There are far too many executives and professionals consistently working 60 hours or more a week, which is shortsighted in the extreme.
The key word here is “consistently.” All successful people work long days and weeks; but the most effective do so only in extraordinary circumstances. It’s consistently working extra hours because of unbridled ambition, lack of confidence, or trying to keep up with the Joneses that constitutes myopia.
In the long run the most effective professionals and executives are those with appropriately-balanced life styles. On the other hand, workaholics tend eventually to become narrow-minded, burnt-out, unhappy, insensitive people who come nowhere near reaching their potential; the exact opposite result that they were seeing down the road.
Although hard work and dedication are necessary to succeed, no amount of success at the office can compensate for failure at home. Anyone who consistently chooses work over attending a child’s special event, a bridge game with friends, or even a quiet evening at home with a glass of fine wine and a favourite DVD, is heading for trouble – or worse, is already in trouble.
Your career should never be your primary source of self-esteem. Career satisfaction should provide one source of your self-esteem (otherwise you’re in the wrong job), but it should never be more important than the satisfaction of being a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend, a good neighbour, a good person to share a laugh with, or, when required, a good person to share a tear with. People who base all their values on their work are setting themselves up for problems later on.
Nor should your work ever be your sole passion. Everyone needs outside interests that they feel strongly about and on which they regularly spend time. It’s all the better if one of the interests is a hobby that requires the development and application of a non-work-related skill, such as painting, woodworking or playing a musical instrument. The narrowly-focused workaholic is never as happy as the person with a number of varied interests. The person whose only tool is a hammer tends to treat everything like a nail.
Never let your work become the touchstone of your identification. As puffed up as you might feel when you’re introduced as “the main cog in our sales and marketing machinery,” it should be much more satisfying to be introduced as “Sarah’s dad”, “Mitchell’s mom” or “the person who organizes the kids’ soccer on Saturdays.” It’s a major mistake to look solely to your job for fundamental emotional gratifications that are better provided by family, outside interests and friends.
Indeed, your fundamental emotional gratifications should never depend on one relationship – especially if that one relationship is where you work. Your colleagues may be wonderful people to be around, but they should never be surrogates for your family and friends. If you’re dependent on one relationship for your fundamental emotional gratifications, what happens if you lose that relationship?
I’ve known too many burnt-out, unhappy executives and professionals whose health, family, and personal relationships have suffered unnecessarily, and often irreparably, to ever believe that being a workaholic is anything other than shortsighted. There’ve probably been people who worked themselves into an early grave –a tough justification for that monster house and second car for which their widows no longer have any use.
If you’re suffering from this particular form of myopia you should take the following steps. First, you and your family should have a serious discussion about your collective priorities. Then you need to talk to your superiors at work about the problem and possible solutions. Finally, you have to decide the actions you’re willing to take, some of which may be gut-wrenching, such as lowering your standard of living, leaving your current place of employment, or even changing your vocation.
On the positive side, it’s likely that the necessary actions aren’t as damaging as first imagined. When you and your family realistically assess your situation you’ll likely find that, if necessary, you can all actually be content with a reduced standard of living that is offset by increased quality time together. You’ll probably find that your superiors will be more understanding than you ever thought possible (if they aren’t, then they’re also myopic, which should tell you something about the choices you have to make).
The results of taking action against workalcoholism are always better than anticipated, and the results of not taking action are always worse than expected. If you don’t see this it’s definitely time for a vision check.