Hello, I’m a recovering workaholic

I know it’s been a while since my last post. You know what it’s like. Life gets in the way and I’ve been sooooooo busy. Hang on… where have I heard that before?

As you may have heard, I’m a recovering workaholic. After two too many burnouts, I made the decision this year to take responsibility to and for myself. This year, I started this blog, my own coaching practice and my Masters. I know, I know. It doesn’t sound much like recovery, but I promise, to me, my partner, loved ones and friends, that it IS different this time. How so? Well – let me tell you…

Firstly – is workaholism a thing?

Yep. Different from being a hard worker, an addiction to work can be considered the same as other types of addiction. Beyond just being a hard worker, psychologists like Stephen J. Vodanovich, Chris Piotrowski, Rachel Shifron and Rebekah R. Reysen, explore the physical, cognitive, behavioural, emotional and social consequences of an addiction or compulsion to work.

Here’s the test – next time you’re at a work thing, whether that’s in the office, a social, or doing “one more email/report/phone call/ presentation” at home – do you tell yourself, your friends or family “I just need to get this done.” Need. How about another one? Have you ever cancelled plans with friends and family because of work? Maybe you even lied about it. Guilt. Shame. One of my personal favourites – have you ever resented taking annual leave because it takes more time and energy preparing for your absence and spending three days catching up on ALL the things you didn’t do whilst you were on holiday. Dependency.

You might have heard me say this before – when I was signed off work by doctor and work refused to have me on site, man – that was the hardest. I was heartbroken. Devastated. It took a couple of weeks to deal with that – not the delayed grief of my divorce, which was what I believed was the initial trigger. Withdrawal.

It took me a couple more years before I realised that my relationship with work was crippling me emotionally as well as physically. How did that happen?

Like other types of addiction, there are traps – many traps.

I denied that work was a problem. I told myself that I loved and enjoyed my job. I believed that there would be dire consequences if I didn’t do the things that needed do. I told people that I got more stuff done when there wasn’t anyone else in the office. I told myself that it’ll slow down in a few days/weeks/months/a year or two – I just need to make it until then. As a result, I slept badly, ate badly and relationshipped badly. This in isolation is bad enough but I can’t be the only one to get caught in a weird, unhealthy game of one-up-manship with colleagues after bouts of staying late… can I?

Well – gone are those days!

Which isn’t always easy since my commute mostly consists of five steps from bedroom to the office. I know it doesn’t sound like it – considering my list of new in the introduction – but here’s how I’m maintaining a more balanced approach to work.

Being unashamedly me

As the title of this blog suggests, I’m ambitious. I want to change the world – even if it’s one person and one day at a time. Winding down would just be settling – and I’m not OK with that. I’m happiest when there’s an abundance of activity to satisfy the different Lous. Slowing down or stopping completely will not actually sustain my wellness – so that’s not an option. The caveat is to have a range of activities that nurture and appease all the aspects of me.

Know where it comes from

As part of my recovery, I’m trying to be honest with myself – and allowing me and others to call out my unhelpful bullsh*t. This includes the motivations behind my workaholic behaviours. As a people pleaser, it became too exhausting to try and please everyone. And attracting Fakers became an occupational hazard. Now – I choose who I want to please – and I rank them. You’ll be glad to hear that I am pretty high up on that list! This means that I’ve learnt to say no and not yet to more people.

As someone who has a minor dose of saviour complex, it’s not my job or responsibility to fix or save anyone else. I can help; I can empower, and I can advocate. I cannot take on the world’s evils all by myself, all of the time.

Finally – in the past, when things went wrong, my go-to optimistic statement was “at least I know that I know what’s going on at work”. I know now, that in all aspects of my life, I always have options. There are always some things within my control. I don’t need to use work as an excuse to get lost away, or as a distraction, or to combat loneliness, or to exercise some control at a time where I feel like I don’t.

Know what works for me

When my work addiction was at its peak, I averaged around 70-80 hours a week. It took six months to plan anything social. It resulted in more than a few conversations with my partner and friends about how absent I was. Even when I was physically there, my mind would be working out how to resolve that conflict in the office, or how that would be helpful for my team to learn, or figure out how that would impact our membership.

Protecting my time takes a lot of effort still but that’s more chance to practise! In this space of new projects, it gives me a chance to assess what productivity tools works for me. I use the Most Important Task (MIT) method, which allows me flexibility and more opportunities to be spontaneous, whilst getting my essentials done. Flexibility is important to me so things like the 90-minute focus sessions or the Flowtime Technique really appeals to me and my ambitions. My most favourite productivity tool is the priority axis; on those days where I don’t know which way is up – this is my map.

Making and breaking the rules

My busy brain means that I struggle to jam it into a typical working week. I thrive in busy-ness, on one proviso. Like a vampire waiting at the front door, it has to be invited in. The MIT method above is powerfully effective for me. Instead of setting myself up within a widely recognised work schedule, each day, I pick two or three things that I want to focus on. That’s it. If I’m having a brilliant day, I’ll tick off the additional one or two tasks that were allocated as extras for that day. If more stuff comes off my priority axis – then I’ve wooden-staked it through the metaphorical heart! These get set each day, once I’ve assessed what mood I’m in. This staves off the guilt and, when taking appointments, it prevents me from overbooking. This, and working in blocks, allows me to communicate more clearly with my partner, friends, clients and peers on my focus each day and to move things about as needed, which liberates me from the 9 to 5.

Life shouldn’t be such hard work, and it doesn’t have to be. It does take practise and I might slip up but that’s what being human is about right? But I am trying, and I am learning– and so far, it’s working!

If this article resonates with you – know that you’re not alone and it’s OK to ask for help. Recovery doesn’t happen in isolation. It takes help in many forms, which can include hot beverages and baked goods. Good luck!

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