My Christmas gift to myself: Can one be a recovering workaholic?


As most individuals tend to do as the year nears its calendar end, I am using this last week to reflect on the year that has passed. I am taking this time to reflect even further back. As far as I remember I have been a workhorse. I work until I get things done.

As I have gotten older, wiser and more experienced I often do not have to work as long as I used to in order to get a project done. That would be cause for happiness. However, my problem is that I have never been satisfied with satisficing-just getting the job done.  I want things to be perfect. In high school receiving an A- for a grade was often cause for frustration and embarrassment. Then at work, I kept going (often self teaching) until products came out fantastically. I learned to use the word fabulous in the workplace jumpstarting my emotions and pumping myself up. Once I finished a job, I would start another. Then, of course like the majority of those in the workplace nowadays, I multitask attempting to complete multiple projects simultaneously. I have done this for over ten years straight.


Once day I woke up and realized I had worked over 34 days straight from 6am to around midnight.  I had missed an entire season of Game of Thrones, was severely behind in laundry, had to work harder to maintain my weight and hundreds of thousands of accumulated airline miles from all my non-stop business trips. I looked around me and wondered where had all the gratitude gone.  While I had enabled certain behaviors and attitudes, people came to expect miracles from me for which they then showed a general blase persona. At that point I was not quite ready to make the move. However, when a colleague died from being overworked, I knew I had to leave. And I did. And then I did again. Once free I couldn’t contain myself.


Thus, on this holiday season, I sit here happily listening to my son’s excitement at learning how to say eleven in Spanish and how to do his dance moves for his upcoming Wizard of Oz performance. Excitement at the small stuff that is actually big. Excitement at being free.


I start this new job with every intention to do a great job and work hard. I will not slack off. It is not in my nature to do so. But I am looking at my reflection with a new understanding.  I am a recovering workaholic who is trying to find that right balance.  There will be slip ups in that I will go overboard in trying to do it all.  I have to say that there is nothing wrong, in the abstract ,with trying to do it all and have it all.  As the ’90s band Eve’s Plum noted

I want more than you could ever wish for me
I take a chance I want it all.

You have to aim high. I have to aim high. I will never just satisfice and do the bare minimum. I am not mediocre and I will offend myself if I ever allow myself to become mediocre. It is just a matter of finding balance internally.   Note, I do not say one has to be balanced overall.  It would be foolish to say that one can do everything in equal balance. Nothing drives me more crazy than those that scream about work/life balance. What I am talking about is a sense of internal balance. One has to feel right inside. The tummy has to not hurt and one should be able to wake up naturally without waking up due to thoughts racing in one’s head. I am getting there. After I left New York, I started to find some zen. I still worked super hard but somehow I slowed it down. Before I would have worked day and night for 30 days straight on a grant. Now, I work hard for two weeks straight on a grant and I am successful. I have learned to focus my energies and hone in on a healthy multi-tasking method. I take breaks. I talk. I read. I have caught up on Game of Thrones.  Admittedly, for a few weeks I was doing 4 jobs at once and traveling to 4 cities in one week. By the end of the week I was fried. I then treated myself and dipped into my accumulated airline miles and got some upgrades on my flights.  I can’t hoard my miles forever. To what end? George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air realized that at the end of the film. We all have to realize that before our own end.

On this holiday, I give myself the gift of allowing myself to slow down, use my miles, take a bath and binge watch my favorite show.  All this while I still do a great job at what I do. If today your tummy hurts or your mind races or you don’t see your family or you don’t know what is going on in the world: slow down.  Tomorrow you can kick it up a notch again.


Happy holidays and be well-rested


6 replies »

  1. I am married to a recovering work-a-holic. They need reminders from time-to-time that life is getting out of balance but they work to reign it back in. It is easy to slip back into old habits when work gets “busy.” Good luck to you. Balance is best for everyone no matter what it is. Merry Christmas to you!


  2. Well, I don’t think I could ever have been described as a workaholic, even when I was young and had the energy and very little life outside of work. Later, though, I discovered, at least for myself, that perfection, even if it was achievable, was most times not worth the effort. This was especially true when it came to parenting, again at least in my case.

    My result, after trying to establish my own work/life balance, was that the tipping point was always a moving target which was established only after I had determined FOR MYSELF (like your internal) the priority at a given point or period of time. Therein, at least for you I think my dear, lies the rub.

    My own personal mantra, since enlightening my own life with this discovery, is that sometimes OK is good enough, or maybe good enough is OK. I think you have already made this discovery in some aspects of your life, and it might not hurt to repeat it to yourself in the middle of one of those long self-driven work stretches.

    Good luck with that, and I hope it might result in a happier and healthier, or at least less manic, new year for you!


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