The first clue that I was a workaholic was my worsening health. The number on the scale was getting bigger. I started getting aches and pains.
But my health wasn’t the only sign. I was checking my work email in church. My friends stopped inviting me to things. I would hear about bachelor parties that not only was I not invited to but I hadn’t even known about.
You know you’re a workaholic when you feel scorned, and you think the best way to get back at somebody is to work harder. But once you’re willing to admit that you may have a problem, defeating workaholism—like any “-ism”—is a process. Here are the lessons that I’ve learned in my journey to do just that.
1. Understand your “why”
People often say, “I love what I do” and stop at that. But there’s a deeper “why” behind overworking. Workaholics don’t admit they have a problem the way other addicts do. We’re addicted to the sense of control and contribution—that quest for significance and acclaim.
Ask yourself, what’s the real root of your need to impress others? What is this weight of responsibility you feel? Who are you afraid of letting down? Answering these questions might feel like a therapy session, but you can’t fix the problem until you know what the problem is. So take the time to dig deep and understand what is fueling your workaholic nature.
For me, it took a series of micro-moments to break my workaholic ways. Getting married was number one. Then, when my wife got pregnant, I worked harder than ever before: I had the sense of needing to be more responsible, and to me, that meant needing to provide. That was my “why”—and recognizing it was the first step toward finding balance.
2. Find someone to talk to
You need to discuss your behavior and how you can change, but your spouse and your family have suffered enough. I suggest turning to a counselor, which is what I did. Talking with a counselor about my workaholism helped me find strategies to overcome it without dumping all of my stress on family and friends.
If your excuse is that you don’t have time to find people to talk to, that’s more evidence that you might have a problem. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a counselor individually, find a mentor or group of like-minded individuals who understand what you’re going through. Either way, there’s tremendous power in communicating your thoughts out loud.
3. Identify something you’d rather be doing
It’s a lot easier to be a workaholic when you have nothing else to look forward to. But when you have another passion, whether it’s your family, your faith, fitness, or a hobby, work doesn’t seem like the only thing worth your time.
Seeing the amount of work that goes into raising a child changed everything for me. I quickly realized how important it was for us to have meaningful adult conversations. It became our habit to spend a half-hour together before dinner every night. Once that became our routine, working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. was no longer an option.
Let me be clear: Devoting yourself to pursuits outside of work doesn’t mean that you’ll have to stop being a high performer at work. All it means is that you’ll have deadlines. You can’t hit the squash courts, make your yoga class, or meet your buddies for trivia night unless you shut it down by 5 p.m. You might even find that you’re more productive.
4. Put your next vacation on your calendar
First off, take vacations. Second, don’t return from a vacation without having the next one planned. Instead of being a “work hard” lifestyle, try a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle. If you are a recovering workaholic like me, you probably have plenty of vacation time lying around. Use it.
Make sure you’re actually present during your vacations, too. If you’re off the clock, you should also be off your work devices. That means no work phone, no work email, and no work texts. Give yourself the chance to actually recharge.
Recovering from workaholism isn’t easy. Trust me. But it’s even worse to be mentally and emotionally absent. Being a workaholic is inherently selfish; you’re putting your own need to prove yourself, work and work some more, over what your loved ones truly need from you. Don’t stop let it stop you from living a well-rounded life.