Workaholic Passing a Semi at Night

by William S. Frank, President/CEO of CareerLab®

In college I drove through the snowy mountains on winter nights. One time the roads were icy and it was pitch black. There are no streetlights in the high country, and there were no other cars on the road. Snow was falling and it was deadly quiet.

The road was winding and dangerous. It required my full attention, but finally I got stuck behind a slow-moving semi truck traveling 25 mph. I followed the semi for 30 minutes looking unsuccessfully for a place to pass, my patience wearing thin.

As time went on, I got less patient.

Finally, I saw an opening and pulled alongside the semi, and suddenly saw oncoming headlights. Another car coming fast, straight at me, perhaps a half mile away.

I had two choices: 1) to tap the brake and slide in behind the semi, or 2) to hit the gas, petal-to-the-metal, and white-knuckle it ahead. I chose to hit the gas. For that brief moment, I was 100% focused on the road. I knew I had to pass or die.

Fortunately, I’m here writing this.

This is a nice career metaphor. Sometimes the going is slow. Sometimes we’re working 40-hour weeks, mailing it in, living a well-balanced life. But then it gets boring. We’re tired of waiting behind the semi.

We hit the gas and plow ahead into our careers, taking classes while working, jumping into new projects, changing jobs, or simply working harder.

This is passing the semi. The hours can be long and frantic. Life balance can go out the window. Personal lives can be shredded. Exercise can be gone.

But this should be just a temporary phase, not a career lifetime. In the go-go days of my career someone asked me, “Are you a workaholic, Bill?” And I said, “No, I’m a work enthusiast.”

Big difference.

I loved my work, still do, and my wife says I often left the house at 6:00 a.m. and returned at 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Yes, but those were a few short weeks or years. That hitting-the-gas, always on go, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle isn’t sustainable.

Imagine if I had raced past the semi and continued on the winding icy mountain road at 60 mph. Surely I would have crashed in the darkness with no help in sight.

Our careers are like that too. They can sustain short workaholic episodes. But to make overwork a lifestyle is as dangerous as speeding on an icy, winding mountain road at night.

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