Confessions of a Workaholic

It’s 7:30, the phone rings and my wife is asking when I’ll be home. “20 minutes” is what I tell her and I mean it… but not really. No, I haven’t really meant to get home at a reasonable hour for quite some time. Instead, I’ve found a more important, valuable endeavor – helping the young people of my hometown.

In 2000, my brother and I opened a non-profit arts driven youth center. We offered concerts, open mic nights, poetry slams, and graphic design classes. In addition, we ran the coffeehouse that fronted this effort to subsidize the organizations finances. It had taken us two years to get this place open, I had personally put in an extraordinary amount of hours, and even took out a loan on my car to pay for the espresso machine. I was highly committed to a “good thing”.

60, 70, 80 hour work weeks were not unusual. They were normal to me.

Surely my new wife, married only a few months, would understand my hectic life. After all, we met while she volunteered for the organization. That’s what made it so special about our relationship – “we’d both be fully invested to the success of reaching young adults”, I rationalized. My thinking couldn’t have been more miscalculated.

Time and time again, I went to work early in the morning and continued late into the evening. There were grants to write, ads to create, food & coffee items to order, inventory to count, events to promote, press releases to write, and when there were concerts – bands to entertain, feed, sound check, set lighting, assemble merchandise tables, and fraternize. Our entire staff was volunteer… including me. I only got paid the contents of the tip jar at the end of the night. This was certainly the path to wealth and riches, huh?

I was convinced that the sacrifice, the vital importance of the mission alone, would have a pay off.

All I have to do is work harder!

My poor wife began to feel taken for granted. I felt hoodwinked. Before we got married, she was “so involved” in this work as a volunteer, now she despised what I was doing. Falsely, I believed that if I could get the non-profit to ‘work’ my wife would, once again, embrace my passion. So I worked harder. I labored to prove myself.

On a deeper level, I sought more than my wife to impress. I needed to validate all the time and effort I’d put into this. I needed to prove to myself, my parents, the city government, and the other non-profits… even more so all those that doubted, criticized, or hated on us. I required a pay off to all of this.

Trapped, I defined my identity in what I was doing.I came to believe that if this thing failed, I was a failure.

Then in the spring of 2002, a note was slid under the door. The city claimed our property with eminent domain to build a new parking ramp. I sought to find a new building, negotiate with the city to help us recreate what we had… I wanted to fix this. Yet, a decision was made and I had no ability to correct it. Powerless, I watched as the city “tore down paradise and put up a parking lot”. I received neither the help from the city nor had the energy necessary to continue the non-profit.

I was burned out.

With a loss of purpose, a loss of identity, I acquired horrible coping mechanisms for my sense of failure. Late nights at the pub, karaoke and beer to drown my self hate. In addition, my wife wanted even less to do with me. Our romantic life was vastly suffering. I turned to porn.

Ever notice how we never intend the dreadful places we arrive at? Whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, we combat shame with more shame – a self-sabotage of immense proportions. We attempt to distract or soothe our pain with drinking, drugs, porn, making money… even over working. Yet, each coping mechanism only creates more pain. Then, we scratch our heads wondering “how the hell did I get here?”

I blamed… everyone but myself.

It was the fault of so many that placed me in this horrendous swirl of hurt, I was sure of it. I took it out on my wife. She returned the favor. Then I cheated, she cheated and then I had the audacity to look surprised when she finally walked out the door after two years of delightfully blissful marriage. Again, someone else made a decision for me without my ability to correct the situation. And again… I wanted to only work harder.

I once heard a South African friend of mine say, “life is like golf, the harder you try, the worse you do.” I needed to learn a different approach. And in hindsight, all of this looks so preposterous. I think, today, my teen daughter would use the words “cray cray” to describe this time in my life. Yet, for me, at that time, it all seemed so “normal”.

Do you know, anything seems normal in isolation? CLICK HERE to tweet this.

It’s very easy for any of us to turn inward.

We’d rather not talk about our shame, guilt, or dear god please don’t even touch the inner workings of my self-worth. I isolated myself from everything that could have helped me. I never talked to anyone about my “stuff”. I never confronted my false beliefs about myself. I never prioritized peace in my life, much less my marriage. And I certainly never considered any professional counseling… until my wife left me.

I had always thought, “only really jacked-up people get counseling”. I’m now of the opinion that really good counseling is what helps you avoid being jacked-up.

(NOTE: Counseling helped me not only get through this pain, but equipped me with tools to avoid the many pitfalls I’d found myself in at the time. I discovered the root causes to my overly developed work habits. In addition, I realized how selfish I’d become.)

My biggest lesson learned through this unbelievably painful season was that keeping my head down and simply working harder only depleted me. It NEVER accomplished more in my life, no matter how I tried to rationalize it.

Putting too much time into work simply for work’s sake alters your priorities, your perception, and more importantly, your relationships. I’m sure Alcoholics Anonymous coined the phrase, “the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting you have one.” Well…

I am a workaholic.

Or at least, I used to be.

My name is Angus Nelson and I Am A Prodigal

[photo credit: Alex Trevor Devine]

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Angus Nelson is the author of Love’s Compass and proficient speaker in the areas of relationships and manhood. Angus is a die-hard Packers fan, a recreational cigar enthusiast, and lover of craft beer. One day, he hopes to find a career in the tech world, drink fine wine, live near a beach, golf often, and write large checks to effective, life-changing non-profit organizations. Married to his Hawaiian honey, they have three children: 2, 3, and 17 living in Huntsville, Alabama. Find more of his writing at: www.daddyapproves.comwww.angusnelson.com

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

    Thanks for sharing your story Angus. I used to try to work 60+ hour weeks until I realized how badly my work and everything else around me was suffering. I wasn’t creating anything with my hands since my work was on my computer. I have since learned that gardening can be a real lifeline that pulls me out of work world, removes me from distractions, and leaves me better prepared to be present for my family. Blessings to you!

    • angusnelson

      Yes Ed, yard work is also one of my new found appreciations. I only wish I didn’t live in an area so sweltering HOT. :) Good for you in making the necessary adjustments for the people you love. That’s HUGE!

      • http://www.inamirrordimly.com Ed_Cyzewski

        I hear ya! And I should add that it’s a daily work in progress for sure!

  • http://www.tonyjalicea.com Tony J. Alicea

    Wow, I can relate to your story on SO many levels. I was a workaholic as well and that (among other things) ruined my first marriage. Hindsight is 20/20 but I’m thankful for everything I learned from that painful experience.

    • angusnelson

      If only we could turn back the clock knowing what we know now Tony. Yet, it’s amazing how those, once painful times, become our inciting motivations for growth. Appreciate you.

  • Emily_Maynard

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this story, Angus. It is powerful.

    • angusnelson

      Thanks Emily. My pleasure. I live by the statement, “when you show yourself vulnerable, you give others permission to do the same”.

  • http://www.zenichka.com/ Zee Kleshchar

    I used to be a workaholic… I loved what I did and I guess I was good at it… No one suffered, but there was little to life but my work. All my friends teased me about being in love with my job… In a way, I really miss that feeling – the feeling of getting up in the morning and thinking “Yay! I’m going to work!” (even if it were Monday)…

    • angusnelson

      Nothing wrong with loving your job. When it begins to interfere with relationships, it becomes a problem… I think your friends were trying to tell you that.

      • http://www.zenichka.com/ Zee Kleshchar

        Mostly I just talked a lot about the fact that I love my job… After a while, I stopped talking about it much, but there still are times when I forget… It’s far from what Google or Facebook offers benefits wise, but it’s got more perks than usual workplace here in Ukraine… and we’ve got a good team, so I mostly talked about the people I work with… Guess it sounded as if I were boasting all the time. *sigh* oh well.

        • angusnelson

          :)

  • First wife

    I found your post while searching for insight into my husband. I am feeling so desperate. We have two boys, 7 and 4, and I love my husband and want our family to make it. Reading comments from you and other men about what they learned after their first wives left wrenches my gut. I don’t want to be the first wife! I have invested too much and my boys have coped for too long waiting for daddy to come home …and I’ll be damned if someone else gets to reap the benefits of hindsight as the second wife. But how to save it? How to fix it? I feel like I have tried everything. Do I let myself disappear completely and simply accept it? How will it impact my sons as adults? My husband has had 3 jobs in our eight years together. Each job change promised better hours. It is now worse than ever. 90 hours average per week for the last 3 weeks. One day off in the last month. It is not the job. I finally get that much. It is him. I feel the usual….taken for granted, ignored, resentful, hurt, angry. Is there a best way, or any way, to break through to him? How an we learn the lessons without the divorce?

    • angusnelson

      Hello First Wife,
      Please bare with me as I lay this out and promise me you won’t jump to a conclusion to quickly… deal?

      Most of the things we endure are simply a matter of us allowing them to happen. As in my story, and I didn’t even go that deep, there were actions either of us could have taken to bring about a better ending. But we didn’t. I didn’t have the maturity, nor courage, back then to say what needed to be said. Had I stepped out, there would still be no guarantees the relationship would have worked out. However, I would have been much better off standing up for myself in a healthy fashion, and much happier… this leads me to your scenario.
      As long as you stay on him about working 90 hours a week, he will.

      You can’t manipulate, whine, or coerce him to change… you must change.

      The only thing you can do is calmly, rationally, and firmly state that his schedule FEELS like it’s breaking down your relationship, the family unit and how you wish he had the opportunity to be a part of the boys’ lives. I’m sure you’ve done this already, probably with much passion and tears. But again, this is to be done calmly, rationally, and firmly… almost as a matter of fact. After that, you let go. Tell him you love him and don’t bring it up again.

      Release your husband to continue doing whatever and live your life. STOP complaining, being angry, or bitter. Instead, become joyful, excited and invigorated with the new adventures you and the children are having. Forget trying to be so miserable. It hasn’t worked thus far. Your husband can only change when he chooses to… and right now, it sounds like he’d not to thrilled to come home to a pissed-off wife.

      Now, when he comes home, you’re laughing and having an amazing time. The kids are enjoying you, you are enjoying your self. He’s going to wonder what in the world has happened to you. He may even grow jealous or think you’re seeing someone else. But the point is – no manipulation is to be involved.

      When you finally stop feeling sorry for yourself, stop blaming him for your unhappiness, and stop trying to wrestle your husband into being the man you think he should be… he may WANT to come around more.

      Now, you become thankful for all of his hard work to provide for the family. Be ecstatic every time you get to see his face! Learn to love, respect, honor, and cherish him as the man of your life – and tell him every once and a while too! Eventually, you may end him off to work with notes of admiration stuffed in his bag. You’ll even grow in compassion for your husband. You’ll want to serve him, honor him, and shower him with praise.

      You see, your husband is not the enemy. The real enemy here is discontent, anger, bitterness, and control. Give this man to God and start living a life of abundance and see what happens.

      If your husband doesn’t get the clue, you can still be happy. You’ll either find a way to make this marriage work under these terms or you’ll become so confident and radiant in yourself that you’re willing to move on to find a more compatible mate. You are the one who decides your level of happiness in this relationship. Not your husband, not his job. And I promise you this – if you become confident in you, who God has made you, you can’t help but become a pleasure to be around – sexy, dazzling, and peaceful – hubby may very well want to be around more often.

      This is probably not what you wanted to hear, but it’s what you need to hear.

      Lot’s of love and prayers coming your way sweetie!

      • RC

        I really appreciate your article but unfortunately this comment makes it sound like it’s First Wife’s fault that her husband is a work-a-holic, since she is not currently joyfully living her life. I do agree that ultimately this is what we have to do – seek the Lord even in an unhappy marital situation – but it would probably be good to be more clear that this may not work, if the husband isn’t willing to deal with his sin issues.

  • ruth

    Thanks Angus! I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in sharing your story :) I liked how you mentioned that you defined your identity in what you where doing…and if it failed, you were a failure. It’s so true how we all get so caught up in finding worth and validation in what we do, so much so that we neglect others and the many other wonderful things around us…it can truly become a very selfish thing, and we barely realize it when it’s happening! It’s great to hear about how you’ve recognized the issues and found ways to deal with them :)

    • http://twitter.com/angusnelson angusnelson

      My pleasure Ruth. It’s been a crazy road, but well worth the lessons learned. Cheers!

  • Emilly Thompson

    My name is Emilly Thompson and my testimony is based on the fact that my husband never wanted to repair our relationship, but instead he fell in love with my own best friend, my best friend betrayed me and had an affair with my husband, within less than a month after I found out. I was now introduced to a Prophet Abayotor from the Ajamugashrine, he then prepare some reunion spells for me, though both of them had learnt their lessons for what they did to me, Finally when I ready for my husband to comeback home I just told the prophet and within a week I was surprised of the missed calls left by my husband, the voice messages that he left on my phone was that he did a mistake and wanted us to start over again and he will not try to cheat on me ever again in his life and that was it. I wish to say thank you the ajamugashrine and I recommend similar people mostly women in such situation to reach him via; ajamugashrine@gmail.com