Addiction to Work, The Real Danger

Steve LudwigLife StuffLeave a Comment

notepad with the words "Take a Break" written on it

I listen to a number of podcasts, including a few by comedians. It is fairly common for comedians to have grown up in dysfunctional households and/or have had to overcome their own demons of addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.

What often strikes me is that once they have stopped using, many shift their addictive personalities towards work—which often leads to or furthers their success.

We often admire people that we think are workaholics, wishing that we could do what they do through less sleep, more drive, better discipline, and different brain chemistry. However, research is showing that what we consider mere workaholics can often be actual addicts.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece by Dr. April Spivack from the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki. Her research has, “found a high percentage of entrepreneurs cross that line between workaholic and addict.”

Entrepreneurs who cross the line into addiction don’t just work too hard. Rather, for them, the business becomes their life. They derive all meaning from it, and their emotions rise and fall with it. They are always hungry to expand or launch another startup—even if it isn’t wise to do so. They lie to their families about the business and what’s going on with it.

Six traits commonly identify addiction:

Business Obsession: This is not your typical keeps you up at night stuff; they are obsessed with all aspects of their business and learning more about business in general.

Manic Cycles: Strong highs and strong lows. They feel great when working, “but they are miserable and can feel trapped when they are not working or testing new ideas.”

How I Do Is My Only Value: This issue can be common for anyone at work. Thinking that if you are not successful, who are you? Are you even worthy of love without success? People don’t see how their company does as a “business’s performance” but rather a reflection on the person themselves.

My Business is Me, I Am My Business: They drop most, or all outside interests, and their sole focus is on work. They identify themselves as an entrepreneur first; everything else—parent, spouse, caregiver, etc.—“becomes a footnote.”

They Keep Raising the Stakes: “The entrepreneurs find themselves grasping for more involvement with the business and pursuing greater success, and they feel compelled to take bigger risks to feed their need.”

Secrets: This is a common one for addicts. They recognize that what they are doing is not healthy, and rather than seek help; they hide it—which produces more guilt and shame, which leads to more hiding.

We are not therapists, nor are we pretending to be. But the above list is good food for thought.  A quick way to see if a behavior is a problem, addictive or not, is if it interferes with and/or damages your significant relationships.

At what point do the sacrifices required to start a business or new project become too much? That’s a value call that only you and your family can make. When does it go into addictive territory—that’s a call for you and your therapist. But you can do a good job at starting to spot either if you are honest with yourself first.

If this is a trait you’re susceptible to, think carefully about how you fund your startup. Bootstrapping gives you control over your growth trajectory. Taking VC money is going to hitch your wagon to a stampeding herd of wild horses.

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