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Being a workaholic is not a sign of success

You no doubt know that starting and running a business requires huge amounts of time and energy. Honestly, it’s this crazy effort that forms part of the appeal and reward of being an entrepreneur—the 12-hour days, the 7am meetings, the adrenaline of creating something that belongs to you and maybe reflects your values.

You believe in hard work. You’ve never been scared of it. In fact, it’s when you’re working that you feel most alive. It shapes your life, gives it meaning and purpose. It becomes like a drug—the more you feel that warmth of success course through your veins, the more you want another hit.

However, as you may well have experienced, this drive for achievement can be extremely destructive. Sometimes, without you even knowing it, you become so focused on your business or some new project that you end up neglecting yourself and everyone around you. Without keeping a steady watch on this, your love of work can so overwhelm all the other things you love—family, friends, hobbies, holidays—that you end up losing them.

There is nothing noble or admirable in being known as a workaholic. It is not a badge of honour, nor is it an indication that you’re highly successful or more likely to become extremely wealthy. Like any passion or obsession there is a point which it stops being healthy and fulfilling and starts to wreak havoc.

Silhouetted image of a woman sitting in front of two computer screens with the word 'Work' on the window.
Yes, it’s what you love. But there are other things…
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Workaholism can actually kill you. In 2013, an intern at Bank of America’s London office died after working non-stop for 72 hours. In Japan, workaholism is so prevalent there’s even a term for dying from overwork—karoshi. When Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi died of a stroke in 2000, some blamed this for his death.

I’m pretty sure you’re not working as hard as you are so you can enjoy an early death. No. You work as hard as you do because you want to live the life you imagined for yourself, because you maybe want to retire early and because you love it. You love the grind, the risk, the satisfaction of a job well done.

There is nothing wrong with long hours, with accepting that you never really have ‘off-time’—as an entrepreneur you gladly take this—but there is a difference between being ambitious and dedicated and sacrificing too many important things in your quest for perfection. For the entrepreneur, there is no such thing as work-life balance. You know that. But this doesn’t mean throwing your entire self into work. This does not make for the kind of meaningful success I’m sure you strive for. It also doesn’t necessarily make you more successful.

Neglecting your wellbeing in exchange for more and more hours will eventually lead to burnout. Not only that, studies have shown that workaholics are workaholics because they’re control freaks who won’t, or don’t know how to, delegate. You don’t want to be that person.

So, in this spirit, here are five ways to avoid becoming a workaholic (or succumbing to the dreaded karoshi) and shape your life so that you can still be the driven entrepreneur you were born to be while not letting it be detrimental to your enjoyment of life.

  • Start and end your day with something not related to work

Meditate, read, exercise, take a class of some kind—anything that refocuses your mind on something else for a little while.

  • Don’t say yes to everything

Recognise when something is worth your time and investment, and when it’s just going to be another source of distraction and stress.

  • Let go

Yes, you like to control everything. But you can’t. Especially when your business grows. Know what you’re good at and dedicate your time and efforts to that. The stuff you’re not so good at—get someone who excels at it to do it for you.

Long-haired man floating in the ocean while reading a book.
Highly recommended (unless you want to fall victim to karoshi).
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
  • Let a computer do some of the work for you

In some ways, technology has made workaholics of us all. We’re constantly connected and feel the need to send/answer that email, even if it’s 4:30am or you’re on holiday or out on your bike. However, used wisely, technology—especially chatbots and artificial intelligence—can reduce some of your workload (especially the more mundane tasks). This frees up some valuable time for you.

  • Learn to be present

An entrepreneur can’t have a set schedule. You can’t always promise you’ll be somewhere— something important might pop that affects not only you but the lives of others (i.e. your employees and customers). And, as we’ve discussed, you can’t afford to have ‘off-time’; however, what you can do is compartmentalise things. When you’re working, be fully committed to working; when you’re exercising, go all out; and when you’re spending precious time with family and friends, put thoughts of work aside and be fully present in the moment.

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Show Notes: (3:52) The story behind Escape the City (6:02) Biggest challenges people face when desiring a career change (8:02) Generational attitudes to work and career (9:53) Common reasons for people to make career change (11:40) How to find meaning in work (16:01) Can you learn to be an entrepreneur, or is it something innate? … Continued