I suspect that a lot of us are workaholics, and I don't see anyone talking about it. So in case you're curious, here's what it was like going to to a Workaholics Anonymous meeting for the first time.
Why I Showed Up
About a year ago, I seriously burned myself out. At the time I called it time anxiety; basically, I realized that I was mortal and life is short, and I responded by filling my time with as much meaning as possible.
I started creating all the time, and it led to me being unable to just be still without producing. I only felt okay when I was being productive. I had no idea how to relax (honestly, I still don't).
I'm unable to take vacations. When I do, I spend it working on side hustles or otherwise being productive. I can't actually take time to recharge. In fact, the thought of taking a vacation just to decompress makes me very uncomfortable.
But I didn't know I had a problem, because I surround myself people who are much further progressed in their workaholism than me. When I looked at the people around me, working 18 hour days, my 12 hour days felt very reasonable. When I would work one full day on the weekends, I would see others working two, and I would feel like I wasn't doing enough. Even now, typing out 12 hour days in this post, I feel guilty that I don't work more. I feel guilty that I don't work both of my weekend days.
Plus I admire workaholics. Don't we all to some extent? We see the Elon Musks of the world and part of us wants to step up to the plate more. Workaholism is so glorified in our culture, that it's seen as a strength instead of a serious issue.
Being called a workaholic feels aspirational, and I don’t think I’m worthy of the honor. I don’t work enough to win the title.
But that's the point. I never feel like I'm working enough, producing enough, creating enough. I always feel like I'm struggling to keep up in this area. And if that isn't the mark of someone who needs to seek help, then I don't know what is.
And finally, I'm scared to seek help because I'm terrified it will make me less successful. What if it hinders my ability to express myself and create meaning in this world through my creations? What if I stop being me? What if, under the workaholism, there's nothing there that makes me particularly interesting or worth knowing? What if I really only am as valuable as the things I produce?
With quarantine going on, most meetings are online and it was super easy to find a meeting. I just went to the Workaholic's Anonymous 'find a meeting' page and added a zoom meeting to my calendar.
For some reason, I imagined everyone there would be the Silicon Valley VC type, bro-ey dudes with typical tech uniforms and smug but secretly depressed expressions on their faces. But the room I entered was diverse in pretty much every way, with warm smiles and good vibes.
I listened to people share their experiences and so much of it hit home. The 'manic' high I get when I'm overcommitting myself. The inability to be present for activities outside of work. The compulsion to juggle a full time job and a side hustle. The seductive desire to be perfect. The to-do list that never ends. I could see this being a good fit for me.
The meeting wasn't scary, people were really welcoming, and I felt like I was with a group of people who 'saw me' and accepted me. I felt hopeful that maybe someday I can feel relaxed and peaceful but still kick ass; I hope so!
- I just bought The Workaholics Anonymous Book of Recovery and the Workaholics Anonymous Book of Discovery. Curious to see what's in them.
- I'm going to try a couple of different meetings and see if any feel right for me. Like any kind of group, each group has a unique personality, and this one was good but not a 'yes, this is my group' kind of feeling. I'm not sure if I'll go to meetings every single week or mostly rely on the materials I bought to help me figure this out.
I'll keep you posted.
PS- If this resonated with you, follow me on twitter; I post my best articles there. :)