Confessions Of A Workaholic On The Brink

When lunchtime came, it seemed impossible to eat. Not only did I not have time to spare, but I was almost a bit queasy. I took a deep breath and pressed forward. Maybe I would fit in a quick bite in an hour, after checking a couple more things off my task list.

I realized I was fielding messages through email, Skype and text almost simultaneously, slapping those windows down like whack-a-mole as fast as they popped up. Instead of working fluidly on my projects for the day, one then another, I allowed every client’s whim to distract me. Time was passing as the deadline loomed closer, yet my task list seemed to grow instead of shrink.

The shallow breathing and feeling of a weight pressing down on my chest and shoulders were my ultimate clue of what was about to happen. When I couldn’t hold back the tears, I realized I was having an anxiety attack. I was a workaholic on the brink of a vacation.

You Deserve This

My work style is organized preparation — and constant access. I believe in breaking tasks down into manageable steps, for both myself and my clients. It is important that our expectations are aligned and milestones are mapped out.

Communication is my field, but I must admit I would probably work the same way in any industry. Clients and contractors can reach me at any time on any day of the week. Part of how I demonstrate my strict work ethic is to never turn down a job or put off a request.

Communication is my field, but I must admit I would probably work the same way in any industry. Clients and contractors can reach me at any time on any day of the week. Part of how I demonstrate my strict work ethic is to never turn down a job or put off a request.

With this work style, I deserve anxiety — no really! What I forgot to do was apply all I know about scheduling and organizing work to my schedule as an impending vacation loomed. Instead, I indulged in procrastination and denial until my non-negotiable departure time threatened to catch me with an empty suitcase and expired passport.

You deserve this, too!

Vacation is a necessary part of work, creativity, energy, and sanity. In my experience, workaholism is a mental illness created by erroneous assumptions and perpetuated by a quest for superficial status. We think we are more important than we realize and that the world will somehow not continue without our daily toils.

Of course, this crisis is all in our minds. The status of busy has given us the impression that anyone who dares not work for several consecutive days is not worthy of the title, “successful.” Add to that a societal mentality of instant gratification and you understand why clients and bosses think it is okay to make last-minute demands in the spirit of demeaning, while at the same time paying verbal homage to our worthiness of a vacation.

You deserve a vacation. I do. You do. We all do. It is not something you have to earn by serving a certain number of clients or working a particular number of hours. Taking a break from work is not a status reserved for the wealthy or successful alone. Instead, it is a necessary part of a healthy life. And, ultimately, you need health to be successful, anyway.

Based on my recent experience, here are some suggestions for gearing up for vacation:

  • Give clients, colleagues, co-workers as much notice as possible that you will be away from work. Do not be ashamed to notify anyone of your planned absence. Waiting too long will only put you in a more awkward situation.
  • Make a plan for how your responsibilities will be handled in your absence. This step requires letting go of some of your projects. It’s okay to let go. That is part of taking a break from work. Put a plan in place for on-going projects to continue without you, and then, allow the universe to take over.
  • Set up a vacation message on your email and phone. Yes, you need to do this. There is no shame in letting the world know that for a few days, or even a few weeks, you will not be returning calls or reading emails. It is better that people know you are protecting your health and sanity with a little time off than for them to think you are just unorganized or rude in not responding to their inquiries.
  • Turn off notifications on your phone for any type of message that might not be personal. You may be tempted to check email or voicemail, so it is best to remove the temptation entirely. Vacation is both mental and physical. If you are thinking about work, it is not really a vacation.
  • Tell yourself it is going to be okay as you disconnect for your vacation. The world of work will be there when you get back. Whatever it brings, you will handle at the time. No amount of premature anxiety will make it any better. Upon your return, you will be refreshed and able to approach projects with a new perspective.

Like other bad habits, workaholic behaviors tend to resurface when under stress. In the last several years, I have worked conscientiously to amend my behaviors and establish a healthier life. Still, I am not immune from the occasional anxiety attack, and they never happen at a convenient time.

The biggest revelation from my recent vacation breakdown is that I survived. Despite a canceled credit card (I forgot to tell the bank I was traveling,) complicated logistics (hence the 3 am departure,) and delicate family dynamics (if you think I’m wound tight, you should see the rest of the clan,) the vacation was a success!

After several days of being unplugged, I settled into a life of leisure punctuated only by a strict dinner time. Business went on without me, and no clients were harmed in the making of these family vacation memories. I return refreshed and with a new sense of purpose in my business pursuits. My goal now is to get ahead and prepare for the next vacation!

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