An Early Resolution

Home from school about six, eat, drag my feet by doing the crossword or reading the paper, then work again.  Asleep by ten, up again at four to finish (or start) more homework, then the gym—early, so I can arrive first in my office, before seven.  Work till six.  Saturday morning in the office, nine to twelve. No office on Sunday, but work, eleven to five, seven to nine.

70 hours. Or so.

The holiday break is coming up.  I’m looking forward to time off.  But I have no idea what I’ll do.  I’m stacking up all the reading I must complete, all the preparation for next semester. Work is my life.  My life is work.  It’s got to stop.

I’m a workaholic, as evasive as every-other-aholic who can list all those other far-worse-aholics and who is trapped in a tiny box he can’t see.  My particular problem is “the respectable addiction,” but that’s just it.

Circumstances always seem to conspire to create addiction.  Coworkers, the only friends I have time for, seem to work as much as I do—often they stay longer at the office, they also work at night, and toil all day Sunday.  Bleary Monday conversations swim in laments about our poor weekend productivity.  There is never enough time to do what must be done.

And I’m still working on homework.  I’ve been at it since I was ten, and, because my son and daughter go to the school where I teach, homework is what we do together.  It’s like the sound of the refrigerator, foot traffic outside our condo, the train rumbling by every seven minutes—ambient.  And life sometimes feels like toiling in twilight, wandering through half sleep, unconscious and busy.

In Japan, working seven days of ten to twelve hours became the norm after World War II, and now they have the word “karoshi” to describe fatal brain and heart ailments connected to overwork.  In the Netherlands, they’ve identified “leisure illness,” a sickness arising when workers try to stop working and relax.

Conflating work and life clearly isn’t healthy. I’ve been meaning to stop for years, but, as any addict would say, so many of us do it and don’t seem to suffer or even mind.  We mind instead that added hours make us less productive.  We mind we’re too tired to accomplish what we hope.  We mind we can’t find more time to be more ambitious and fulfill new tasks we envision for ourselves every   waking   moment.

It’s easy to blame our workplaces.  In the present economic crisis, everyone has to pull his or her weight or land in the street, and, when you do hang on, “organizational efficiency” sometimes means combining three posts for you to do alone.  Yet, while we want to say too much is expected of us, we workaholics are complicit.  We don’t turn down another dose.  We expect more of ourselves.

I hear myself say I enjoy my job—and I do, I love teaching—but I wonder if I might enjoy it more if it weren’t a monastic life.

“Add labor” sometimes feels like my only answer.  I’ve stopped asking if tasks are worth additional effort.  My creativity wanes.  Because I never do enough and see my coworkers do so much—and maybe they feel the same about me—I feel guilty when I’m not working.  I’m lost when I’m not working.  Hours of labor roil like a poisonous meal in my stomach, and I still can’t stop thinking about the plates in front of me.

I’m need to work less.


Filed under Doubt, Education, Essays, Jeremiads, Laments, life, Sturm und Drang, Teaching, Thoughts, Work

3 responses to “An Early Resolution

  1. Lori

    It is an illness. I have no cure. Platitudes about recognizing the illness as a first step, these platitudes will mean little to you because you are as hooked as I am. Here is the problem: imagine an opium den where we all competed for who could reach the most intense high. That is what we have but, strangely, disturbingly, without the pleasure. Is there pleasure in doing what I’m doing now, grading blog posts at 9:00 and dreading the 73 projects coming in tomorrow? When you have an answer, stop by my office. No doubt I’ll be there.

    I have no long-range plan but, first, I’m going to set my hours at something short of 70 and try to stick to them. Then, we’ll see.

    The opium den analogy scares me–some part of being a workaholic is pure competition, and working less makes you feel left out, strange but also conspicuous. That’s frightening at a place that values diligence. Thanks for visiting.

  2. Workaholism still seems so very admirable to me, even as it’s described in the linked articles. Like other addictions, though, when “If it looks good on the outside it must be good on the inside” becomes the rule for life, something’s out of kilter.

    Even as you say you have no idea what you’ll do during the holiday break, you’re making plans to do prep work for the next semester.

    If you truly have no idea, what if you tried scheduling non-work-related, non-solitary, truly absorbing activities with people other than coworkers?

    I have the usual things–the shopping and preparation associated with the holidays–but I am going to rest some. Most of the work I’m doing is reading, which I never mind as much, and planning, which still beats grading.

    Anyway, I’m happy to have a little time to figure out how to spend my time wisely. That’s enough of a break for me.

    I hope you’ll have peaceful break this season. —D

  3. I am not sure it should be labeled an illness, but rather poor life-adjustment strategies which have their origin in a source of familial perfectionism and which are difficult to change without therapy, so ingrained in personality they become.

    One thing I recognize for certain about my own tendency to workaholism – it persists even though I am not employed in the formal economy – i.e. no paid job. It is a pattern of behaviour which has served me over a lifetime, and not always well, and yet, it is behaviour which is comfortable because it is familiar. Even though I have shucked the hair shirt, the itch still persists; without that itch and ability to scratch it I would feel at a loss. pretty sad, eh? G

    It’s the nature of addiction to rely on more of the same. I work harder to find more time to work just as an addict thinks of ways to use more. There must be a level where work is enjoyable and not growing–sustainable, to use everyone’s new favorite word–and I hope to find it.

    I hope you have a good holiday season. —D

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