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5 Things I’ll Never Do Again As a Recovering Workaholic

by Kelley Sullivan

I have to admit I was embarrassed and a bit ashamed when I first downloaded social media video apps like TikTok and Lomotif at the beginning of the pandemic. As a millennial, those apps just weren’t our place… I told myself it was only out of pure boredom. But, now, here I am feeling inspired to write based on a social media trend.

My feed is mostly wedding planning tips, workout routines, and Goldendoodles. However, over the last few weeks, I keep seeing videos about “5 things I’ll never do again as a personal trainer” or “5 things I wish I didn’t do at my wedding.” So I started thinking about what list I would be able to put together.  What lists could you offer the world – that would improve someone’s life by either teaching them your mistakes or teaching them your secrets to success?

I know I could easily write about 5 cheeses to make the perfect charcuterie board, but this list had to be about things I wouldn’t do again… and there aren’t many kinds of cheese I wouldn’t eat, so that idea was off the table. 

Then something strange happened, I found myself thinking about my past professional life. What ‘lists’ could I share from my experiences? And, again, what could you share from yours?

My first “real” job out of graduate school I threw myself at completely. It was my dream company at the time and I wanted to climb the corporate ladder to the top. I’d try to work longer and harder than everyone else to prove my value to the company and my own personal worth. It quickly got to the point where I was consistently having nightmares about work. I stressed myself out so much during my waking hours that it carried over into my subconscious and I never felt truly rested. 

Why did I do this? Part of me believed that it was what I was supposed to do. I was in the “real world” now and I needed to grind. I was socialized to believe that the more time and energy I put in, would equate to me being the best employee. However, it was unsustainable and ultimately I was inflicting damage on my mental and physical health.

Thinking back to those exhausting days as a workaholic my heart rate quickens and my chest starts to tighten, but it gave me my list.

5 Things I’ll Never Do Again As a Recovering Workaholic

5 things you need to stop doing… from a self-diagnosed workaholic.

1. Stop incessantly checking your work email.

This was one of my main symptoms as an addict. It used to be bad. For years, the last thing I did before bed after I turned off the lights would be to check my work email. As if I was going to respond in my pajamas at midnight… well actually back then I might have. Then in the morning, my alarm would go off, and I’d roll over, open my email app and wait for it to refresh. As if in that handful of hours a crisis had developed that needed my attention. Note: this was my first job out of school, even IF there was a crisis, I wouldn’t have even been looped into it. 

Nothing good ever came of this unhealthy habit. It got so out of control I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it most nights. And if I got out of bed to use the bathroom at 3 or 4 a.m. I’d have to check one more time, I was addicted. Just because nowadays we can access work 24/7 doesn’t mean that we should. There have to be clear boundaries. The emails can wait.

2. Never let work determine your self-worth. 

I learned the hard way at the beginning of my career not to let my work performance determine my sense of self. I can still remember holding back tears while getting berated by a boss in a meeting (which now I can’t even remember what it was about). I went home that evening thinking that I was a complete failure. Not that the work or project I was part of failed, but I truly believed that I was the failure. When I would get negative feedback or any feedback for that matter, I would let that influence my own self-worth.

Your performance at work should not dictate your value. Failure and mistakes are part of life and are integral to learning and growing. Is it fun to fail? Of course not. But when it happens, remember you are a person who failed at something, YOU are not a failure. 

3. Stop ruining happy hours.

If I could cash in on the hours I have spent outside of work talking about work with my coworkers, I might just be able to retire early. I understand if you’re out grabbing drinks or socializing with coworkers it can be second nature to fall into talking about work since it’s common ground. However, I recommend steering away from collegial topics with your colleagues. You probably want to escape from work and so do they, so why let it control your conversations?

5 Things I’ll Never Do Again As a Recovering Workaholic4. Don’t let work interfere with family time.  

I used to contemplate if I’d be able to make it to friends and even family weddings because of work. The idea of taking a day or half-day off for travel would stress me out. Honestly, most times it wasn’t because I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the workload, but in the thick of my workaholic life, I was so concerned with the idea of people even perceiving that I wasn’t working hard enough. Never have I judged any of my coworkers for leaving to watch their kids’ sports games or taking time off for a wedding, or any other reason. So why would I think they would do the same to me? 

Employees are people and not just cogs in a machine. We have a life outside of work that we can’t neglect. Careers and companies come and go, so don’t deprioritize quality time with your friends and family.

5. Never sacrifice your health for a job. 

When I was a workaholic I had consistent chest tightness. During meetings or calls, I’d have to have a deep breathing gif up on the side of the screen so that I wouldn’t start hyperventilating. At any moment I felt like I could combust and burst into tears.

Now, you might be thinking that it’s self-explanatory that a job should never take precedence over your health. However, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health work-related stress accounts for 120,000 deaths per year. Stress has a much bigger impact on us than we think. Common indicators that your physical health is being affected include reduced immune system functioning, high blood pressure, or chronic migraines. And it’s not just your physical health. Make sure work isn’t impacting your mental or emotional health either. Check-in with yourself and learn healthy ways to manage your stress. No job is worth sacrificing your health and well-being. 

Closing Thoughts

A major theme throughout my list comes down to setting healthy boundaries. It can be tempting, especially if you’re starting a new job to go “all in”, but you have to take care of yourself as well. If you end up burning out at work or burning relationships with your friends and family no one comes out on top.

The control I used to let my job have over all aspects of my life was not healthy. As someone who learned these lessons the hard way, I am hoping that this article reaches at least one workaholic out there. And maybe you know someone who is currently trapped by their work and who hasn’t set healthy boundaries yet. Help them out and share this list with them, they’ll thank you later.

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