How I Stopped Being a Workaholic (and Realized Why I Started)

woman looking at screen biting pencil



Most of my life I’ve believed that love is something you have to earn.

Thinking I was making myself lovable, I turned into the reliable, responsible one. I was “the one who works so hard.” For a while, it felt like it was working. Friends, family, and employers often praised and respected me for my strong work ethic.

Nice. Or was it?

Of course, my work had become a substitute for believing that I could be loved and accepted for who I was. It had become my safe place, and I was blind to the fact that I didn’t know when to stop working. 

The Compassion of Teachers

So there I was, stuck in a cycle of workaholism and dreading downtime because it didn’t fill the void. And I couldn’t see the problem. My teachers Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat saw what was happening, though. They would compassionately interrupt me in the thick of my busy-ness and pull me out of it, something my colleagues may have been afraid to do because I’d built such a strong wall around myself.

So, while every cell in my body was telling me to keep going, Doug and Catherine would simply suggest I lie down on the couch and do nothing for ten minutes. Aaaah! I thought they were insane. There was so much to do! In disbelief and abject resistance, I eventually lay down and experienced ten minutes… of sheer hell. 

It all flooded in, everything my “work ethic” had been keeping at bay, like feelings of unworthiness and a lack of trust that my friends and colleagues would take care of what needed to be done. Suddenly, insecurities I dared not feel or name were pushed into awareness. I saw how I believed that I wasn’t as spiritually aware as my friends, how I lacked discernment, wasn’t good enough, thin enough, or smart enough. I had to compensate by working extra hard. I needed to be needed and I prided myself on being responsible, to everyone else except myself. It all came up and I began to see that I had forgotten how to play, how to do enough without overdoing it, all the time.

The Heart of the Path

It takes immense courage to interrupt our patterns. At the time, it feels wrong and downright annoying. And this gets right to the heart of spiritual progress and aspiration – do I want to, and can I, interrupt habits that no longer serve me?

For me, the comedown from overworking was exposing all my insecurities. Although I’d had the courage to open the box, I was still under the influence of poor thinking and a big part of me wanted to put back the lid. I thought that I was unlovable and it felt like something was wrong all the time, something wrong with me. Work couldn’t fix it anymore. I just had to get comfortable with the discomfort and, with time, I saw that I was finally in a place where I could begin to take care of myself. Where I could open more doors and allow others to give to me. Where I could receive and fill my being. 

How did I work with it? Basically I was willing to listen to my teachers, those more experienced than me who could see I was lost and struggling. I began to hear others who cared about me and I began setting boundaries. It’s a process and we all start somewhere.

So Start Small and Start Today:

  • Begin setting boundaries for when you start, take breaks, and stop. This is a simple and effective way to interrupt the runaway train of workaholism. Tools like timers and pre-planned break activities go a long way. 
  • Plan something nourishing to look forward to. Quality time with yourself and dear ones allows for more intimacy and range of experience in your life.
  • Ask your friends to help. This is a way to build trust, allies, and strength. Our secrets and bad habits thrive in isolation. When we bring them out into view for ourselves and others to see, they lose their power over us. 

When we treat our life as a game (in a good way), we can remember that all games have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We set or negotiate the rules and it’s up to us how, when, and what we play. I’ve learnt that my time to play is non-negotiable. The cool thing is I’m having fun turning my life into an adventure, discovering the intersection of work, play, and love. Life now seems to have more flow and synchronicities.

Cleaning up my relationship with work has opened up new possibilities. What’s changed? Basically me and my approach to life – I’m more fun, and therefore so is life!

Edited by Andrew Rogers and Ava MacLean

Photo Credit: JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash