About a month ago the realization of my mistakes hit me hard. I was so close to perfection but it was all just a workaholic’s delusion.
When I suggested to friends that I was a failure, the reply I got 98% of the time was “How? You work ridiculously hard!” I had to explain to them that because I work all the time, I have failed at important goals of life. This was met with a lot of supportive statements like “you have a great career and you are doing stellar in terms of academics. Your future is going to be amazing!”
All are true only if I continue to religiously go to bed at 11 pm and wake up by 3 am. It is the only way to sustain a weekly lifestyle of 50+ career hours, 40+ hours of studying and 10+ hours of physical activity. Not only that, I have amazing parents who save me huge amounts of time. I have been following this schedule for nearly 3 years and it has cost me too much. Considering how much I have invested in career and school, I should be twice as well off as I am now. All of that is completely pointless if I am a failure at what really matters to me.
I want to be a good friend, husband and father. Yet over the years, the necessary skills those roles require have become obsolete in me. I used to be involved in the lives of my friends and we spent a lot of time learning from each other. Now many of those friends are just memories of better days and seen on too few occasions.
I want to be nurturing to my partner’s dreams and career, but I have been nothing but overly critical and pessimistic. I want to provide as much opportunity as possible for my kids, but have already made up my mind to guide them to only high paying careers. I have become so willfully unempathetic and misaligned with the goals that matter to me. This is what I mean when I say it has cost me too much.
So how do you know if you are a workaholic? It is hard to self-diagnose because it is a lot like being an alcoholic. You will be completely numb to the signs and just keep working in denial. These are some signs that I have observed or exhibited, learning to identify them only in hindsight:
1. Your partner will tell you: As a workaholic it is unlikely that you are in a functioning relationship. If you are lucky enough to have a partner that puts up with you, they will tell you when you work too much. However,they can only put up with it for so long before they realize they deserve better. Which they absolutely do. Nothing will torpedo your career like your partner leaving. Guaranteed.
2. Your solution to everything is to work harder: When anyone who wasn’t a workaholic asked me for advice, my response was always to buckle down and work harder. A while back a female friend complained to me that her husband spent too much time working. Her husband is someone I deeply respect for his work ethic and intelligence. My response was “Listen, you’ve got one of the greatest guys out there. Considering all the guys that don’t have that same drive, I think you should let him achieve his goals.” Horrible advice!
3. Hard workers and the rest: I viewed the world as a dichotomy between people who are driven and others who are not. I could only empathize and help individuals I deemed hard workers. Money, resources and what little time I had would be used to enable other workaholics. Everyone else was dismissed as a waste of time.
4. You are always right: Every opinion I had was well researched and logical. Yet this leads to being horribly pessimistic. This results in working extremely hard to feel secure about the future. It also puts up a wall against opinions that are “feelings” based. This blurs the fine line between confidence and arrogance.
5. Everything is about me: It was always about my goals, my career, my intellectual pursuits and my dreams. Everyone was entitled to their dreams, but expecting me to contribute to their dream was asking too much. Sure, I could give financial advice or lend expensive video equipment but I could spare very little time, energy or thought.
6. Your 5 year goal is consuming you: My goal was to be retired around 30. Without a doubt if I keep up my current pace, I would achieve my retirement nest egg by 31-ish. I am completely confident that if continued like this, I will have forgotten my life goal of becoming an environmental activist. Instead I would have bought a property on Fiji and just languished in paradise for the rest of my days.
7. Chemical Dependency: You will be abusing something to relax. Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs and video games are some examples. This will only lead to more dangerous substances as your body builds tolerance. My kick was adrenaline. Skydiving, hang gliding, white water rafting and wilderness survival were some of the things I did just to feel something. I also planned to go scuba diving with the Greenland shark in the St. Lawrence River in April. It supposedly doesn’t eat humans.Supposedly. This behaviour can be the result of trying to maximize as much fun in as little time as possible.
8. Due Credit: You feel you never get enough credit. The flip-side is you never give enough credit to others. I will expand on this perception bias in a future article.
9. You were an extremely good person: You can’t become a workaholic without the willingness to self-sacrifice. This means you understand you have to work for your goals. The mistake you made was getting so used to self-sacrifice that you didn’t realize how much you stress yourself out and others around you. Suddenly all that self-sacrifice has become pointless.
Now I haven’t stopped being a workaholic. I can’t walk away from my career, school or CFA designation. However, I have taken steps to force myself to relax such as becoming vegetarian, sleeping 8 hours a day, connecting deeper with my religion and meditating. These are relatively extreme steps but they are what I find relaxing.
Learning to relax is what all workaholics have to do in order to get better. Though it may not feel like it, being a workaholic is a subconscious choice. But realize that it is a still a choice and therefore within your control. To change takes an ego shattering realization and a tough road to revert to a normal state.
Though it is a scary process, I had to make the change. I felt an overwhelming fear in the initial stages. Yet I encourage my fellow workaholics to acknowledge their mistakes and avoid a self-destructive lifestyle. You are only a failure when you stop learning from your mistakes.