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Being a workaholic is not cool

I was on a business trip to Melbourne recently. It was a crazy one week trip flying from a bitterly cold -6c in Amsterdam, to a steamy 28c for the tail end of the Australian summer. The weather was glorious. The jet lag was intense.

The trip wasn’t taken alone. I travelled with a colleague, a super smart digital marketer who happily shares the same sense of humour, politics, and passion for what we do. It was kind of like a real-life Airport Test, where we were forced to spend a week together. Flights, apartment, long days, and meals in the evening. It’s a positive sign for a team if you can do that without hating each other.

Sometime during dinner on the third day, we were tucking into an amazing Aussie steak, and he paused for a second and asked, “Are you a workaholic?”

I looked at him thinking about the 5am emails I had sent that morning, and said “Yes, I probably am. Why do you ask?”

He laughed and said, “I just wanted to check if you knew.”

At the time it was a joke, a moment of dark humour to make light of the intensity and excitement of  the trip. Later I was talking to my wife, who had just dropped the kids off at school and was doing chores around the house. She was feeling abandoned and like I was prioritising work over her, the children, and our chance for a happy life. Suddenly being a workaholic wasn’t funny anymore.

The thing is that the zeitgeist of our culture celebrates the endless pursuit of success, through “crushing it” and grinding it out. Anything else is mediocre. Gary Vaynerchuck, author, social media guru, and entrepreneur posts inspirational messages like “Fuck Friday”, “If you’re living for the weekend your shit is broken”. It’s meant to be motivational, but I can’t help hearing it as the drum beat of modern slavery.

I am not blaming culture for my work habits. It’s all me and the choices I make to be successful, or at least my definition of success. It’s not for everybody. What is absolutely true, if there are any absolute truths, is that being a workaholic is buying into the capitalist dream and proving Marx right.

Speaking of Karl Marx, he had some good things to say about the conditions that create the need to “hustle”:

“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”

Like any addiction or ‘*olicism’, being a workaholic is motivated by many different factors: perfection, achievement, and disturbingly, narcissism. Regardless of the motivations, studies have shown that there is no correlation between being a workaholic and succeeding at work. Not only do workaholics experience increased stress and burnout, they have lower life satisfaction that those who work normal hours (whatever they are).

So the answer is clear. Put the computer away. Leave the phone at home. Live life.

And don’t be a robot.

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