What will really matter to you when you are dying? Will you have regrets?
After caring for dying people for years, Bronnie Ware captured their feelings in her memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Their second-most common regret: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
And their other top regrets reinforced those feelings: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” and “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business. (Paul Tsongas)
Work as an Addiction
Working hard is a good thing, but can people become Addicted to work? Google “workaholism” or “work addiction” and look at the number of research studies, papers, and books that pop up.
It becomes a problem when you work—at least partly—for the wrong reasons, it creates harmful consequences, you have some choice in your schedule, and you have tried to change but can’t.
Psychology Today estimates that work addiction among Americans is 10% and acknowledges estimates that are as high as 15%-25%. (“Work Addiction and Workaholism” in Psychology Today)
But workaholism is different from other addictions, because work is …
- Always accessible – In today’s digital world, you can often work anywhere and anytime.
- A constant temptation – You are required to work every day, so you are constantly exposed to it. Just think if an alcoholic had to sit around in a bar for 8 hours a day!
- Easy to rationalize – On its own, work is good. It brings income, helps your company, and accomplishes goals. Convincing yourself that working excessively is okay is not hard to do.
It seems we must go deeper to figure out what we should do about being addicted to work.
When is Work an Addiction?
Work becomes an addiction when you regularly work either excessively or compulsively:
- Working excessively:
- You sacrifice other activities and relationships to work.
- People ask you to cut back at work, but you don’t listen.
- Excessive hours at work have become the norm and are no longer limited to special projects.
- Working compulsively:
- You find your identity in your work, and you depend on your accomplishments to gain approval.
- You have a hard time enjoying time away from work.
- You work to escape from unpleasant emotions.
Foundations Recovery Network cites even more symptoms of workaholism as including approval-seeking, low self-esteem, control issues, perfectionism, and even lying.
And if you find yourself turning to other addictions—alcohol, pills, stimulants—to help deal with the effects of overwork, you’re only compounding the problem.
Addiction to work is a kind of psychosocial problem that is characterized by two primary features – working excessively and working compulsively. (“Work Addiction Defined” in PsychCentral)
Work as an Idol
I had the pleasure to see Tim Keller speak last week, and that inspired this week’s blog. He helped us understand that an idol is something we can’t do without that becomes part of our identity.
Many modern people seek a kind of salvation – self-esteem and self-worth – from career success. This leads us to seek only high-paying, high-status jobs, and to ‘worship’ them in perverse ways. (Tim Keller in Every Good Endeavor)
According to Keller, what are possible problems when work is an idol? You become:
- Subject to workaholism – You don’t heed warnings about the harm of working too much.
- Whiplashed between arrogance and self-hatred – When work is your identity, success goes to your head, and failure becomes catastrophe.
- Susceptible to dishonesty – You rationalize what you are doing to achieve your goals.
- Unable to handle criticism – You make the quality of your work the measure of your worth.
- Not generous – Because you can’t give away that which defines your identity.
- Willing to take jobs that don’t fit your gifts – Because you take them for the wrong reason.
It means imagining and trusting anything to deliver the control, security, significance, satisfaction, and beauty that only the real God can give. It means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. (Tim Keller in Every Great Endeavor)
How Can We Get Better?
Work becomes an addiction when you do it for the wrong reasons, you are compulsive, it has negative consequences, and you find it hard to stop. But there are things you can do to get better:
- Increase your self-awareness – Examine more deeply why you work as much as you do. Deep inside, is it pride or ego, or perhaps fear or insecurity, that’s behind that compulsion?
- Identify your priorities – Write down the things that are most important in your life. Include work, but also consider your spouse, kids, friends, health, hobbies, personal development, spiritual life, serving others, and your health. Then, write down how much time you spend each week on those activities. Is the way you spend your time in line with your priorities?
- Count the cost – What are the negative consequences of how much you work? Think about that at a deeper level, e.g. are you present for your spouse and kids? Or are you gone most of the time, working on your laptop at home, and stressed even when you’re not working?
- Evaluate your trajectory – “Play the tape forward” on your behavior and think about what the long-term consequences will be. Is that what you want the rest of your life to be like? What impact are you making in areas that matter? What will be the legacy you leave behind?
- Commit to make adjustments – Thinking long term, set boundaries on your work. Block out times on your calendar for the other key activities in your life. Then, tell at least one other person your commitments and ask them to help hold you accountable.
Finally, consider if work has become an idol for you.
Based on how you approach your job, where do you really put your trust? In God, or in your work and the status, approval, power, and money that come with it?
Think deeply about it. Because there’s good reason why it’s the first of the Ten Commandments.
You shall have no other Gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)
Question: What idols do you have that affect your relationship with God.
Action: Commit to 1 thing you can do to keep from becoming addicted to work.
Photo by garryknight Photo by herval Photo by Pjotr Savitski
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