Addiction ≠ passion

I was addicted to work. My response was to run away.

Like all addictions, I had to admit the problem before I could get better. But when I ran away from my job, I did not realize my problem was one of addiction—I thought I was “merely” exhausted. And even worse, there was no one but me to blame—this was not an external force working its evil on me—the problem was within.

I accepted that the reason I was so unhappy with work resided within me, and there was no external force pulling my strings like an evil puppet master. But why didn’t I set boundaries for my behavior toward work? Why did work turn into something I was addicted to? A lesson from my friend, Mike, helped me to understand this more clearly.

Mike was a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth. His boxing coach, Ira, once told him, “You must train and train until you are exhausted from it. Then, you must find it within you to train beyond this. In the beginning, you will win in the early rounds because you are a good fighter, but you must train to win in the late rounds, when you have nothing left but the will to win, because this is where you will face the very best and the winner will be decided.”

I thought about the times in my work life when I felt I was training beyond exhaustion. I began to recognize the boundaries I lacked, the ones that could have kept me more balanced, preventing my addiction to work and its destructive impact on my day-to-day life. Here’s an example of the insane choices I was making: I would fly 16 hours from New York on a Saturday afternoon to attend a four-hour meeting in India on Monday, and fly back to New York immediately after the meeting.

From Mike’s boxing lesson I learned that pushing yourself is not the same as having no boundaries. I realized that I could still try very hard to achieve something important to me—to “win” at work—but that it did not have to become all-consuming. While my behaviors up until this point had been those of an addict, I came to understand that it was the lack of boundaries that made my work so untenable. This insight was an essential element for restoring my passion for work.

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