I have an unhealthy relationship to work.
For as long as I can remember, my connection to work had been all or nothing. There is nothing quite like the sense of working really well on something I think is important. It is like a drug, or alcohol, or sex, or food, or anything else that can be addictive.
Part of my work addiction is that I wanted to be perfect. I expected to be the person who would do what it took to accomplish things, to get results. One of my strengths was being able to work with anyone and handle any situation. I was the go-to guy.
Work is how I controlled my life. By working harder and longer than anyone else, I could turn life into what I wanted it to be.
Work is how I pushed away my own insecurities.
For years, I worked as hard as I could. When I took time off, I would get sick. It was as if I were going through withdrawal.
Work is Important
How we understand work is an important part of our lives, including our spiritual life. We put time and effort into finding the work which draws us into it. Some of us agonize over deciding what work we are going to do. It is common to ask even children about how they want to work when they are adults.
Work is a significant part of our identities. When we introduce ourselves to someone new our work is usually part of the first few sentences we say.
Given the importance of work, how do we give it the priority we want it to have and keep it there? Are there ways to hold our work in a healthy balance with the other aspects of our lives? When work threatens to overflow its banks, how to we protect the rest of our lives from being flooded?
Eventually, finally, I got to the point where I began to open my eyes and see. I generally felt I needed to do more, even though I was already doing all I could.
With a lot of help, I started to change the way I understood work.
Things were put into perspective when I was faced with a difficult, painful choice. I may not have realized it at the time, but I needed to appreciate I could not be perfect.
My initial insight was that being perfect was not much fun. I was doing what was expected of me, what I was supposed to be doing, and not enjoying it. It was not just that I did not do what I wanted to do, but that I did not even think about it.
Real life was breaking my tight grip on trying to be perfect. It was challenging and painful, but I decided to change.
As my life changed I began to feel relief.
Looking for Balance
Many people feel lost when they release their stranglehold on something they believe. I felt that, though I think most of my struggle came before I let go.
For me it was more a question of looking for a new balance. I knew I could not go on living the way I had been living. How would I live now?
Life is more than just work, and work is more than just exceeding expectations.
Work is more than how we pay our bills. We find work which draws us in and calls us to something, which reflects our true selves.
Work is about the spiritual practice of seeking balance. Balance is more than a measurement of how we spend our time. We become balanced as the aspects of our lives are integrated and become harder to differentiate. Our lives are more than collections of 15 minute units. Spiritual life fills us and reminds us we fit together.
Balance is not just keeping everything from hitting the floor. We seek balance to keep us moving, to draw us toward where we want to go.
Recovering, Not Recovered
Now I help other people explore how they relate to work and discover new ways of working in their worlds. There are ways to build a healthy relationship to work, and we build them. Together we take one step at a time.
I am still learning and growing; recovering, not recovered. Each day is a new beginning.
There are still days when I get caught up in my unhealthy relationship. Sometimes I decide to just power through the work, pushing my way toward a result. A little perseverance, determination, and caffeine is all I really need . . .
Balance and recovery require something other than more work. I take time to breathe deeply and remember why I am doing what I do. A few minutes of stillness help me reconnect with spiritual life. Work is too important to allow it to be an addiction.
Being perfect is not as great as it might sound. Perfectionism draws us away from spiritual life, toward death. Situations, challenges, and other people are not obstacles for us to overcome.
We spend our lives exploring and learning from our own actions, not trying to win.
Looking for balance in life is far more healthy and interesting than being obsessed with work.
There is More to Life Than Work
Life is our opportunity to enjoy experiences. We have no guarantee of another chance. Work is a way to gain significant experiences, but there are also many others.
There are times when it is difficult for us to see the difference between work and play.
What experience will you enjoy this week?
When are we hooked on work?
How could we have a healthier relationship to our work?
[Image by FootMassagez]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.