Break Your Work Addiction

Jane Perdue

You know how busy you get climbing the ladder of success... that constant swirl of activity focused on the business, your department, results, outcomes, family, and friends. Time for yourself? Ah, you’ll work that in later. And that later never happens.


In the mid-1990s, I landed my first Fortune 500 company VP job. The first several months after the promotion was a crazy blur of 80-hour work weeks and frenetic scrambling. Then two firsts happened: a 360 leadership assessment and a sick leave.


The 360 feedback from my direct report team was cosmic whack number one: you are an amazing leader but you make us exhausted and frustrated in trying to keep up with you. Teach us what you know, show us the way, and then let us make it happen. What a bombshell! I had been so busy doing, trying to make my post-promotion mark that I had forgotten “to be” and to lead, not perpetually do.


The second cosmic whack quickly followed. That neck pain I’d been ignoring for months became jack-hammer unbearable and produced a new problem—the inability to grasp anything in my hands. Using a keyboard wasn’t possible nor was using utensils to cut up food (not an unreasonable antidote, I figured, for failing to maintain a regular exercise program… who had time for that anyway?). The neurosurgeon declared my herniated disk the largest he had ever seen (always the overachiever...). Surgery, and recovery time, was the only solution.


The gift of feedback from my team coupled with the sick leave were humbling yet liberating personal and professional events. I learned the value of setting the tone and direction for my team, but then stepping aside so they had ownership, responsibility, and accountability, as well as the glow of success and the insights from failure.


I learned the value of self-care. A Harvard Business Review article about the “corporate athlete” resonated with me and influenced my thinking about relaxing. The gist of the article? Train for work like an athlete trains for his or her sport by focusing on mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. To that end, I worked with both a nutritionist and a personal trainer, adopted hobbies, started volunteering, and sought out other activities to enrich my mind and my soul.


At work, I created an engaging office environment with beautiful black-and-white photography, a desktop Zen sand garden, a small gurgling fountain, and a small pile of toys close at hand. I learned not to ignore the early warning signs of stress. I took quick walks around the office, and used that time to refocus and connect with others.


It took not one, but two, cosmic two-by-fours to capture my attention and get me focused on taking care of myself so I can more effectively nurture others. This quote from Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, keeps me on track: “If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind. If you don’t, you’re simply ducking your responsibilities.”