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The Cost Of Workaholism





“What are your resolutions this year?” a girlfriend recently asked me. I thought about the areas of my life I'd like to improve upon and responded, “I'd like to work less. I think I'm a workaholic.”

She paused for a bit then hesitantly said, “…that doesn't sound like a problem…” And indeed, when I'd talked about this with my mom just a week earlier, she said, “That's a good addiction.”

But it's easy to confuse hard work with being a workaholic. We assume an “addiction to work” means being dedicated and thorough, which is good.

But then there's the part where I sneak off to the bathroom during a weekend trip to check my email, and then, for some reason, feel an odd rush.

In Japan, they call it karoshi. And you might already know that it's quite literally killing people. In the past, I've joked around about being addicted to my work, but I'm starting to realize it may be a more serious problem than I thought, and, most importantly, it's been costing me.

Working hard vs. being a workaholic

It was this Psychology Today piece that got me seriously thinking about this subject. Author Ray Williams details how overworked Americans are. We work an average of 54 hours a week, and the percentage of us working more than 40 hours a week has been steadily increasing. Williams then points to the issue of workaholism:

“A contributing factor to the problem of workaholism is the prevailing belief in hard work as the route to success, particularly wealth.”

Bingo - that's me. There's certainly nothing wrong with hard work, but Williams doesn't seem to think a good American work ethic is responsible for these staggering statistics - it's more their addiction work, which he says stems from the desire to amass wealth.

It started out innocently enough, but I've gone from working hard to needing to work at all times - the weekend, dinner, vacation, etc. Working makes me feel safe and good, and it's gotten to the point that my brain equates a simple work task with sheer joy - a high. And that “prevailing belief” has been the premise for my high.

Example. I recently took a weekend trip with some friends. I decided to leave my laptop at home (there's still hope) and enjoy the house we'd rented overlooking a field of wineries. On Sunday, we were sipping mimosas outside when I decided to break out the iPad. Naturally, I looked at work stuff, and suddenly, I felt a wonderful surge. Even then, I knew it was odd. “Work should not be eliciting this sort of feeling,” I thought. Later, I read an article about how the workaholic's body releases Dopamine while working. Sure, it's a natural high, but it starts becoming an issue when work makes you feel better than anything else in your life, including vacation.

If you aren't a workaholic, this probably doesn't make sense to you. But based on the statistics, I'm not a rarity. Lots of us seem to be addicted to work.

How it started

When I was working a regular office job, there were parameters. I put in 40 hours at a location separate from my home. In exchange, I received a set salary. Sure, I put in some extra hours here and there, but for the most part, I left work at work.

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