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Workaholism: The Acceptable American Addiction

So, as I sit in my PJs on my couch after deciding I can’t handle being sick in bed with a cold and MUST do something productive, I started to wonder:  am I a workaholic?
This habit of mine, of not being able to sit still and using work as a way to stay busy and productive seems like a fairly normal and “healthy” way of passing the time.  After all, when I look around at the people I work with / have worked with historically, it seems like work ethic is the single most important value we can hold.  I’m not sure if it’s a service industry kind of mentality or a general American value.  But I think it has a lot to do with our mainstream knowledge economy mindset:  if we are not producing physical objects, then the value we produce is in ideas and information.  And it’s harder to pimp ideas and prove their value than it is to build something and say “here, you can touch this and it’s worth something”.

Especially in market research and creative services like marketing and advertising (not to say research isn’t creative), I think we are also ego-driven people-pleasers.  We want so much to feel our work is valuable and worthy of our pretty substantial paychecks (compared to a blue-collar wage-earner).  And the thing about ideas and information:  they don’t stop flowing when the five o clock whistle blows.

So, I think we have a hard time shutting off from work-mode and remember to prioritize the other parts of being human sometimes.  You know, things like family, friends, a social life, working out, reading fiction, cooking, etc.  And thanks to our crackberries and iPhones and laptops, we can work anywhere, anytime and are expected to do so by colleagues and clients.  But its’ our fault…we set up these expectations for ourselves.

I find myself constantly riddled with guilt about work:  even If i worked 50 some-odd hours last week, I feel guilty taking a couple of hours on a Tuesday afternoon this week to not “do anything productive”.  When I’m on vacation i have to force myself to lock my iPhone in a drawer and leave my laptop at home.  And when i’m sick, I get depressed because my brain doesn’t have the energy to get work done.  And I worry about letting my coworkers down.
Well, guess what…workaholism is actually a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and counts as an actual addiction.  And because it is directly tied to earning money:  which is the most prominent value in the developed world, it is an acceptable and even “respectable” addiction.  In Japan, they even diagnose deaths by overwork (about 1000 per year, 5% of stroke and heart attack deaths in workers under age 60).

See this article on workaholic addiction:

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=51425

 

And it’s funny, because if you ask around at my work, I’m the one who is always telling people how important it is to manage their time, take vacations and prioritize balance in their lives.  I feel like I try and walk the walk as much as possible too:  i plan my vacations months to a year in advance and make sure i use ALL my vacation days.  I let people know that they can CALL me (not email me, because my iPhone will be locked away somewhere save to check messages every now and then) if there is a “market research emergency” while I am gone (which doesn’t exist).  And I try very hard to prioritize scheduling time with friends and scheduling appointments for workouts, etc.  But I still check my email last thing before I go to bed and first thing when I wake up in the morning.  And even though i probably produce more content and actual work-value in 8 hours than a lot of people do in 2 days (not being a douche, it’s just true.  My brain works at a freakish super-speed), I still have pangs of guilt when my time sheet only adds up to a standard 40 hour workweek, when I know other colleagues are putting in 60 hours (and complaining / bragging about it to prove their commitment).

So, today is the day I  actually use my “sick” time to think about my health.  And being the Narcissistic workaholic, I felt that my blog was the perfect outlet to focus that effort.

And as they say in the 12 step programs:  the first step is admitting you have a problem.

So, now that I have publicly declared myself-awareness, I thought I would share some other resources that I found valuable in my search for affirmation and sanity:

How do you know if you YOU are a workaholic?  Check out this informative article on Yahoo Health:

http://health.yahoo.net/experts/allinyourmind/6-signs-you-may-be-workaholic

And what are some tips for  modifying  your crazy addictive behavior?  Here is a recent feature on CNN.com  about switching off work:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/12/opinion/switch-off-work-dorf/index.html

And thank you, my anonymous readers for indulging my narcissism for yet another day.  Although I have to say, from an Anthropological perspective, I can think of nothing more fascinating than a culturally created addiction.    I wonder if other species get addicted to their work.  Now the DayQuill has visions of neurotic beavers with high rise wooden-damns dancing in my congested head….

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Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Corporate Culture, Participant Observation, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Workaholism: The Acceptable American Addiction

  1. jamesroom964x

    Wow, it was very strange coming across your blog, because I’ve been writing and thinking about almost exactly these same issues. I think your point about the knowledge economy is spot on. Our ideas follow us home from work, and lots of times I find myself unable to stop thinking about work ideas. They have a way of burrowing into my mind. We definitely have a culture that glorifies work to the exclusion of all else sometimes, but it makes me wonder, what are we excluding, what are we missing out on, outside of work?

  2. Pingback: “Kids These Days”: A Peek Into James’ Room and His Brain « The Narcissistic Anthropologist

  3. Pingback: Workaholics Uncovered…… People who enjoy their work ??? « BECAUSE

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