I’m a recovering workaholic.
Over the past year, I’ve been reading, researching, and conducting experiments on myself to understand the difference between high performers and workaholics. I believe that there are healthier ways for us to work without sacrificing our values, the people we value, or the value we create but we, as a society, we mistake workaholism for high performance, but they are two distinct ways of working. In fact, workaholism is the only addiction we celebrate.
High performance and workaholism look the same on the outside. They both look like hard work. The BIG DIFFERENCE is how the individual feels on the inside about who they are in relationships to their work.
A high performer works hard in healthy sustainable ways and feels happy and inspired.
A workaholic works hard in unhealthy unsustainable ways and feels unhappy and burned out.
1. Doing Business vs. Being Busy
A high performer’s #1 goal is to do business. The only thing that matters to them are results. If they can’t see a way to create value in the moment, they facilitate or strategize instead. They know that like the economy, business comes in waves, therefore, they get ready during the dips so they can capitalize during the upswings.
A workaholic’s #1 goal is to be busy. Workaholics fill any space in time with busy work because they feel insecure doing nothing. The insecurity comes from not knowing their value. They believe that the busier they are, the more important they must be. As a result, they find a way to be busy even when it’s not busy season instead of periodically hibernating throughout the days, weeks, months, quarters, and year for when the highs come.
2. Knows What’s Enough vs. Never Enough
A high performer knows what is enough. Whether we win by 1 point or 50 points, it doesn’t matter. A win is a win. High performers seek more in the areas that matters, but they know what enough is in the areas that don’t matter so much. This comes from having a clear definition of success.
A workaholic doesn’t know what enough is. I’m not good enough. This isn’t good enough. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough support. They are always focused on more and seeking to maximize everything because they don’t really know what success means to them.
3. 100% At The Right Time vs. 110% All Of The Time
A high performer knows when to turn it up. When their number is called, they give everything they have. They don’t buy into the illusion of 110%. They know that 110% is unsustainable. Instead they focus on increasing their capacity so that their 100% is better than the competition’s 110%.
A workaholic thinks “turn down for what?” They hustle, grind, and go H.A.M. all of the time. They have difficulty prioritizing what’s important, therefore, everything is important in their mind.
4. Knows Their Value vs. Allows Others To Determine Value
A high performer knows their self-worth and can thus work with a sense a freedom. This comes from doing periodic self-evaluation of their performance so that they can constantly improve. They create their own feedback loops rather than waiting on feedback from others.
A workaholic relies on external validation from their boss, colleagues, and clients and thus works with a sense of fear. They wait for external evaluations such as mid-year or annual reviews done by others to understand how well they are doing.
5. Proactive/Intentional vs. Reactive/Unintentional
A high performer is proactive about their time and work. They design their day and anchor the most meaningful and important things in time first, and then they allow fires and other unplanned events to fill in the rest of their day. They don’t allow distractions to deter their strategy.
A workaholic is reactive about their time and work. They allow other people to choose how their time gets spent working by reacting to emails, fires, unplanned events, and other distractions that arise throughout the day. If and when all of the minutia get addressed, they try to do what’s most meaningful.
6. Focus On What I Control vs. What I Can’t
A high performer focuses on their effort—inputs and outputs. Only the individual knows if they gave the task at hand their best. They judge themselves against their best self as opposed to others.
A workaholic focuses on the outcome and their income. Even when we think we do our best, the outcome that occurs and the income that is derived from it is not fully in our control. Their desire to compare leads them to judge themselves using common metrics of success which aren’t always directly correlated to effort.
7. Put Self First vs. Second
A high performer puts themselves first because they know that by doing so, it allows them to serve others at a higher level. At times it appears to be selfish, but it’s actually selfless because they want to give first-class service to those they work with and for.
A workaholic puts others before themselves. This appears to be selfless, but it’s not sustainable. When we constantly give more than we have and never take time to replenish our source, we end up depleted. This behavior is also driven by the good intention of service, but the desire to be needed and be the hero counters that intention.
At the end of the day, workaholics do work to look important while high performers look for important work to do.
I hope this has helped you understand the fine line between workaholism and high performance and determine where you are so that you can shift your approach to the great work you do daily.
Wishing you more happy hours,