I was shocked to recently discover that, without even really noticing, I had somehow become a workaholic. I used to be a normal person who clocked out of my job at five and didn't think about it again until my alarm went off at seven the next day (unless I was complaining about it over happy hour). But over the past few years, as I transitioned into work that I really enjoyed and cared about, I slowly came to realize that I was now totally — and pretty happily — consumed by my job.
I, the former life of any party (even parties that I had not actually been invited to) was checking her phone during raunchy sex conversations at the bar to see if I'd gotten a reply about that invoice email I sent earlier; I was now burning the midnight oil not because I was hooking up with some guy who possibly lived in his van, but because I was joyfully tweaking a work project until the wee hours of the morning. I had met a new love, and she was insinuating herself into every possible area of my life. My friends didn't necessarily care for her, but they made their peace and set a place for her at their dinner parties: sweet Lady Workahol (and her sidekick, Constantly Beeping Phone) were now in my life to stay.
There's a lot of bad press out there about workaholics — that we're a nightmare to date (OK, sorta true sometimes); that we're only semi-emotionally-present much of the time at social gatherings (maybe); that we turn our every life experience into fuel for another career project (ugh, OK FINE). And I realize that many folks out there use workaholism as a form of socially approved self-destruction, a way to retreat from their own dissatisfying lives that won't get them sent to rehab or the courthouse.
But we workaholics are more than just emotionally distant menaces to society. I mean, we may be that, too, but we're also people lucky enough to have found work that we love, in a world where 70 percent of people hate their jobs; we're people blessed to have found a way to make the things we care about most a part of our daily lives; we're people focused enough to actually chase after our dreams, even if it leads to some personal discord in the short term (spoiler alert: actually going after your dreams hard enough to achieve them will always lead to some personal discord in the short term).
And despite many dire warnings that workaholism is a "serious problem," being a workaholic can also help you feel happier, more satisfied with your life, and even lead to becoming a better partner (sometimes). Some nit-picky research would call us happy workaholics "high performers," to differentiate us from the folks who work late hours just to avoid our bad relationships or otherwise empty lives; but I think it's time to take the "workaholic" label back. Because I've been on the other side, too, and I believer that being obsessed with and psyched about your job is way better than just sitting around, waiting to punch the clock.
So read on, and discover the seven reasons that being a workaholic is actually awesome (you're reading this on your phone while answering emails on the elliptical right now, aren't you?).
1. You've Learned That You Can Manage (And Even Kick Ass) Through Terrible Situations
Operating on four hours of sleep a night for a month to get an important project on line? Done it. Worked 20 hour days before a big launch? Done it. You've pushed your limits, and know you're capable of stuff that sounded impossible until you did it. And not only were you capable, you actually did an amazing job. Who knows what else you could do? Pilot one of those little sail boats around the world? Bend spoons with your mind? Complete a few impossible-seeming all nighters, and you'll start to wonder if the true limits of your abilities lie much farther than you ever imagined.
2. You've Worked Incredibly Hard On Things That You're Incredibly Proud Of
Creating anything that you're incredibly proud of — be it a business or a baby or a novel — requires a degree of obsession and withdrawal from polite society that will look freaky to the casual observer. But you know that the end results were worth whatever temporary social hiccups that it caused, and that you're privileged to have helped create something totally amazing.
3. You Feel Like You're Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
In adulthood, it's rare to find another community of adults single-mindedly obsessed with a common goal. Everyone wanted to stay up until 3 a.m. talking about Camus in college, but as grown-ups, we're usually lucky to find someone who has the energy to engage us in 30 minutes of sustained conversation about The Bachelor. Being a workaholic provides you with a community of similarly obsessive adults, all of whom are obsessing over the same things that you are. It's pretty damned great (and usually at least half as entertaining as The Bachelor).
4. You Look at the World Through the Filter of Your Job, But Not In A Bad Way
A pernicious lie about workaholics is that we view all time outside of the office as wasted time. We don't think everything outside the office sucks; we're just so jazzed about the things going on inside the office, that we're thinking about them even when we're outside, and we get inspired for new work ideas by the stuff in the outside world. So it's not that we're disengaged from the present moment; we're just simultaneously connecting the dots from the present month into a future work project that this will be relevant to.
5. You Can Actually Be a Stable, Supportive Partner
Yes, any relationship you enter into with a workaholic ends up kind of being a menage a trois with our phones. But because we understand both how much our work means to us and how it in no way impacts how much we love you, we workaholics support your work and dreams unconditionally, too; we don't pout when you dreams take you to Bolivia or an artist's colony upstate for the month, because we know that chasing your dreams doesn't mean that you love us any less.
Now, granted, some people's dreams mostly revolve around spending a lot of quality time around their s.o., and we deliver a little bit less reliably in this department; but if you respect our work, and our relationship to it, we'll work to make you happy as if your personal satisfaction were a hard shipping deadline we had to meet.
6. You Feel In Control of Your Life
OK, fine, you don't feel quite that in control of your life on those days when you're sleeping four hours a night to meet a deadline. But the rest of the time, you can look at your life, and know that this is the existence you chose for yourself, not something that you fell into and are just sticking out until you can come up with something better. And that feels pretty damned good (and is totally worth the occasional disrupted sleep schedule).
7. When Times Get Tough, We Have a Healthier Obsession to Get Lost In Than Booze, Drugs, or Internet Shopping
Lots of negative press about workaholism compares it to alcohol or drug addiction — in the words of one Huffington Post article, all three of those conditions are about "compulsively engaging in behavior that is ultimately destructive." But when I ran into some difficult personal times a few years ago — when family troubles, friendship troubles, and day job troubles converged in my life in a way that made me hesitant to get out of bed in the morning— I was glad to have work to get lost in.
Even the emotionally healthiest among us sometimes have feelings that we need to suppress for a little while, just because we can't process them at right that moment; and work presents a way to table those feelings that won't end in barfing, rehab, or a credit card bill that you're going to spend the next decade trying to dig yourself out of. Yes, it would be great if we were enlightened beings who never had to suppress a single feeling; but since we're not, I'm glad that when things get bleak, and I'm not sure how I'm going to make it through the day, I know that there are spreadsheets with my name on them, waiting to take the pain away.