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The Man Who Mistook His Job for a Life: A Chronic Overachiever Finds the Way Home Jonathon Lazear (Crown, 2001)

The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation: Ancient Skills for Modern Minds J. Levey, M. Levey (Wisdom Publications, 1987)

Living in Balance: A Dynamic Approach for Creating Harmony & Wholeness in a Chaotic World J. Levey, M. Levey (Conte Press, 1998)

The Ethos Channel

Wisdom at Work

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Workaholics Anonymous Un*Official Page

How to Manage Stress from MindTools

Recovery Anonymous WebPage

Too Busy For Workaholic’s Anonymous? No time to slow down?” Can we keep working harder and harder indefinitely? U.S. News. June 26, 2000.

A recent survey of 8,000 managers in MANAGEMENT TODAY showed that working long hours is often confused with commitment and considered to "go with the job". One fifth routinely work six days; at least a third have only partial control over hours; and less than half are happy about their work-life balance.

1,000 international young high fliers were also surveyed recently, of whom one fifth wanted to work part time and 41% wanted more choice over working hours.

But challenging and interesting work, operational freedom and personal development opportunities are also becoming increasingly important - above, or equal, to pay for many. And while two thirds of people who regularly work long hours may feel unable to say no, that still leaves a third of us who enjoy working hard, regard work as their life & enjoy the rewards it brings.

Life outside of work? What life? 24/7 only leaves enough room to be “The One Minute (fill in the blank) Friend, Spouse, Parent, Son, or Daughter.” LiNE Zine recently interviewed a close friend of ours “Chan Geng Ways” in the process (step 6 of 13) of turning his life around from the throes of workaholic despair. We thought you might learn something from hearing up close and personal how much work it takes (ironic isn’t it?) to mend one’s workaholic ways and find some balance between the parts of your life.

LiNE Zine: How long would you say you’ve been obsessed with work?

Ways: I have recollections in third grade of not going out for recess and staying at my desk working. This behavior took a big jump in junior high when I would study endlessly for exams, sitting on my parent’s bed with my hands over my ears in a sort of a “hear no evil” pose.

For many years, I approached everything this way—my business, my consulting work, my biogen start-up. It was common for me to be at work by 4:30 a.m. most mornings fending calls until late at night.

LiNE Zine: How did you feel when you did this?

Ways: Well the traffic wasn’t bad. Only joking. Let’s see, I felt different ways. Some days I believed I was on the true path, really making things happen. Almost godlike. Other times I felt nothing. Nada. I was mainly numb, sort of drugged by the experience. It was just a blur. I guess like being drugged more than anything.

LiNE Zine: Addictions are often looked at as inward looking psychological systems that don’t take external feedback. They feed on themselves. When did you begin to realize that work was becoming a drug, like an addiction?

Ways: The  first wake up call came about a year and a half ago when I realized that I had been mismanaging our bills and debts and investments—when I took a hard look at my behavior it was exactly like a drunk—ignoring bills, denying the growing debt, wishing bad news away.

But, the big wake up call came six months ago. I walked into the ER with chest pains. Next thing I knew I was quickly lifted onto a gurney and was staring up at the ceiling as cold and sticky EKG stuff was slapped onto my chest. I had developed a heart murmur, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure—the hallmarks of the workaholic. It took about a second to put two and two together and realize I needed to change.

LiNE Zine: What worked? Oh, maybe I should use a different word than “worked.”

Ways: Very funny. I started taking to heart—literally—the work I’d done years ago developing a course (if you can believe this) on work/life balance and addiction. I found that looking at work as an addiction was a very useful perspective and looked at being a workaholic from the biochemical angle. We become intoxicated and then toxic with our own internal chemicals. Compulsive work releases dopamine for excitement, eating fills the brain with serotonin, and makes us calm…

LiNE Zine: Like turkey at Thanksgiving?

Ways: Exactly. And norepinephrine is released when we are acting like control-freaks feeling all-powerful and mighty. So is it like an addiction only you get it from the way you act and it’s injected into your brain from your body.

And like any addiction it produces a craving for more and more of the “rush” we get from the chemical. Like people who free climb or skydive. After a while, it takes on a life of its own. That’s why it’s different from simply having someone make you work a lot or being overworked. You do it to your self.

LiNE Zine: How does it all start?

Ways: The people I’ve spoken with tell me it usually starts with some deep and powerful emotional pain that is repressed. I used to think this was a bunch of psychobabble, but now I’m not so sure.

I discovered in therapy and by meditating practice that one of my big fears was standing on the edge of a great cliff with no bottom in sight, losing my balance, and falling forever. It just seems to be related to why I try to control so much and get a sense of release from working so hard.

LiNE Zine: Looking at you now, you seem more at ease and relaxed. Six months ago you wouldn’t have even taken the time for this interview. What’s changed?

Ways: A few things. I found that if I can take small steps at different points in each day they add up to a big step, a big difference. For example, I find that if I start the day with something reflective that is not work-related that’s a good start. And if I remember several times a day to breathe, to do a deep breathing exercise for a minute or two, or do a bit of meditation practice that helps. Also if I manage my eating, what I eat and how I eat—there’s a reason they call it “fast food”—it all helps me start to balance my mind and my body, instead of only living in my mind, where I work all the time and forget about my body.

LiNE Zine: I saw you had a new screen saver on your computer.

Ways: Yep, it’s a picture of me and my wife and kids. It’s on my laptop as well. Reminds me of the people I love who are also part of my life.

I also keep a monthly calendar behind my desk and I list the things I need to do each day to take care of myself.

LiNE Zine: What kinds of things?

Ways: Well my current list includes taking vitamin supplements, meditating, walking in a natural and beautiful place, and spending time with my children. I put a check mark next to those things I have actually done. It sounds really dumb to even say it, but there are millions of workaholics in this country and corporate cultures that support their behavior. My checklist is my reality check. It lets me see if I’m slipping back into my work addiction. It’s been magical for me. I can honestly say that I feel and act differently now and other people have also noticed the difference.

I also make sure to include the bigger things as well, like going to the kid’s soccer games and taking holidays and vacations. At one point I was actually proud of the fact that I had accrued three years worth of vacation time.

LiNE Zine: Anything else you want to say to others who are trying to take off their “workaholic badges”?

Ways: Yes, one more thing that is most important and most difficult. Adopt an attitude of loving-kindness. To yourself and to others.

LiNE Zine: I’m not sure what that means...

Ways: Well, when someone at work makes a mistake, I no longer panic and scream, “If you want something done right you’ve got to do it yourself,” then automatically jump into my old workaholic self. I don’t let myself feel that rush or high anymore. I take a deep breath and practice a loving kindness that envelops me and all beings. Slows everything down to normal speed. Don’t self-inject the old adrenalin.

LiNE Zine: Does it work?

Ways: Not always, but like I said, change is a process. Reminds me of a line from the poet Rilke which goes something like, “Learn not to seek the answers, but first love the very questions themselves.”

Chan Geng Ways is a roving mystic who would rather not, for obvious reasons, get any more email.



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