When we think of addiction, our minds usually turn to alcohol or drugs like heroin and cocaine.
As perfectionists, our drug of choice is usually work.
I remember a time when I felt very uncomfortable with free time. I couldn’t watch TV without my work laptop or Blackberry in my hands. I scheduled teleconferences while on vacation. I spent my evenings editing and reviewing technical papers. My dinners were always accompanied by my planner and my to-do lists. I filled every second of free time, and I scheduled in my fun. Sometimes, my alarm clock went off at 3am, and by 315am, I’d start responding to work emails. I could just barely stay on top of all the tasks I had taken. I had no boundaries.
I was addicted to the high of work success. I lived for approval from others. I was praised for accomplishing so much, and I seemingly juggled many things at one time. But the truth was that my physical and mental health were falling apart. Eventually, I hit rock bottom.
In a culture where overtime is the norm, in a society where downtime comes with guilt, work addiction is difficult to recognize. It is usually mistaken for drive and ambition. But work addiction is compulsive. You work to avoid. You put the work before yourself. You’ll avoid moments of stillness because you’ll realize that you’re unhappy, that you hate your job, and that your relationships are failing. Instead of facing the truth, you’ll take on more tasks. Eventually, your life and your health will deteriorate, and you’ll completely burn out.
If you relate to my story, consider taking this survey from Workaholics Anonymous:
Are you more drawn to your work or activity than close relationships, rest, etc.?
Are there times when you are motivated and push through tasks when you don’t even want to and other times when you procrastinate and avoid them when you would prefer to get things done?
Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
Are you more comfortable talking about your work than other topics?
Do you pull all-nighters?
Do you resent your work or the people at your workplace for imposing so many pressures on you?
Do you avoid intimacy with others and/or yourself?
Do you resist rest when tired and use stimulants to stay awake longer?
Do you take on extra work or volunteer commitments because you are concerned that things won’t otherwise get done?
Do you regularly underestimate how long something will take and then rush to complete it?
Do you immerse yourself in activities to change how you feel or avoid grief, anxiety, and shame?
Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
Are you afraid that if you don’t work hard all the time, you will lose your job or be a failure?
Do you fear success, failure, criticism, burnout, financial insecurity, or not having enough time?
Do you try to multitask to get more done?
Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing what you’re doing in order to do something else?
Have your long hours caused injury to your health or relationships?
Do you think about work or other tasks while driving, conversing, falling asleep, or sleeping?
Do you feel agitated when you are idle and/or hopeless that you’ll ever find balance?
Do you feel like a slave to your email, texts, or other technology?
If you answered yes to three or more questions, you may be a workaholic. You’re not alone. At one point in my life, I would have answered yes to every question. But I wouldn’t have been open to taking the survey at all. It took a three week hospital stay caused by a stress-related injury for me to realize the truth.
Fortunately, there are resources out there to help. There are groups like Workaholics Anonymous that will help you move past your work addiction through a twelve step program. Experts like Brené Brown have written several books on the topic. Go on an information & media diet. Give yourself permission to have fun. Leave your work at work. When you take a vacation, leave your laptop and Blackberry at home. Get 8 hours of sleep. Talk to your supervisor about the workload you can really handle. I guarantee that no one expects you to work the way you’ve been working except for you.
Feature Image Source: Marjolaine Leray