Confessions of a (Recovering) Workaholic
I’ve always been passionate about my work. My career path has had its twists and turns, but my level of commitment has always been the same – nothing less than 100 percent. It’s just my nature. Additional responsibility? Extra hours? Unexpected challenges? Sign me up! Because I don’t even know how to say ‘No.’
Not when it comes to work, anyway. In my personal life, it’s another story. Because when you’re really passionate about what you do, sometimes you do it to the exclusion of virtually everything else in life.
But then, work is life when you’re a workaholic.
And that’s what I am: a workaholic. And if you were nodding along to any or all of the above, you’re probably one, too.
Only sometimes it’s hard to recognize that fact when you are in the throes of an addiction. It can take a truly life-changing event to wake us up.
For me, that life-changer was the Great Restructuring. That’s my little pet name for the event that lead to my unceremonious and unexpected unemployment a few months ago.
Now, I suppose I’m a recovering workaholic. Although let’s face it, I’ve been actively looking for a way to fall off this particular wagon. But I’d like to think I’m making progress.
In the beginning – the first week or so following the aforementioned layoff – I was a hot mess. I still woke up in the middle of the night, mind whirring through a laundry list of projects and tasks. Only instead of the angst of having them looming over my head, I felt relief that I no longer needed to worry whether they got done.
Which would have been refreshing if, say, I wasn’t lying awake in the middle of the night.
During the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So many hours of my day had been spent consumed by work. Now they stretched before me like a barren wasteland.
And when I took stock of what was left after I subtracted out work, well, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright depressing. Because who has time for things like family, friends and hobbies when you’re a raging workaholic!
Thankfully there were a few friends I hadn’t yet managed to alienate – despite my track record of canceled plans and unreturned phone calls – and some family members that were still talking to me. I both clung to them like a lifeline AND tried to make up for lost time.
Which is to say, I started smothering the life out of them.
I also realized that I’d been woefully negligent when it came to the community boards on which I was serving. Now that my schedule was a bit more, err, flexible, I could actually attend all of the meetings I’d previously been missing.
It was also about this time that I realized that, while I was very committed on a philosophical level to the organizations I was involved with, I should have been committed for saying yes to all of them. Even if I was physical able to attend all of the board meetings, committee meetings, fundraisers, etc – and I couldn’t because many of them overlapped – I didn’t have enough time or energy to do them justice.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying. Because you know, that’s what workaholics do.
I wasn’t use to having down time. So between the smothering of loved ones and the manic volunteering, I endeavored to fill every moment with…something. Anything.
Well, anything short of daytime television. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.
Thankfully, we were on the verge of what would be one of the longest, coldest and snowiest winters in recent Central New York history.
(Yes, I just said that. Which is a sign of my fragile – and deeply disturbed – state of mind at that point in time.)
As a result, I spent a lot of time shoveling. And when there wasn’t enough fresh snow to necessitate shoveling, I trekked through the woods on my snowshoes.
Both of these activities would terminate with me collapsed in a sweaty, exhausted heap, content in the fact that with Mother Nature as my personal trainer, I didn’t need to renew the gym membership I’d long since let lapse. After all, I needed to be more careful about my discretionary spending. (In retrospect, the gym membership would likely have been cheaper than the massage therapy and chiropractic appointments I needed to fix me after all that shoveling.)
I also spent copious amounts of time bingeing on sci fi/fantasy novels and Justified. (I have a serious addiction to both.)
This was all in addition to the time I spent searching for and researching job opportunities online; reconnecting with past colleagues; fielding questions about my change in employment status, etc. All while studiously avoiding the dreaded resume update.
I think that even in those early days, while I was struggling to make sense of it all, I knew that I needed to make a change. My workaholic tendencies were sucking my soul, even in my unemployment. And I knew I couldn’t let myself ever be that all consumed by a company or a job ever again.
I knew my thinking had shifted when, maybe a month after the Great Restructuring, I had dinner with a former colleague.
During our meal, she was constantly checking her phone, frantically (and almost unconsciously) fielding text messages, emails and even a quick call between bites of her (woefully neglected) salad.
As I savored every uninterrupted bite of my delicious entrée – a lovely eggplant parmesan, if I recall correctly – two things hit me.
The first was that I had been like that too, not all that long ago.
The second? That despite the horrible shock to my system, despite the uncertainty of the future, a part of me was both grateful and a little relieved that I’d turned that page. (Even if perhaps technically it had been turned for me.) Here the universe was presenting me with an opportunity to reconsider my workaholic ways.
And maybe, just maybe, I can still be incredibly passionate about my work but not have that passion be at the expense of everything else.
It’s not the easiest of transitions to make. Especially since in order to have a semblance of a work-life balance, you need to actually have a life. Which is what I’m working on right now. The whole getting a life bit.
It might be the most important project I’ve taken on to date. It involves quite a bit of travel and a lot of writing.
And I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that I’m giving it my all.