After Labour Day: Meaningful Work, Workaholism and Perfectionism
The intense period after Labour Day is a good time to look at meaningful work, workaholism and perfectionism. These are big issues in our work-obsessed world!
Work has at least two distinct faces in our place and time. We truly need to stay aware of both of them.
The one face of work is that it’s essential for our health and well-being. This is true both in a physical sense, in that we need work to get the means to obtain the food, shelter, transportation and other things necessary to maintain life.
This is just as true psychologically: if an individual is to be healthy, growing, and, as Jungians would say individuating — becoming and expressing who is is that they truly are — then a human has to be engaged in meaningful work.
What that meaningful work is, varies greatly from person to person. As they say, one person’s meat is truly another person’s poison! In my case, I would probably rather do prison time than work as an accountant — for many people, it’s their dream job!
But the Trouble with Work Is…
The other face of work is, that while we need meaningful work, but we also run the risk of getting over-involved in work in unhealthy ways. As I learned in my days in the legal world, two inter-related ways in which this can happen are workaholism and perfectionism.
Simply put, a workaholic is someone who is addicted to work. Often workaholics enjoy their work, but sometimes they simply feel a compulsion to work overly hard. A workaholic tends to neglect family and other social relationships and often loses track of time at work. Psychotherapists know that workaholics are often perfectionistic people, for whom what they have done is never good enough. The intense preoccupation with work often hides anxiety, low self-esteem, and intimacy problems.
Where the Workaholism Treadmill Can Lead
Workaholism isn’t benign in its effects. Often, people are in denial about being workaholics, but if they just continue on the workaholic treadmill, with the compulsion to work becoming ever stronger, it can create devastating situations in the life of the individual.
The longer an individual continues on the treadmill of workaholism, putting in longer and longer hours, the more his or her productivity usually declines until they may not be able to produce in an 80 hour week what they could formerly have produced in 50 hours.
It is not at all uncommon for workaholics to experience deteriorating relationships as they go farther and farther down the path of workaholism, the whole time being in denial about the impact of their addiction to endless work hours. This is one way in which workaholism resembles other types of addiction.
Workaholics may also come to the place where they experience profoundly debilitating burnout, where they have little alternative but to at least temporarily cease working. Or, as the Japanese recognize, individuals may even suffer premature death as the result of overwork, referred to as karoshi. This happened to the 31 year old Japanese reporter, who after doing 159 hours overtime in a single month, passed away with her cell phone clutched in her hand.
And we haven’t even begun to describe the agonies that a person struggling with workaholism can experience in connection with the major life transition to retirement.
Meaningful Life, Meaningful Work
Depth case studies recognizes that the journey away from workholism has a lot to do with finding self-esteem, connection and relatedness to others, and meaningful in life, an important part of which is meaningful work. An important part of this journey is finding our identity, distinct from our work identity or work persona.
The journey to uncovering our true identity hinges on accepting and valuing who we most fundamentally are. The discovery that “I am bigger than my work”, and the process of moving towards a compassionate acceptance and valuing of the whole of who I am, can be a transformative adventure of which meaningful /a-midlife-transition can be a vital and highly supportive part.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst
PHOTOS: rene.schlaefer (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)