Workaholism and the Head-Fake

To understand where Renewable Enthusiasm is coming from, you’ll need a quick bit of back story. Prior to 2010, I was a workaholic. I was Exhibit A that Clayton Christensen described in his Harvard Business Review blog entry, How will you measure your life?

“When people who have a high need for achievement…have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward.”

It wasn’t just about working a ton of hours and taking my work home with me. I craved that immediate feedback and sense of gratification. Maintenance of my self-worth required it. How else would I know I was succeeding in life but through the kudos, the evaluations, the challenging assignments, the being needed and called upon by important people?

The author being bad-ass while rock climbing

The author being bad-ass in June 2011

The only problem was, my work was becoming the sum total of my personality. That wasn’t making me happy. Enter in a need for something different. In early 2010, having settled into a regular 8-hour-a-day job that I loved, I set my new year’s resolution: I would do something bad-ass. I didn’t know what that would be at the time, except that it would not be work-related. I soon found rock climbing.

It turned out that climbing had a whole heaping load of stuff to teach me about life. Ever since I’ve made that decision, I’ve stumbled upon lesson upon lesson that would have been nearly impossible for me to learn otherwise. Climbing made me live them.

Randy Pausch had a term for this in his Last Lecture: the head-fake. The head-fake is when you’re taught a deeper lesson under the pretense of learning something else.

learning how to tie a bowline knot

Learning how to tie a bowline knot for a top-rope anchor

For Randy, it was football and the lessons that team sports can teach. He told us, “These kind of head-fake learnings are absolutely important and you should keep your eye out for them, because they’re everywhere.”

The head-fake here? Climbing has made me a better person, friend, colleague, and employee. Yes, that’s right. I used to be a workaholic working crazy hours, craving success. Yet I’ve become a better colleague and employee by spending less time at work, and more time re-discovering myself through outside activities.

My passion for climbing, in addition to other head-fake opportunities that I’ll write about in future posts, has given me new skills, new vocabulary and a new framework for living and measuring my life.

A word cloud of life lessons from climbing

Life lessons that climbing has taught me

I was going to close out the post here. But as I made my final edits, my sister gave me the punctuation I needed when she serendipitously posted this Atlantic Monthly article on Facebook: All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed.

“Adults who did not have the opportunity to experience and cope with moderately challenging emotional situations during play are more at risk for feeling anxious and overwhelmed by emotion-provoking situations in adult life.”

The entreaty that kids need more play holds equally true for adults needing renewal. Even if we had that play as kids, we can forget those lessons as adults. We need more play, more re-creation, more head-fake opportunities in our lives. I will be writing more about how these head fake opportunities helped me renew my enthusiasm, and why they are essential to help us sustain our passion.

In the meantime, I’m interested to know: what head-fake opportunities have you found and what have they taught you?

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3 thoughts on “Workaholism and the Head-Fake

  1. Through my college studies, I found that an expectation of success, as opposed to just hoping for it, helps lead to success. This is because the expectation led me to pay more attention to the details of what is necessary to succeed, and to attend to them with greater enthusiasm. I have also applied this to my professional career. Of course, this doesn’t mean that success becomes automatic, but it does make it much more likely, I have found.

  2. I love this post!!! Reading it has helped me remember that re-creation made me happy and reminded me that I had it and know I can get it back. No matter how hard you work the most important thing to remember is you have to take care of yourself first or you will never be able to truly be successful at anything else. You may think you are successful but once you find out how to best take care of yourself and be fulfilled the breakthrough in every other area of your life will be AMAZING!

    • Thanks for your comment, Claudia! It’s true – you can always renew your enthusiasm, get your groove back, find your mojo, and move well beyond just functioning to be flourishing. You’ve found the key – thanks for sharing it with us!

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