Even as I begin to write this blog post, I struggle to put my thoughts on paper, knowing that the initial draft cannot be good enough or thorough enough to publish online. Excuse the imperfections — it’s an exercise in NOT being a perfectionist/workaholic.
We live in a society that rewards subjectively “good” and “bad” behaviors. For instance, being a drug addict is categorized as very bad and associated with a number of negative characteristics–not to mention the potential court-mandated rehab or jail time. We also reward (or at least turn a blind eye) to things like caffeine addiction, which is seen as a “necessary” activity to maintain the busy lifestyles we lead.
Related to this busy lifestyle? Workaholism–in a nutshell, an addiction to work.
I would go so far as to argue that workaholism is the most highly lauded addiction in the United States.
I know this from personal experience. I have been a workaholic–although, unknowingly at times–for as long as I can remember.
I can distinctly remember being at a family gathering in the second grade and saying, “I hate eating because it wastes time.” I remember being mad at my art teacher in the fourth grade because she gave me a 99% on my ceramic mug. I remember staying up through the night in the 5th grade, crouched beside my night light because I had a story due for class the next day, and I forgot it was supposed to be written in cursive, and my cursive had to look just right. I remember running through shin pain and anxiety as a middle schooler in track, feeling like a failure if I fell short of first place.
In recent years, I’ve often sacrificed social plans. I will jolt awake before my alarm in the morning and walk straight to my computer before doing anything else. If I told someone I was going to get something done by a certain date, by God, it’s going to get done if I have to stay up all night. Some acquaintances no longer stop to chat when they see me because I’m notoriously hurried or late to something else. I say “yes” to things with zero regard to my current workload or the impact it is having on myself or my relationships. I will often go without eating or sleeping or won’t leave my room until I am satisfied with what I have accomplished.
But you know what’s worse than this “bad habit,” negative personality trait, or whatever you want to call it? 90% of the time, I am praised for such actions. Praised for being such a hard worker, for being so meticulous, so reliable, so ambitious. I have won numerous awards based on such workaholism. So frequently has this addiction been rewarded that I was shocked–offended, almost–when for the first time a year ago a mentor joked, “Now, I know you’re worried about just getting it done, cranking projects out no matter what, but every once in a while, stop and think about what you’re doing.”
Workaholism is not a laughable tendency to put in extra hours at the office or to people please–it is a debilitating addiction, and it needs to be treated as such. While a drug addict might be externally scolded if someone were to see him/her in the act, people will almost always go out of their way to reward my behavior and encourage it in the future. With the exception of a few closed loved ones, I am the only one who can hold myself accountable for workaholism while also facing external pressures to feed the addiction.
It’s very, very hard.
I can turn anything into a work activity. The recurring thought in my head on any given day is, “Okay, what else do I have to do?” Never do I ask myself what I want to do, or what I need to do. I get anxious when I spend time not working because I feel lazy. I am always reaching for bigger and better, and this stress takes a toll on me, negatively affecting the way I handle situations, relationships, and my outlook on life. In prior attempts to treat the problem, I have learned that I genuinely have no clue how many hours would be normal for me to work in a given day.
At the risk of abruptly ending this blog post, I simply want to point out that “hard work” is a positive societal behavior, while “workaholism” that interferes with daily functioning is an unhealthy but treatable addiction. Please do not praise the person who always bends over backwards and sacrifices their own time and personal well-being for the sake of the others, the company, unnecessarily high expectations, etc. It is such praise that makes people like me think that the behavior is okay, despite the fact that it is negatively impacting our personal lives and health.