The Curmudgeon knows good advice when he hears it!


Commentary: How to rein in your inner workaholic

by Lt. Col. Bill Starr
4th Command and Control Squadron commander

07/26/02 - F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. (AFPN) -- One summer evening, shortly after arriving at my new assignment, my boss strolled by my house and saw my wife and children sitting on our front porch. He asked her where I was. My wife told him I was still at the office. When she relayed this to me, in the egotistical corner of my heart I secretly hoped he was impressed by my work ethic.

The next morning, my boss called me. I expected a verbal pat on the back for my diligence and hard work. Instead, he asked me what I was doing so late at the office and asked if I had been doing that every night since taking over. I told him I had indeed been working late every night.

Contrary to the kudos I expected, he told me anyone could be a workaholic and achieve great things professionally. He had hired me to perform and excel in not one but two areas: my professional and personal life.

This incident gnawed at the back of my mind and caused me to do a lot of introspection. I examined my professional, family and personal life and found that they weren't in balance. So I made a commitment to myself to work on achieving a better balance in these three areas. This is what my little voyage of self-discovery revealed to me.

My professional life. I've always been a competitive person by nature, and I don't think there are many people that hang around in our profession who aren't. I discovered over the years I had slipped into a pattern of late work hours, bringing work home, going in on the weekends and never quite mentally disengaging from the office. I justified this by trying to stay competitive with my peers and to make sure my work output was beyond reproach. Don't get me wrong, mission dictates a lot of long, hard work for all of us and when duty calls, we must answer. However, I'm talking about putting in the long hours simply because it has become a habit that becomes the major focus in your life.

My family life. In conjunction with my slow drift into being a workaholic, I discovered that I had put in very little quality time with my family. My excuse was always that there was work that had to be done so I was going to be home late. My day had been rough, so I was going to lie on the couch and vegetate for a while. Stress from work became my excuse to not get involved at home.

My personal life. Growing up, church and sports were a big part of my life. Over the years, without realizing it, I had reduced my worship to only the major holidays and my physical activity to the bare minimum required to pass the annual physical fitness test. Again, my excuse to myself was I was at the office on Saturday, so my only chance to relax was Sunday; therefore, I couldn't go to church or some equally rationalized excuse. My failure to routinely participate in sports and physical activity fell along the same lines.

After looking at these three areas of my life and realizing things were sufficiently out of whack, I made a conscious decision to achieve balance. The first thing I did was to leave the office one day at (gasp) 4 p.m. It was a hard thing to do, but believe it or not, the office actually kept running without me and the world didn't come to an end. I can't leave every day at that time but when the end of the normal duty day comes around, now I do a quick inventory of what needs to be done. I spend a lot fewer late nights in the office and things still actually get done.

I found out a very simple truth. I was a workaholic because I was afraid to fail in my professional life. What I discovered was that once I was able to take the risk to slow down at work and placed more emphasis on my family and personal life, my professional performance actually improved. I was able to get more done in less time. I was less stressed out and was nicer to the folks at work, and, all in all, I enjoyed all the facets of my life more.

Having said that, I must be honest and tell you that I'm writing this while sitting on an airplane on the first day of our family vacation. Old habits die hard.