Monday, February 26, 2007

The Workaholic Burnout Culture

Hello. My name is Josh. And I am a workaholic.

Those words have been uttered by me since I was 13 years old. I preferred work over school, work over relationships, and work over fun. At 13, I was working, literally, 80 hours a week in the summers. In college, I had not one, not two, but three jobs, simultaneously. In retrospect, it seems fated that I would be drawn to Silicon Valley, where we have made an art form of transforming our social lives into our work lives...and feeling content with it.

It never used to be this way. Sure we had the distorted view of the nuclear family, replete with images of "Leave It To Beaver" bliss. But remember the influx of happy hours, which fortified the men (since that was who was primarily working) for their familial obligations? As time went one, the happy hours went away, and the Blackberry took its place.

The ultimate distortion of this came when I worked for Inktomi. Great company, great people. The culture was summed up in one phrase: "Work Hard, Play Hard." And the line between the two was obliterated. Yes, the dotcom culture made money an object of the past: we were free to buy anything we wanted, so we molded our work around what we found as fun. And y'know what? It worked. That is, it worked...until the bubble burst, and the party was over.

Now, we have all somehow convinced ourselves that it's ok for work to blend with home. If you don't check your emails constantly, you are perceived to be slacking. Worse, the concept of not checking your emails at least once every 10 minutes is considered...alien. Why would you want to be out of touch for that long?

I say this as a workholic. It's not a proud badge of puritanical fortitude. It's an illness. I'm not talking about the occasional late night to get a project done. I'm talking about the sacrificing of the quality of our lives for the bizarre concept that we need to work harder. Well, I am not alone. Jay has a list of tips for how to leave work at work, and, while I have been trying some of them, I confess I need to do a lot more.

Unless you're Buddhist, remember: we all have one turn on this ride. The quality of our lives is determined not by how much we work, but how much we enjoy those lives. I'm Josh, and I am a workaholic. But today I came home, and did not check email from work. That's one day sober, and tomorrow is another day. I won't always stay on that wagon, but I'm passionate enough to know I can throw myself 100% into my work...and let it stay there.

Let's all learn from Jay.

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