When someone has a drink for the first time, they may think, “Oh, this is kind of fun,” and let alcohol take a casual place in their life.

When someone else has a drink, they may immediately get a secondary benefit. They might find a break from some sort of pain or trauma that has been haunting them and continue to return to alcohol for that secondary benefit. It essentially takes a medicinal place in that person’s life.

Well, work can actually function the same way. Here’s how:


So, what is workaholism? Well, if we think about somebody that has a drink for the first time, a person may have the drink and then think, “Oh, this is kind of fun and I may do it once in a while, or maybe I’ll do it occasionally, or never, I don’t like it.” But alcohol takes a place in their life.

Somebody else has a drink, and they immediately get a secondary benefit. They either are able to be a certain way socially that they couldn’t be before and they want that, or there is a break from some sort of pain or something that’s haunting them and that’s nice to get.

In either of those cases or other similar experiences, alcohol takes a different place. It takes almost a medicinal place in that person’s life. Well, work can actually be the same thing.

In some cases, people that show up with workaholism have this internal binary thinking that I’m either making money or I’m gonna go broke. So, that’s like that second group of drinkers that are getting this benefit. They are not working as a way of enhancing their life. There’s this fear, sometimes rooted in tragedies that happen in families or just coming from a particular group where there was a lot of pain as a result of not having a lot of money or means. And so, this can be a really strong force that demands that you work really hard all the time.

Another ripe area for workaholism is if there are–this image that really helps is this tsunami, this avalanche of things, emotional, physical, relational experiences that are haunting us, that are sort of chasing us. The image that’s often used is like, if you’re running down some train tracks and there’s a train coming at you. Well, if that’s the case, you just don’t stop. You have to keep running because if you stop you’re gonna get run over. And work, like alcohol or drugs or any other addictive behavior, can give you a certain escape from that. It’s like running on the track.

Now, of course, there are an infinite number of presentations that can happen for any person and I wanted to share a story of a client that I worked with recently. He is an incredibly successful person, and this person some years ago realized that they were part of that first category of people. Because of things that had happened to him as a teenager, he had this deep-seated fear of being bankrupt at any given time, no matter how much money he made. And when he realized that that was motivating him, he reports that since that happened he has been more successful than he has ever been before. He works more than he’s ever worked before. But work is no longer a burden to him.

And the reason I tell you this story is because finding out what motivates our behavior, what motivates us to work in the way that we do, can give us a certain freedom. If that freedom means working less, or maybe moving and living in a cave somewhere as a yogi? Fantastic. And if that freedom means working more but having work not be a burden, that’s just as great.