.  De-tangling myself from the web of my making was a terrifying, terrible experience which I might one day heal enough to write about.  It seemed like a fitting punishment for betraying my own advice and intuition, though.

In recent years, I’ve tried to regroup and find my footing once again.  I’ve searched for the balance of energy necessary to give 100% at work, and then come home and leave it all behind.  My efforts have been rewarded, but I remain diligent.  It’s so easy to slip.

My name is Rarasaur, and I am a workaholic.  It’s been 9 months and 28 days since I skipped a meal for work, went to sleep worrying about a paperwork problem, or answered the question “What do you do?” with a dehumanized job title.

So when I give this advice to you, please know that I’m intimate with it’s difficulty, and I still believe it’s good advice nonetheless:

Distinguish who you are from where you work, and make yourself the source of your own happiness.

____________________

Daily Post: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given someone that you failed to take yourself?  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/daily-prompt-take-it-from-me/

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64 thoughts on “Take it from me: Don’t be a workaholic.

  1. I, too, am a recovering workaholic. :-) it wasn’t until I lost my job that I came to realize I’d almost missed my life. I’d given up things I’m passionate about for the sake of benign”dedicated”. Thankfully, fate..or God stepped in to tell me “you’re headed in the wrong direction little girl!”

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  2. I always went by that saying if you love what you do you never worked a day in your life, so I always chose jobs that I enjoyed so much it didn’t matter if it was a work day or a day off. To this day I never said, “Thank God It’s Friday.”

    That said, my 60 hour work weeks died in the 1990s. I don’t think I’ll ever work until 3 a.m. again — but not for lack of desire, rather because I know it’s not healthy :)

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    • Oh me too! I love what I do, I think that’s why it’s so easy to fall into workaholic-ism. When I was unhappy at my other job, it was because of the people I worked with– not my job itself. I’m actually bummed on vacations because I like working so much and you’re right– it’s never “work” if you love it. But yes, 60 hour work weeks are bad for you, haha! :D

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  3. Thank you for sharing that. May I share something similar – but not really? I was checking out a new church and afterwards being obviously new, many people came up to me to talk. Except what came out of their mouths was this – What do you do for a living? Which in my mind = how much money do you make and how much can we expect from you in tithing? I was floored. The same question over and over. They could have cared less about the person, they were more interested in the job title. So, it comes from other angles too, this mixed up association of job=person=job. It doesn’t and it never will. Listen to what rarasaur has said. Those small missed moments will never come back. But you can make the decision to be present for the ones to come.

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    • Thanks KK! There’s definitely that side to the story. I almost went into it but didn’t want to get too rambly, haha. When I married my husband, I got a lot of grief from friends/family/strangers about his “lack of job”– that’s just people putting their idea of a job making a person. Very true! :) Thanks for commenting!

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    • Knowledgeknut, I’ve had the exact same experience, but mine was at a mixer for “young professionals” that my brother was organizing. My big brother is a master of the kind of small talk that people do when they’re networking, but me, well not so much. I ran into the same thing you’re describing here: Everyone leads off with “what do you do?” and, in some cases, “what kind of car do you drive?” Crass, materialistic- I was put off immediately. I am *NOT* my job, even if it occupies a tremendous amount of my time.

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      • It’s really too bad that in today’s society, where we are supposed to be more “enlightened” than previous generations, that we still run into these scenarios. Kudos to you for seeing it for what it was. Since you have a post that mentions TNG then I will say this: I am waiting for Roddenberry’s vision to come true. As Picard states in TNG: First Contact: “This acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” While I highly doubt it will happen in my lifetime – I will just have to come back when it does! Space exploration anyone?

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  4. Most people work overtime without pay because they are worried about losing their job during times of economic uncertainty. Most of us are not workaholics – we become one when we worry about making the mortgage payments, sending our children to college, or even more basic, setting food on the table. We work for those we love, not for our employers. And that it the most difficult obstacle to overcome. We talk about life-work balance a lot – sometimes the lesson is only learned with we face a crisis. I am a baby boomer – now a new generation is taking the leadership positions and are making the tough decisions of how to balance their personal need to participate in an exciting career and a deeper, more introspective need to find a peace within themselves. And then take this and add the needs of a spouse and children. I have found great fulfillment in the journey – each person will find their way, each generation will be a little different. In the end it is about how you want to live your life and how your accept the consequences of your decision. I wish you every success!! And excellent post!

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    • It’s true, but there’s a possibility of working overtime and long hours without letting it seep into who you are. That’s the trick that I’ve seen people live out, but I still haven’t quite mastered how to do it. I have to just limit work-time, which isn’t always possible since, you know, food costs money. :D ” In the end it is about how you want to live your life and how your accept the consequences of your decision.” So true! Thanks for the good luck wishes. :D

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      • I agree wholeheartedly! I know that you will experience success as you go along for you are already recognizing the profound meaning of our lives. We must live our destiny. A wonderful blogger friend sent this link to me! I think that you will find it interesting.

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  5. “my parents are the sort of people that managed to give their full undivided attention to a million people at the same time” Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Thanks to your parents for raising such a generous and attentive daughter.

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  6. I’m fortunate, I suppose, that when my body doesn’t like what I’m doing to it, it clobbers me over the head with a frying pan. And it usually doesn’t tolerate my insolence for long. When I was 21 and a smoker, my lungs retaliated with bronchitis and lost voice. I quit smoking. The same goes for work. It was my highest paying job ever, as a professional writer with prestige. But I hated the c..p I had to write, and I hated going in on weekends to slog through it, and I hated just going to work. I won’t go into all the gory details of what happened to me, but my body engineered me out of that job after only eleven months. I’m still a workaholic, but as a freelance writer and photographer, I’m loving every minute, and these days I’m even (usually) stopping to eat and exercise to stay healthy. Still, your photo at the top of this blog will be an incentive. I think I’ll go steam some broccoli.

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  7. Uh oh… I’m a workaholic too… I’m not working professionally as yet – but if I don’t have something to do, I feel like the world is going to come crashing down on me…
    And now I have been ‘blogged’ down with something else – reading, writing, constantly looking for inspiration to write, feeling horrible if I haven’t posted something for a while etc etc – is that also a part of being a workaholic?

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    • Just be sure to take care of yourself! Filling your free-time isn’t so bad, it’s letting all that work settle into your brain and your heart– and letting it take over “who” you are. :) Don’t feel bad if you can’t post everyday, your loyal followers (like myself) will be here when you return. :)

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  8. I feel we are all at that crossroad as a country. No, I don’t wish to push this “fiscal cliff” issue here on a blog but many – correction, all – companies will feel something. Let’s face it. Our economy is very unhealthy. If said in human terms and as you mentioned, I feel it is suffering a heart attack and a transplant may be necessary…before it is too late.

    While it may be shallow to say we need to appreciate our jobs as so many have given up looking for a decent job, it may be the best advice… but after working since 16 years of age, I have given up “work-a-holic-ism”… Keep plugging away!

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    • :) Thanks. I almost deleted the part about my own job– oh the stories I could tell– but I felt like it was time to fess up. :) I think there’s a double whammy happening today– not only do we have less “free time”, but we don’t use it well when it’s available. Those go hand in hand, I think.

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  9. Reading this only serves to help me believe that the sudden onslaught of my epilepsy rendering me incapable of work was a blessing. I was a care assistant and gave that job my all, but would often come home feeling exhausted, disillusioned and trodden on. My boss was a bitch and manipulated me in all sorts of ways to keep me working there (empty promises of promotion, etc).

    That’s interesting, what Buffy has to say about our ancestors. I think I’ll do some research into that :)

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    • That it is interesting! If research turns into a post, let me know, post it in Madhattery or something so I can read about it too. :D But yes, I would say it was a blessing– being rejuvenated every day makes you more capable of success, I think.

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  10. Great post! My husband is a workaholic – I have to kidnap him sometimes and force him to relax – I have learned that it can only be done away from home, because he has a home business in addition to a regular job. He does not know how to relax, but I am trying to teach him :) I believe that it is a result of an addictive personality – he is an alcoholic – 10 years without a drink now :) – and an avid shopper as well – loves to spend money. You have to make it to spend it! Sometimes he wears me out just trying to keep up! I don’t get upset about his working – it is much preferable to drinking. Not having small children helps – all of our are grown, but he always seems to have time for them also. I think that there must be more hours in his day than in mine, although he sleeps for more hours than I do!

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    • Congrats on the 10 years– to you and your hubby, I know that’s a team effort. :) He sounds like my parents– people with a million hours in each day, ha! :) He’s lucky to have someone like you around to remind him to simplify and relax! :)

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      • We have only been together for 8 years, so I can’t take credit for his decision, but he does tell me a lot that I help him keep sober. I am truly grateful for our relationship – we both learned a lot about what NOT to do in previous relationships. You have to be able to appreciate the failures as well as the successes. Without the failures, you would not be who or where you are today :)

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  11. I know this dance all too well. I’m of a similar bent- I have to force myself to take lunches away from my desk. The dual-continent nature of my work means that I often have conference calls for meetings that fall well outside of regular business hours. Every Wednesday night around 9pm, you can usually find me on the phone to the parent office. For me, that intrusion into my personal time is part of the cost of being sent on this amazing assignment to live in Europe for three years though, and I try to balance it out by not being overzealous about getting back from lunch in a micrometered time. On Fridays, I turn the corporate e-mail off on my phone and don’t read it again until Monday morning.

    Well, I try not to, anyway.

    I talked about this a little bit on my own blog, by the way- I won’t be spammy and post a link to it here, but I talked about how when it comes to having a good work-life balance, most Americans talk a good game, but on the whole we’re really shit at living it. It’s been interesting trying to balance my American work culture with being in a European office.

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