You're A Startup Workaholic — Now What?
August 4, 2014

You're A Startup Workaholic — Now What?

by Brian de Haaff

Do you work over 50 hours a week? Do you strive for perfect results? Do you like to check in on your colleagues to make sure their part of the project is going well? Do you focus on creating and completing to-do lists? If yes and yes, you may be a workaholic.

Workaholism is one of the few “addictions” that society values and people want to celebrate and claim. I bet you hear something like the following weekly: “You thought that red eye to Europe was rough, I only slept two hours last night getting that proposal completed.”

I love startup workaholics because they have passion and perseverance. Getting more done matters. But the workaholism of the past is Pee Wee football compared to the big NFL efforts that professionals commit today. Work consumes us, and do not get me wrong, many of us like it that way.

Not that long ago, there was golf. Walking around for four hours over a grassy course after a little dimpled ball gave us plenty of time to pursue that promotion, interview that candidate, or close that deal. And it mixed work and recreation like a cocktail that was gently stirred. It tasted good and was a novel treat for those headed to the top.

Now, if you are reading this and work in tech, work is everywhere. I know because being a workaholic in Silicon Valley makes you fit in. Talking about 9-5 work days earns you funny looks and snarky comments. A friend of mine sees himself as a bit of a rebel for refusing to work at night or answer emails on vacation. I scoff at the idea and so do others I know.

  • One of my neighbors who is a venture capitalist takes evening walks so he can get out of the house and away from the kids to talk with his portfolio company CEOs.

  • Another friend who runs a boutique law firm goes on bike rides with prospective clients.

  • A well-known industry analyst has an annual BBQ where design thinking, Bitcoin, and startup valuations dominate the conversations.

This total work-immersion is now a part of life. For many it provides freedom to earn an income their way. But for most, it hurts. Because hard work seems like the goal, but unto itself is lacking. Being a workaholic without a purpose is like a disease. It will slowly destroy you and before you know it you will be left with emptiness.

For most of us, work ends before we expire. And often it ends a lot earlier than when we stop earning a paycheck because we forget what we are working for in the first place. So, I suggest that workaholism itself is not a problem. We were born to work exceptionally hard and our ancestors did so every day just to survive. The scourge is not knowing what you are working for.

I suggest you take a few minutes to answer the question, “Now what?” Yes, you are a workaholic, but for what? Think about the following and then quickly fill in the blanks on whatever scrap paper is in front of you. Do not overthink it.

I think my job is _____________, _____________, _____________ (list three words that best describe your job and then circle the one word that overshadows the others)

When I look back at my career, I want to be able to say I ___________________________________ (complete the sentence with your goal)

I am on my way to achieving my goal [] Yes [] No [] Sometimes (check the best answer)

I need to do this now to be aligned with my goal _____________, _____________, _____________ (list three actions that are under your control and immediately actionable)

If I were a doctor and officially “diagnosed” you, I would tell you to do the impossible. Just try to stop working at 4 p.m. today and turn off the computer and iPad this weekend, and spend more quality time with those you love. I am not sure you could. And I am not even sure you will regret in the future that you did not.

I simply suggest that the time you spend working should be moving you closer to your higher purpose and that when you are sitting in a retirement home you can look back with pride.

How do you define workaholic and what are you working for? I would love to hear your thoughts on Hacker News.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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