Are You a Workaholic Heading for Burnout?

Are You a Workaholic Heading for Burnout?

What Barbara missed the summer she let the
demon on her shoulder convince her
that her work was so important
she couldn’t take time to enjoy life.

Some Historical Perspective. I became a workaholic the week I started my first homebased business in 1971. There were many personal and financial reasons why I had to be successful in this endeavor and my new career as a writer. However, my marriage and personal life suffered as the years passed because I always had to put my work first to meet publishing deadlines. Years later, when I had to become the breadwinner, I worked even harder than before. My memoir, The Drummer Drives! Everybody Else Rides, speaks about those challenging years.

I believe that once one falls into the pattern of workaholism, it becomes a habit that’s impossible to break without considerable effort and mental determination. Thankfully, I finally got the better of it.

Fast Forward to 2019

Early that year, I realized my antiquated FrontPage website was crumbling, and I had to create a new site before it fell apart. By then, age had changed my life goals and writing interests. Since I had a friend who had earlier helped me set up a simple WordPress site, I believed this was the best option for me. After considering all the work this would entail, I called Carrie Peters, and she began to look for a theme that would fit my needs. How hard can this be, I asked myself.

As usual, I started with enthusiasm and confidence, not realizing until later what a mammoth task I’d set for myself. I figured I could do this job in a year, but that was before I knew how the pandemic would affect my life and work schedule and the technical WordPress problems it would create for Carrie. At the start, I didn’t realize it would take weeks for me to figure out what content on my 19-year-old website was worth saving, updating, editing, and reformatting anew. (In the end, more than half of it was discarded.)

What Workaholism Cost Me

Fall found me pondering all I’d given up that summer because I felt so pressured to get my website project rolling. Unlike other summers, I didn’t set up the water fountain in my little patio or spend any time there to appreciate my perennial gardens. I missed the chirping of birds and the antics of frisky squirrels chasing one another through my backyard.

I didn’t take time to bake cookies, make homemade soup, or prepare some of my favorite dinners because I figured saving this time would give me more time for work. I often worked until 2 p.m. before stopping for lunch, and most days I worked until seven or eight, by then so tired and hungry I would settle for a frozen microwave dinner. This wasn’t good for my overall health, and I gained some weight. I was also sleeping poorly because my to-do list was the first thing that came to mind when I woke up in the middle of the night.

Letting Go is Hard to Do

“Work addiction, often called workaholism, is a real mental health condition. Like any other addiction, work addiction is the inability to stop the behavior. It often stems from a compulsive need to achieve status and success or to escape emotional stress. Work addiction is often driven by job success. And it’s common in people described as perfectionists.” (Excerpt from the article, “When Work Becomes an Addiction.”)

As COVID raged and the New Year rolled in, I vowed to vanquish the demon on my shoulder that kept telling me my website work was so important I couldn’t take time to enjoy LIFE in the process, even if there was no safe place to go. The pandemic had changed everyone’s viewpoint on what was important, and I was looking at myself differently too. “I’m not too old to keep doing the work I love to do,” I thought, “but I’m too old to keep putting my work ahead of grabbing all the joy I can from each day God grants me.”

I resolved then to stop trying to meet the impractical deadlines I was setting for myself and simply do the best job I could do, regardless of how long it might take—a matter of finding a balance between pride and practicality where the launch of my new website was concerned. It took me another two years, but I finally opened the site late in 2021. And no one cared how hard I’d worked to do it.

A Few Words on Burnout

Years ago, a business expert I interviewed for one of my books defined burnout as “the total depletion of one's physical and mental resources, caused either by trying to reach unattainable goals or as a result of things that get in your way over which you have no control.”

It’s not only unattainable goals that can burn us out but goals we can eventually achieve if we give them enough time and patience. I didn’t allow for this when I decided I needed to move my domain to a new WordPress site “as soon as possible.” By the end of that year, I had redefined “as soon as possible” to be “however long it takes me to build the website of my dreams.”

If growing older has taught me anything, it’s that everything always takes longer than I think it will. I don’t see myself as a workaholic now because I can work as few or as many hours a day as I wish on whatever my heart calls me to do. But if I decide to tackle a big project (like my garage sale project this year) it’s my nature to push myself to get the job done as quickly as possible so I can get back to taking life easier again.

Other thoughts on Work-Life-Balance

“Burnout is about resentment,” says American software engineer and businesswoman Marissa Mayer. “Preventing it is about knowing yourself well enough to know what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”

Do you have a “workaholic demon” on your shoulder? Do you think your work or other obligations now wearing you down are more important than taking care of yourself or your family? If you're not always there for those who love and need you, I hope you’ll try to find a better balance in your life. As Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Journalist Sydney J. Harris reminds us, “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

I still have to remind myself that I’m the only boss I have and I don’t have to meet my unrealistic deadlines for everything I do. As motivational speaker Michael Altshuler put it, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

First published as a Brabec Bulletin on December 7, 2023.

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