Workaholism, a word that rarely crops up anymore. I remember it from the 90s and the early 2000s. Perhaps it was on trend then as a fall out from the excessive shoulder padded, tough talk, money hungry, nasty behavior that littered that era.
But it’s not gone, it’s been reborn, albeit, through more fancy methodologies, word speak and “successful” self-proclaimed business gurus. Silicon Valley, the VC’s and the start-up community have rebranded it. Keywords like the hustle, productivity, growth hacking and so on are their motos. Many industries and startup founders have been lapping it up like Winnie the Poo & his favorite delicacy honey.
Workaholism (Bad) Hustle (Good)
What was once accepted as crazy addictive behavior with AA type meetings to match, has now been taken on by a major portion of the business community as the gospel and only road to success.
I wrote a post covering the hustle culture and various other myths parading as truths earlier this year. What I did not mention then and I probably should of, is how they (the silicon valley tech companies) are all nicely profiting from our addiction to the hustle, as that’s what they are in the business of.
The more we hustle, the more we are hooked up to the data harvesting machines that they own or the productivity/marketing vehicles that they create. Sounds like a dystopian hellhole doesn’t it. Well as I’m sure we are all aware by now, we are living in it, and we are all feeding it. All of us.
But no matter how much I hate this narrative, I’m no better than them. I may not preach it, power sell it or position myself as an advocate or guru, but the truth is I lived it. And so and so that makes me as bad as they are, perhaps even worse.
I’ve written many articles, posts on Linkedin etc on my quest for finding joy, conquering depression, understanding why I can’t bloody relax and figuring out what the hell would drive someone to work 7 days a week.
There are days when I thought I was possessed by a demon and in truth I probably was. I felt like a robot, hooked up to a machine.
The Artists Know
When I stumbled across Rachel Mcleans fantastical sugar-coated nightmare parody of contemporary society in 2016, at the Tate and watched her films, this was a big turning point for me. It confirmed the intuition I’d had for a while on where business, capitalism, and marketing was going, what was really happening and how sick and twisted society is really getting.
All that she portrays I felt about where we are now, and it was at this point, that afternoon that I felt emboldened to act. I have a deep deep connection to art. It’s often seeing or reading great works of art, that have initiated turning points for me and this and her work was one of them.
Artists, writers, and poets send messages & warnings through their art to us, to future generations. They will often appear when the time is right, we just need to spot them and listen. Sometimes they hit and then and there. This one hit me and then stayed in my subconscious (luckily).
The slow death of non-Drastic Action
My “drastic action” did not come overnight. It had been simmering under the surface as soon as I had come back to career work after my first lengthy sabbatical.
My first sabbatical happened after I read Naomi Klein’s book No Logo. I felt sickened that was the world that I was contributing to and working in. I felt repelled by the manipulations that were occurring and that my future self would be a part of. So I took action and left and just went where life took me. I ended up all over the world.
That was in 2000, but I got drawn back in somehow or another. I love communicating and so the enchantment to do what I love was just too great. What I did not think about until now is that I have the power to work with and for who I want. As a woman in a man’s industry, I was kind of grateful to even have a job. I was disempowered, not empowered, so I sucked it up.
I joined an American company and ignored the distaste it left in my mouth and how nasty it made me feel. I looked at a bigger goal. I numbed it until I forgot it, and then I was as hooked up to the machine as anyone. As the years progressed, the roles and jobs changed and grew and the messages to quit or change got louder and louder. I was scared, so I drowned them out with work and wine.
Seems so strange when I look at it now. The thing that was killing my soul, sucking the marrow from my bones, and extracting all that is me from me, I fed. All that I was they did not want, so I allowed them to convert me to the robot they needed. I fed the thing that was killing me like a mother would feed its hungry puppies. Except it was killing me, and like a possessed masochist I kept feeding it, seduced by the gold at the end of the rainbow perhaps.
When the subconscious took over
I was so seduced or tapped into this system, paralyzed by fear and the need to keep feeding the thing that was killing me, that I believe something within me took over for my own good. It was not a conscious decision. I was too focused on being a workaholic. All I really did was focus on a vision of being free and living in the tropics. I did this every day for months from 2016 through 2017. The decisions I made all seemed to shift towards that and now here I am, in the tropics in Bali, but not quite yet free
But outside my daily visioning, I was trapped in sheer exasperation of myself, my workaholism and my inability to find joy through excessive working, drinking, shopping, social media use and so on. I could not work out why was I not happy when I lived in some of Londons finest postcodes, could go hang out at the fanciest bars, pubs, and clubs and could walk down the road to Regent street and buy pretty much whatever I felt like. Is that not true joy?
I look at it now, and I think how could you be so dumb? How could you not see that world is an entire mirage, an illusion tricking you into the work more, produce more, earn more, have more, be more myth. But I bought it, lock stock and barrel. Convinced that one day the joy would turn up.
Daily Battles feed off fear
I know I’m not alone in this, yet it’s rarely admitted, rarely discussed and in the world, I operated in, it was a given. If you spend your days working with some of the world’s best retailers and doing battle against the world’s biggest brands for shelf space, then how on earth can you expect to sleep and have a life, it’s a 24/7 responsibility.
And it is, that world is no joke, just like many others, where work is literally a survival of the fittest and a daily battle. Where your opponents and even your partners are often trying to take you out or down, by whatever means they can. Slander, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, bribery and so on.
So, you work and work and work, because you are afraid to lose the paradise of pounds in your pocket. The fear, so entrenched in your system through the years of indoctrination. The desperate struggle for weekly, quarterly, yearly growth becomes the driving force, the motivator, and the controller. You are locked in, and afraid to leave. Fear it seems is a bigger driver than pleasure. At least for me.
Finally Death of my Old Self in Paradise?
And so I arrived in Bali at the beginning of 2018 on holiday. Truth is, she had been calling me for many years, but I had resisted. I knew what it meant you see. It meant a big change. There are places where transformation happens and for me, I knew Bali was one of them. Change was much easier for me in earlier years when I flipped the script constantly, but now at 42, it’s a little harder. And I had become weakened by all those years feeding the system and selling my soul.
I did not get on the plane home and I knew it was over, time to quit this phase of my life. And so I did. I quit. My subconscious had prepared it all for me. I had money saved, I had tied up everything back home. All I needed was a few things and I could be free to live my life and find change, gracefully, could I not? How could one not relax in a land of tropical flowers, swaying palms, incense and temple chants on the breeze?
The Programming Continues…
But I could not relax and give up that easily. I was so tapped into the FEEDME conditioning as portrayed by Rachel in her film, that I swapped paid work for unpaid work. Blogging, excessive, reading, planning, strategizing, analyzing, video making, I repeated and repeated. Same format, same process, different “work”. So the death of the old me did not come as soon as I hit paradise. Oh no.
The conditioning and my programming to work and feed the system was way too strong for that. The imprint did not want to die. It was holding on for dear life. Fed by the fear, and egoic thoughts whirling around in my head. How will I live if I don’t work 24 hours / 7 days a week? How can I start a new career? Working from a place of feeling good is impossible; it just does not work like that. Who am I, if I am not my work? Do I have any value at all? What am I? Is there anything left of me if there is no work?
There is no joy in work, suck it up. I will have to go back to the before or I will starve and be homeless. I’ll be a bag lady, sleeping on the street. And so they rumbled on, these fears, projections, and nightmarish visions.
Fear is my food, my nourishment, the coals that stoaked my flames it seems. So I kept feeding. I had timetables, plans, and meetings. This blog transformed into to being a mission-critical endeavor, then it was YouTube and all sorts of other crazy ideas I came up with that I had to do, so I burnt out. Again, in paradise.
Why do I think that workaholism is so deviant?
Excessive working is a crime. It’s a crime against oneself. As you can see from the picture I’ve painted. It sounds like a joke, a parody, perhaps even a comedy, but it’s not it’s very real.
It’s now been normalized, rebranded and recreated as the way to be and navigate the world. It’s a badge of success. And it’s an excellent manipulation tool. The more we are weakened by work, the more fear we have, the easier it is to control and sell to us, and so the circle of capitalism and consumerism persists.
Our collective goals in countries and companies ( big and small) are focused almost exclusively on money, growth, scale, power and market dominance. We’ve been brainwashed into believing that this deviant behavior is what will make us happy. It’s a collective myth on the grandest of scales that I and many of us have bought into.
What makes it even worse is that the more we are working, the less we are actually creating, innovating and really thinking about what we are doing.
How we are impacting others, the planet, and the world? What consequences do our actions have? And therein perhaps lies the answer. We are not supposed to. While we are hooked up to the machine, we don’t have time to think about our actions, their implications or the madness of it all.
How to overcome it?
I can only speak for myself and how I am doing it and moving through my transition so far. I finally let go about 3 months ago. I stopped. EVERYTHING.
I allowed myself to do nothing. The only task was to journal 1000 words a day. That was it. And then that’s when the magic started happening. I began meeting the right people, women’s communities appeared from nowhere. Teachers and mentors appeared to help me on the next steps of my journey, a course that allowed me to blend all the aspects of me into one turned up with MIT and the world switched from grey to Technicolor. The change happened, because I did not force it, at least that’s how I am seeing it now.
I know that I can’t work, be, behave or think as I did before. I don’t ever want to feel like a robot again. EVER. I know that I can only produce my best work, work that I am proud of from a relaxed, creative space, not one that is dominated by fear.
What’s comes post workaholism I really don’t know, but the way I’m seeing life now, I feel hope and not fear and that’s one of the greatest states to be in.
Do not trust robots image: This fantastic image was taken at a media agency in Shoreditch, London. Sadly I do not remember the name of the agency. Let me know if you know them or the maker of the artwork and I will give them credit.