Recession Etiquette: A Case Against Workaholism

February 15 2010, 11:20 AM
A few weeks ago, we published an interview with local transition and executive coach John Heckers, who said, among other things, that it's time to say goodbye to 40-hour workweeks and embrace a 60 or 70 hours of work per week if we want to keep our jobs. The post caught the attention of some readers, and I haven't felt comfortable since. The reason? I live the workaholic life Heckers describes, and I'm unhealthy because of it. As a freelance writer and musician who feels pressured by my industries to say "yes" to everything, my workdays start at 7 a.m., and it's an amazing day if my laptop is closed or my rehearsal is wrapped up by 9 p.m. I rarely have a day off, and my idea of a "weekend" is starting with a nice breakfast and then heading right back to my grueling work schedule. After years of living this way, I'm finally trying to change. I am surprisingly used to sitting down with shooting chest pains and shortness of breath. I drink too much whiskey because I think I deserve to after a long day. And these symptoms, combined with an overriding sense of emotional fatigue, point to one thing: I'm burned out. Burning out isn't just getting tired of your work. It's getting tired of yourself. Unless you're saving lives (and frankly, even you folks need a break), there's no job important enough to sacrifice your sense of self. And it disgusts me that fear tactics---more prevalent than ever during a recession---bullied me into thinking I'm completely defined by the amount and type of work I have. I'm lucky because my workaholic tendencies have arisen during a very selfish time of my life. I'm, for a few more months at least, unmarried and childless. But now I'm 30. And while I'm proud of all the work I've done and the businesses I've started, I'm now looking forward to getting to know myself away from my employment accomplishments. I imagine my recent interview won't be the last time you hear from someone who says we have to work ourselves silly to make it through the recession. I just hope we can also manage to survive this economy while keeping our self-worth intact.