Is Your Big Picture In Balance?

Dear Debra: I founded a fast-growing start up that's requiring a ton of time. 
My wife supports how much she and I are devoting to career.  Except lately, there's been tension when I end up stressing until the last minute about whether I'll be able to get away for a weekend trip we've planned, or repeatedly have to cancel dinner plans with friends.  Am I normal or becoming a fanatical workaholic?

Dear Workaholic: Working crazy hours during periods of your life, checking your Blackberry on vacation, and regarding your work as a passion versus a way to pay the bills doesn't make you a workaholic.

Many people who log long hours enrich their lives by intellectual, professional, and financial rewards that come with loving their work and striving to be the best they can be.

The question is, are you an inspired workhorse on an ambition mission-trying to elevate yourself to a higher mental and even spiritual plane by doing meaningful, challenging work?  Or are you veering into the toxic variety?  Here's how to tell the difference.

Workaholics find work projects to divert them from important life commitments; exercising, medical exams, and paying bills on time stop mattering.  Workaholics can't delegate-they think they're irreplaceable.  The treadmill never stops.  Friends stop calling.  Family members learn not to count on them for even the most important events.  Their kids expect them to arrive late to birthday parties.  They arrive at Thanksgiving dinner with an hour to spare; meanwhile their family has been worrying that the workaholic isn't going to show and the holiday mood is ruined.

Balanced workhorses force themselves to take downtime, no matter what.  They delegate.  They take vacations-even if it's just a single day off.  They manage to work out, to eat healthily.  When sick, they stay in bed and allow themselves time to recover.  Workaholics go into work with 103 fever dosed up on Theraflu; they fight with partners about work always trumping time together and damage love relationships.  Balanced workhorses maintain open dialogue with loved ones about the reasons for logging long hours for periods of time, with the expectation that once the work abates, loved ones will get top billing again.  They support their partners to be every bit as dedicated to their own careers; there's give and take.  They keep their word.  They show up.

Ambition requires periods of imbalance where you must single-mindedly focus on work.  This is predictable and normal-as long as your big picture is balanced and as long as you make communicating with your wife an immutable priority.

And remember: We’re all in this together.

For more advice and to read inspiring stories from 500 women who've also been through volatile times, I hope you'll read my book, Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word.

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I am a business psychologist, researcher, author, executive coach, and career advisor. I lead workshops and lecture frequently on women’s need to embrace our ambition. I founded the Women’s Business Alliance, a motivational think tank for more than 2,500 women. For more details, see my about page.

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