I don’t have a problem.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to say. Easy to say because this is America, where hard work (note that it’s “hard” work, not “easy” work) is not just rewarded, it’s canonized. Easy to say because “all my friends do it.” Easy to say because people all around you would kill to have your career, so you should be grateful. Easy to say because IT WORKS.
Writing is my job. No one supports me—I do this for a living. And I do make a living at it, which all my life I was told couldn’t happen. Well, I’ve made it work for pretty much my whole adult life.
So I never thought I had a problem. Why should I think that? In Hollywood, workaholism is the job description. You better love it, want it, because you’re going to be doing it every waking hour, and by the way, who told you you needed eight hours of sleep? Workaholism is the standard for Los Angeles; ambitious people from all over the country, all over the world, come here since to “make it” and that’s created a whole culture of ambition—and workaholism. I’ve been immersed in it so long it was the only thing I knew. It was a huge shock to live in the South and be surrounded by people who didn’t live that way; I felt like I was set on 78 rpm while almost everyone else was on 45.
And writing is one of those things that you can never fully turn off, anyway. Maybe it IS just the job description.
Add to that that given the recession, we’re ALL working too much. All of us who are lucky enough to have jobs, that is, and with so many people who don’t, it’s the last thing you’re going to complain about. All my friends with “real” jobs are working harder than ever before because staffs have been cut everywhere and the staff that remains is expected to pick up the slack. And hey, at least it’s a job. So given the national (world) circumstances, it’s crazy to even bring up the question. Isn’t it?
Is there such a thing as workaholism, anyway? It’s not in the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (a crime writer’s favorite light reading), like the other isms. There may be treatment centers for it in California, but then we also have treatment centers for workaholic pets. If you see what I mean.
So – iit’s a time that no one can complain about working, all my friends do it, and it works.
And yet… I think I have a problem.
I don’t know what exactly to do about it. You can stop alcohol and pills and gambling and Internet porn. You can reprogram food binging. You can’t quit work cold turkey.
But I’m not naive about treatment for this things. I was a functioning anorexic for a while (another “ism” that’s easy to dismiss if you’re rewarded for it). Never to the point of hospitalization, but certainly flirting with the deep end.
So how did I get out of it? I didn’t seek treatment, but it was about that time that I started practicing yoga and meditation (which I didn’t know at the time is considered one of the most effective treatments for anorexia), and some in-depth journaling (therapeutic writing instead of professional writing). The obsession faded, maybe to be replaced with work – although the work was already there.
So I know the treatment for balance is more yoga, more meditation, more “self-care”, as a therapist would say.
This is all coming up because I’ve been working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, as I mentioned in the discussion here on Monday. I’d been aware of Cameron’s creativity books and workshops for years, but I never knew that she used principles of recovery to break through creative blocks. There’s some serious healing to be had in that book.
And this week I got to a chapter on workaholism (and other blocks to creativity). Well, I’d been with the program up until then, but workaholism as a block to creativity? That does’t even make sense.
She poses a list of questions entiled The Awful Truth which begins:
1. Tell the truth. What habit do you have that gets in the way of your creativity?
I read that and scoffed. Is she kidding? I’m creative 12 hours a day. I have so many creative projects going I can’t keep them straight. I have four book contracts, two spec books, I’ve got the first book up in my new e-book business, I’ll have the second up next week….
2. Tell the truth. What do you think might be a problem? It is.
Okay, so my problem is overextension. Yes, it is a problem.
3. What do you plan to do about the habit or problem?
So here we are. I can’t stop working, and I have no idea what I am going to do about the problem, but I have taken the first step. I’ve admitted I have a problem.
And my question is (Tell the truth:) Do you?
Here’s an interesting tidbit for discussion. Professor Bryan Robinson, a major researcher in this field, identifies four kinds of workaholics:
– Savoring Workaholics, (low work initiation, low work completion, high procrastination)
– Attention Deficit Workaholics (high work initiation, low work completion, high procrastination)
– Bulimic Workaholics (high work completion)
– Relentless Workaholics (high work completion).
I haven’t been able to find more complete definitions, but certainly I am familiar with the low work completion/high work completion gap. Busyness is not working, as far as I’m concerned; the only work that counts is the work that gets finished. So I’m definitely not one of the first two. I can’t figure out what a Bulimic workaholic would be, which maybe means I am one, but I think relentless is more apt.
Anyway, thought I’d throw that in there.
But what do you guys think? Is workaholism just part of a writer’s job description, or a serious behavioral dysfunction? Is it a problem, but better than the alternative? Is it okay as long as it works?
Anyone out there have anything to confess?
And even if none of this applies to you, do you think that we’re quietly headed for a national problem because the recession is forcing all working people to overwork?