What do an unkempt yard, garden tools, and a timer have in common? The answer… awareness and inspiration. My time pulling weeds and cleaning up garden debris has brought to the forefront of my awareness an obvious addiction I’ve had for years…perhaps my entire adult life. It’s one that is often welcomed in the professional arena. But before my friends and congregants get too concerned about my problem, let me declare it here and now: I’m a workaholic…on the path to recovery.
During the past two years, I’ve focused on two separate careers. Long hours and extensive commuting have been the priority, excluding me from any kind of real life. Now, having left the distant, full-time office job and turning full-time focus to ministry, teaching and writing while working from home, I’m discovering the challenges of creating my day’s schedule, learning to rest without becoming complacent or distracted (staying motivated), and quieting the voice in my head that constantly tells me I’m not doing enough.
Just recently, I literally forced myself to spend an afternoon on the couch, resting after a busy Sunday morning and watching television with my husband. There was work waiting at my desk (there always is) and projects were clearly visible around the house, in the yard, garage, and especially in my office. The whole time I was on the couch, that ugly voice was whispering how lazy I was….that I wasn’t really tired and didn’t need to sit there…that work – any work – was more important than television (no matter what was on)…that I’d pay for it later…and other things that were much more critical and hurtful. Ego will say whatever it can to keep things static, familiar. It was all I could do to force my restless body to stay seated in the recliner.
I have always known how to work. I learned it at an early age and have been rewarded for my efforts. It’s what I do best. Frankly, resting, taking breaks, or relaxing is where the difficulty lies. Take away my opportunity to work on a project, to solve a problem, to meet a deadline, and it’s like taking away the bottle from an alcoholic or drugs from an addict. In the past, given a choice to work or go to some social event, I’d gladly choose work (in my head). Most always I have two or three or more projects going at the same time. My brain never shuts off and is generally focused on work-related topics. I learned I could rest when the work is done, but it never is. I’d start a 12-Step group in my area, but taking on another task would only add to the problem. (Go to Workaholics-Anonymous.org for symptoms of this addiction.)
As I work on my landscape maintenance projects, something I absolutely love doing, it’s become critical for my health to pace myself. I use a timer…and the “power of an hour.” I give myself one hour each morning to play in the dirt – that’s it. Then I consciously talk myself into cleaning up, putting away the garden tools, bagging up the weeds and yard trash, before going on to the next task (it’s quite a conversation!)…where I set the timer again. If I don’t limit my time in this manner, I have been known to work myself into exhaustion – euphoric with what I’ve visibly accomplished, but unable to move a muscle from all the adrenal push and exhaustion. My body needs the physical exercise and movement, but I don’t need to work myself to death. Yes, it appears I’ve reached bottom.
My ego had been fairly quiet these past two years as I pushed myself through an insane schedule and rationalized it was something I had to do. Now, it’s shouting again. Making the choice to focus on one career and a personal life has not been an easy one for me. I’m seeing me in a glaring light of self-awareness. I’m noticing the difficulty in pacing myself through projects, finding balance on a daily basis, and committing to recovery from this obsessive, addictive behavior. I’ve even begun to set the timer for my rest periods or fun activities, too, so I know when I can get back to work. Baby steps…one day at a time.
I’m ready to enjoy life – every bit of it – family, friends, home, hobbies, fun and relation, time for me, and work – each in its own turn. I’m grateful for all the loving support in this recovery endeavor. It’ll be interesting to see who I become through the process. I could go on and on about this, but right now, I’m being called outside to give a six-year-old lessons in tree climbing. See you later.