When I first saw “Rent” many years ago these lines struck me:

But who Mark are you?
“Mark has got his work”, they say
“Mark lives for his work and
Mark’s in love with his work”
Mark hides in his work

But it wasn’t until now, many years later that I truly understand the why….hi, I’m Paula, and I’m a (recovering) workaholic.

As a child I learned that producing meant compliments so somewhere in my head I equated getting things done to earning love. Thousands of dollars and countless hours of therapy/coaching later I now know that those two things aren’t connected, that I am deserving of love regardless of what I produce. So why is it so hard to let go of the workaholic? Because if I’m not a working, who am I?

It came to my attention two years ago that I used work as my escape from life. That if I was struggling with something in my personal life I’d just work 100 hours in a week because then I didn’t have time to care. That was one of the methods I used to escape. Some people use drugs to avoid their feelings, I used work. Society praised me for this because I got a lot done. But was I happy? No. Not actually. I wasn’t actually dealing with anything, I was just working to hide from building an actual life.

Finding a healthy work/life balance is so hard because I spent countless hours studying how to work and working but I didn’t spend equal time figuring out what I actually liked. After a rough break-up Instructor Niki gave me worksheets (god love her!) to help me get back on my feet and one was making a list of things I like and I just stared at it completely blank. And I know I’m not alone in this. I was on a date the other day and I asked the guy what were activities he enjoyed and everything he listed had to do with work or his kids. I asked him who he was, or wanted to be, other than a police officer and a father and he stared at me blankly. He had no clue.

How many of us aren’t whole? I wasn’t. At 36 I was not at all who I am at 38. Because I hadn’t actually thought about what my values were and how I was going to live them. I hadn’t thought about what I would do on my day off or how to just sit with my own company not doing something. How many of us use work to avoid learning what we really want to do? I hide in work instead of trying new things because I know I’m good at work. And it take courage to do something I’m not good at, or don’t know if I’ll like.

Once I really identified how my workaholic tendencies were an unhealthy pattern it gave me the freedom to explore other options. I would go whole months where I didn’t work more than 60 hours in a week! I would do nothing on a Saturday but read a book for pleasure. But without fail, when something gets hard in my life, I still fall back on my tendency to hide in my work. I’ve read a million self help books on the topic and so I know I’m not alone. But recognizing when I’m doing it is the first step to changing it. And I want to change it. I don’t want to hide from my life in any way.