Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Debbie Roes. It’s part of my monthly series Stories of Transformation.
I was raised to be a high achiever and to excel at everything I did. It started with getting good grades in school and progressed on to graduating with honors from high school, college, and graduate school. This work ethic transferred from school into the work world and I found myself rapidly climbing the corporate ladder in Silicon Valley during the days of the dot-com boom.
Although I liked my job, it took up far too large a space in my life. For years, it was common for me to work ten to twelve hour days during the week, and I frequently spent time at the office on the weekends as well. In the high-tech world, it was completely normal to work this way and such a schedule was basically expected of any employee who wished to get ahead.
When I started working from home in 2000, the situation worsened, as there was no longer any separation between my work life and my private life. It seemed like I was always working and my life became extremely out of balance. However, I didn’t consider my way of being as a problem that needed to be solved. Rather, I viewed my singular focus on work as a sign of achievement and success. I felt important and needed, so I saw no reason to change my ways. Not even getting married pushed me to shift my modus operandi.
A Turning Point
I got married in July 2001, but my husband and I opted to delay our honeymoon until the following February so we could visit New Zealand during their summer season. Most couples spend a week or two in an exotic locale for their honeymoon, but since we were travelling such a long distance, we planned to spend a full month in the land of the kiwis.
Of course, a lot of planning went into taking such a lengthy trip, including getting all of our ducks in a row so we could be away from work for so long. Although I’d found competent co-workers to fill in for my various job responsibilities, I still stressed and fretted right up until the night before our departure. I worried that all hell would break loose while I was gone, sending all of my hard work down the proverbial drain.
After much agonizing and very little sleep, my husband and I boarded our plane to New Zealand. Our vacation was finally under way and there would be no turning back. I had to have faith that my job would be handled in my absence and shift my focus toward enjoying my much-needed time away with my new spouse.
A Powerful Shift from a Different World
Now remember that this was twelve years ago. Back then, there were no smart phones that enabled us to check email at any time of the day from anywhere in the world. In 2002, one had to visit an internet cafe and pay by the minute to check in back home, so it wasn’t something that was generally done multiple times per day. Early in the trip, I made an effort to read my email and keep tabs on how things were going with my job, but then something shifted in me.
About a week into our trip, I started to relax and really enjoy myself. We were engaged in sightseeing in a beautiful country and experiencing new and exciting adventures that we’d only ever dreamed of previously. I started to realize that there was literally a whole other world out there, beyond the confines of my work, work, work all the time reality. Slowly but surely, I began to really live my life!
For the remainder of our vacation, I think I only checked my work email once. I released my hold on that part of my life and immersed myself instead in the day to day smorgasbord of adventures waiting for me in New Zealand. I allowed myself to bask in the joy of each and every moment shared with my husband and to drink in our beautiful surroundings.
A Lasting Epiphany
Many people fully enjoy their vacations, only to return home to the same reality and approach to life that they left behind. But that was not the case with me. I experienced an epiphany thousands of miles away from home which accompanied me back to the United States. It was during that trip to New Zealand that I was cured of my workaholism. I realized that there is so much more to life than work and I grasped at a cellular level the truth that our time on this earth is short. We need to grab the bull by the horns and enjoy as much of life as we can while we are here.
Within months of my return to the states, I went back to school to pursue a new career, one that represented a return to my original passion for personal development (I studied psychology in school). In the ensuing years, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing with my career and I’ve taken a few twists and turns along the way. However, one thing has remained constant. I’ve never gone back to those twelve hour days and the singular focus on work to the exclusion of all other areas of my life.
Work is Only One Facet of Our Lives
I still value the importance of passionate work as a key part of a fulfilling life, but it is only one facet of what makes our lives worth living. There’s an old saying that states that no man on his death bed ever wishes he’d spent more time at the office. I firmly believe that’s the truth. There is so much more to life than our job titles or how much money we earn. We have our relationships, our hobbies and interests, travel, personal growth, spirituality, and so much more.
I sometimes wonder how my life would be today had I not taken that month-long trip to New Zealand back in 2002. I’m sure I’d be making a lot more money and have a much more impressive job title, but would I be happier than I am today? I highly doubt it! While I may not have a high-powered career, I have a happy marriage, I live in a place I love, and there is a lot more to my life besides work. I’m proud to call myself a former workaholic!
Debbie Roes is a personal development writer, coach, and speaker. Her blog, Recovering Shopaholic, chronicles her journey to shop more consciously, trade her full closet for a full life, and help others to do the same. She enjoys a simple and happy life with her husband and two cats in San Diego, California.