Yes, I'm A Workaholic...
And I'm Happy About It!
The first time someone called me a “workaholic”, I took it as a compliment!
I mean, I do enjoy working – in fact, it’s probably my favorite activity. Plus, not only is working hard enjoyable, I consider it to be a virtue. And not only is hard work a personal virtue, it’s also a civic virtue. In fact, hard work may well be the cardinal civic virtue. If you want to improve the lot of humanity across the globe, there is probably nothing you can do that will have a more lasting positive impact than working hard during your own lifetime.
Of course, I eventually learned that most people consider the word “workaholic” to be a negative term. In the minds of many people, work has taken on such a negative connotation that they decide that those who love to work must be suffering from some type of addiction. How strange this seems to me!
Yes, I’m sure that there are some people who use “work” as an avoidance mechanism – those people could be said to suffer from an “addiction”, I suppose. However, in my observation, those type of negative workaholics are far, far outnumbered by what I will call “goof-off-aholics”, people who go to great lengths to avoid work. I suspect that far more lives and families have been ruined by the antics of goof-off-aholics than by the activities of workaholics.
Of course, part of the confusion is that the term “workaholic” is vaguely defined. Check out the article, “So What If You Are a Happy Workaholic?” on LinkedIn Pulse (there is some good writing being done over there, by the way). The author of that article identifies four categories of business executives based on the concept of work/personal life “balance”:
“We observed four types of executives: The Poster Child for Work/Life Integration is one who places high value on both work and personal life more-or-less equally and arranges his life accordingly. Then there’s the Happy Workaholic, who values work entirely and invests wholeheartedly in it. The Unhappy Workaholic invests extraordinary amounts of time and energy in work but would rather be more involved at home or in the community. Finally, there’s the Unhappily Balanced type of executive, compelled by social pressures to have (or seem to have) a balanced lifestyle but who would rather be focused on work.”
“Balance” is a bit like “fairness” – it’s highly subjective. It strikes me that both the Poster Child and the Happy Workaholic consider their lives to be “balanced” based on which each values. And, indeed, the author of the Pulse article seems to confirm this conclusion:
“We found that both the Happy Workaholic and the Poster Child can effectively foster employee well-being and high-performing organizations. Both these types know what they truly care about and devote their attention and activity to following their passions. They live authentically, they know how important it is to live according to one’s values and passions and that’s what they model for their employees.”
I would definitely label myself as a Happy Workaholic, and I've generally tried to fill my start-ups with as many Happy Workaholics as I could afford to hire. The magic of being a Happy Workaholic is that it naturally leads to a “balanced” life in the sense that Happy Workaholics eventually learn that hard work over the course of a lifetime can only be sustained through good habits. And good habits include keeping oneself physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. This requires a certain life balance. And the beauty is that it is balance with a productive purpose beyond some subjective notion of what it means simply to lead a “balanced life”!
I really like the use of the word “happy” in the “Happy Workaholic” label because it connects to the concept of hard work as a virtue. I enjoy many aspects of the Stoic philosophy. One of the things that Stoics link is virtue and happiness. For example, the Roman Stoic Epictetus stated that “virtue is rewarded with happiness”. When Thomas Jefferson (apparently, at the urging of Benjamin Franklin) wrote about “the pursuit of happiness” in the American Declaration of Independence, he was talking not about the pursuit of pleasure, but rather the pursuit of virtue (although for Happy Workaholics, pleasure and virtue merge).
By the way, I realize that the word “virtue” is a tricky (even old-fashioned) concept that makes people a bit nervous nowadays. By “virtue”, I mean the old Greek concept of moral excellence. And by “moral”, I mean that which promotes good personal character. Hard work or “industriousness” is one of the classic Greek and Roman virtues – they believed that it promoted collective, as well as personal, excellence. As a Happy Workaholic, I concur with that classical view of hard work!
Darn, there’s a lot more I could write about this topic (such as the definition of “work”), but I suspect that this essay is already too long. So I will end this post by saying that I was most happy to work on it!
[Thanks to @booksnips for her Ello post, “The Limits of Perfection”. Our conversation there about the pursuit of perfection versus the pursuit of excellence helped to motivate this post.]
Top image: From “So What If You Are a Happy Workaholic?” / linkedin