Today’s meditation starts with an anonymous quote: “When I was sixteen, my mother told me that I was expendable and if I didn’t work hard, companies could just get rid of me. I work sixty to seventy hours a week, never take time off, and my husband and I haven’t had a vacation in twelve years. I’m a workaholic, and I love it.” Now, doesn’t that sound like a sad existence? Perhaps sadder is the fact that I relate deeply to that fear of expendability and the subsequent rationale that if I just work hard enough, it might not happen to me. The truth is that we are all replaceable, no matter how hard we work. If we were to fall seriously ill, or die, or move away… our employer would hire someone in our place. It might take a few weeks, but still they would replace us. Is it really worth killing yourself over something as mundane as a job?
On the topic of being expendable, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Whew! Need I say more? This woman has bought the whole package.
Like her, many of us believe that we can control what we perceive as our expendability by making ourselves indispensable. What a sophisticated illusion of control! Obsessive working is different from a passion for our work.
Usually people who are truly passionate about their work are also passionate about their play and their time for themselves. Workaholics are not. We work out of fear and try to convince ourselves that we love it. Fear and self-abuse go together.”
I am starting to realize as a matter of course from the daily practice of reflection and meditation with Anne (she is starting to feel like a friend, to be honest) that much of my anxiety and subsequent behavior are driven by fear. I have been controlled by fear for perhaps my entire life. It is the act of slowly letting go of this fear, bit by bit, that makes me feel at ease, confident in myself, and ultimately unburdened. How draining it is to be controlled by our fears! Fear has lead me to push myself past my breaking point to the point of becoming burned out.
It’s easy to confuse passion and workaholism. Both a person who is passionate about work and a workaholic may put in long hours, show dedication and enthusiasm for their job, and take on new projects and opportunities. The difference, as Anne points out, is that the workaholic allows no time for themselves. No time for anything other than work. The enthusiasm shown by workaholics is usually false as well; we lie to ourselves, saying that we are happy when deep down we are simply afraid of what will happen if we let up even the slightest bit. I have learned firsthand that when we pull back to allow time for ourselves, to live a more balanced life, and create a sustainable workload and pace for ourselves, nothing really happens other than we become happier and more productive. I have not lost respect at work. My performance reviews have not even been affected. Honestly, if an employer has a problem with someone setting healthy boundaries for themselves with respect to work, the employer is the problem as far as I am concerned. As much as we are expendable, so too are the companies that employ us. There are always more jobs out there, some with better benefits, higher pay, or even more enjoyable projects to take on, provided you are a good worker. In the case of workaholics, I think we have nothing to worry about (except, of course, not taking care of ourselves).