As a therapist and an addiction professional, I should be immune to addictions—or so you would think. And for the most part, my education and training did steer me clear of a great many pitfalls. That is, until I was blindsided by a situation straight out of my education and training. Early in my career, I became a workaholic. I was addicted to working, to striving, to trying to do more and be more and accomplish more. I went headlong from studies to internships to work, with no stopping in between; I took no days “off” from accomplishing my goals.
For some of you, this may seem like a strange addiction. What could be bad about always trying to do your best? I, however, thought the best was the only way I could be. I became the center of my world. My work. My accomplishments. My vision. The people I interacted with were those I was counseling. I had no children. I also brought my wife into that world right along with me. Anything—even people—outside my job began to be a distraction. My career was a heady, roller-coaster ride of goals, dreams, and accomplishments. With such a narrow vision, I lost perspective. I experienced profound burnout and had to find my way back to balance and spiritual purpose. Going through that time in my life led me to a renewed passion for my work and a personal understanding of the power of an addictive behavior.
The thing that took over my life was work and obtaining the “prize” at the end of each day. In behavioral or process addictions, I’ve found there is always a prize. It is a sense of satisfaction gained, relief of disaster averted, or a combination of both. When you do whatever it is that has an addictive hold on you, what do you hope to gain? What do you hope to avoid? The promise of gain is certainly part of behavioral or process addictions, but so is fear of loss.
There was a time in my career when I gained too much of my identity and self-worth from my work. I was no longer a human being; I was a “human doing.” For some, the risks and rewards of job and career can be like those of a gambling addiction; either you’re chasing the big win of that next deal or promotion, or you’re energized by the heady unpredictability of success or failure. Still others work out of a dogged determination to do anything to avoid an inevitable lurking disaster.
Work becomes less a measure of income and more a measure of worth. Work becomes who you are instead of what you do. Other considerations get pushed out of the way in pursuit of this identity. If the thought of not working makes you feel diminished, less of a person, less valuable, and more vulnerable, you need to consider the possibility that you have an addiction. If you consistently find yourself placing your job above all other priorities in your life—such as family, friends, faith, or rest—your job may be taking more out of you than you are getting out of your job.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.