Work-Life Balance

Advice From a Recovering Workaholic: Make a Shift to 'Less Is More'

Advice From a Recovering Workaholic: Make a Shift to 'Less Is More'
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This is the first time I’m publicly admitting what I am about to tell you. My name is John Brubaker and I am a recovering workaholic.

I’ve been battling this “addiction” for as long as I can remember. I inherited the “workaholism gene” from my father. At least he had good reason. He grew up during the Great Depression, had no running water in his house and his meals often consisted of what he called “wish sandwiches” (two slices of bread with jam and butter and he wished there was meat). I, on the other hand, have no good reason outside of my DNA.

It really started when I was a college coach. Coaches are a lot like entrepreneurs in that both jobs are incredibly time consuming, pressure-cooker work environments. You work weekdays and weekends, whatever it takes. It’s the nature of the beast.

Related: Why Being a Workaholic Is Counterproductive

But by choice, I started working well into the night most weeknights. That was the gateway drug, so to speak, to sleeping in the office, which I also did in my quest to get ahead. All of this probably improved my team’s performance marginally in the short term while taking a toll on my performance (and my team’s) over the long term. Not exactly a good trade off in hindsight.

At the time I justified it as an occupational hazard. I was in denial about it until my then-girlfriend now-wife invited me to go on vacation in Colorado in 1999. I told her I didn’t think I could do it. She asked when was the last time I took a vacation. I couldn’t answer because I hadn’t taken one in 12 years. She convinced me it would be good for me.

Camping, river rafting, no cell phone, no email -- completely disconnected from work for five days. I thought my head was going to explode. I survived, and she was right, it was good for me. But then I put my nose right back on the grindstone. 

Three years later my team made it to the NCAA Final Four so I thought what I was doing was working. Maybe if I worked a little harder we could win a national championship. 

Fast forward two years and on June 14, 2004, our athletic director walked into my office and very matter-of-factly told me, "The only thing keeping us from winning a national championship is you, so I'm making a change. We're buying out the remainder of your contract." Then he passed me a piece of paper and walked out of the room. I was fired -- on my birthday.

In the quest to win a national championship, I wasn't just burning the candle at both ends, I was taking a flamethrower to it and the toll it took added up. I was burned out, stressed out and it affected my physical health. I knew something had to change and it wasn’t just making a career shift. It was also making a mindset shift.

Since 2004 when I moved from college coach to executive coach I’ve seen workaholism impacting professionals in all industries. It's a common trap: In their quest to win, leaders devote so much time concerning themselves with the health, fitness and performance of their people that they neglect to carve out sufficient time for the very same self-care. We grind because we are driven to get to the next level but with workaholism comes collateral damage that's often inflicted on marriages, children, friendships and health. One in ten Americans are labeled workaholics.

Related: The 6 Scary Truths About Becoming an Entrepreneur

What I learned as a result of my “birthday present” is that we’ve been sold a false bill of goods that more is more when it comes to our work. We think we need to work harder to get ahead and do more to become more. The reality of it is that like athletes, entrepreneurs aren’t as good as our performance, we are only as good as our recovery. 

Your team’s performance is a reflection of your leadership. I learned that maybe if I had modeled better recovery and balance my players might have had better recovery. Then maybe a four-goal loss in the NCAA Final Four might have been a win or even a national championship.

The universe has a way of sending us signs that we are redlining our engines. When your health suffers, that’s the universe turning on your body’s “check engine” light. You need to shift gears and slow down. We each will only receive a certain number of check-engine warnings before our engine burns out.

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at a global wellness conference on this topic. My speech, “The Shift,” is about the counterintuitive concept that by slowing down you will speed up your results.

I think The Shift will help you as you set your goals for 2015 because I’m sure taking your business to the “next level” is among them. It’s that elusive place every entrepreneur wants to go to but we are rarely equipped with a set of instructions on how to get there safely.

The interesting thing about getting to the next level is that more isn’t more, less is more. The beauty of making the shift is that it isn’t just your results that improve, you improve too. In looking back at my career since making the shift on that fateful day in 2004, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that time off pays off. As 2014 ends, I'm 10 years older and 10 years into the shift. By focusing on recovery first, my emotional, physical and fiscal fitness are at a peak.

My New Year’s wish for you is that you make this same shift. I speak from experience when I say making the shift can pay off for you too, if you heed the warning your check-engine light gives.

Related: The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off