Why I Stopped Being a Workaholic

21 Jan

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on

Wrist Watch

I began my social change career 4 months ago and I love it. On any given day, I could stay at work until 7 or 8pm and be perfectly happy. Maybe I just haven’t been working long enough, but it’s hard to leave. My job is fun and meaningful, and I enjoy who I work with.

So if I enjoy work so much, why have I started giving myself a hard stop at 5:30pm?

Last month I woke up on a Saturday morning anxious and frustrated. I had no idea what to do. I’m the kind of person who needs a schedule, a plan or a project. So I sat there and asked myself, “What can I do today?” I wasn’t in the middle of any personal projects or good books, and didn’t have anything planned with friends or family. I couldn’t think of anything to do, but work.

So that’s what I did and it felt pretty good. I got a lot done. It didn’t dawn on me until the following night that there were other things I wanted to do with my weekend! I wanted to start a book. I wanted to go for a long bike ride. I wanted to play my harmonica. I wanted to start teaching myself how to code. And it was Sunday night!

I can’t speak to burnout or feelings of martyrdom in my impact career but what I have experienced so far is a serious imbalance in my life. It’s not because I have an overly demanding boss or am at a dead end or no life outside of work. It’s because I like my job, a lot.

When people talk about martydom in impact related work, it sounds to me like some kind of requirement or obligation. But in reality, I don’t think many of us work too much because we’re forced to. I think we do it because we enjoy our work. The more we enjoy our work, the harder it is to let ourselves do other things.

It’s easy to prioritize our job over everything else we enjoy because we tell ourselves it’s the ideal combination of impact and personal sustainability. We make money to advance a cause we care about. But a critical element of sustainability is diversity which means focusing on more than one thing with our waking hours. In order to perform our best and continue to enjoy what we do, we need time to try new and different things. We need opportunities for reflection and play.

When it comes to our time, we fill the cup we have – at least that’s what I do. Yes, I like my job, but I like doing other things too. If I don’t give myself the time and permission to do them throughout the week, I’ll fill my time with one thing – work.  Then after a while maybe I will get burnt out. Maybe then I’ll feel like I’m at a dead end and have no life.

After my weekend realization, I’ve decided to pursue one daily balancing goal each week. I make it part of my routine. To start, I committed to getting 7 hours of sleep a night. Then the next week I added exercising. Then I added 30 minutes of reading something unrelated to work. Now I’m finding weekend activities so I’m not tempted to start working.

I don’t claim to have a balanced life, but I now have projects I’m working on and goals I’m trying to achieve outside of work. It feels good. Sometimes I get a little anxious about not working as much or back slide a little on my balancing goals, but overall I feel more refreshed, more motivated, and more fulfilled.

For me, building a routine is working really well. What kinds of strategies do you use to foster balance in your life?

photo credit: anarchy-kind

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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in Living 2.0


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