I posted the below tweet yesterday, and was sorta shocked by the reaction.
People were either in violent agreement with it (“this described my life!” two retweets or “wake up, corporate America is taking our lives away from us!”).
I think it’s because many people fall into one of these two camps:
(1) Work defines me, it’s all I think about — and I love what I do. It stresses me the f*ck out, but I’m obsessed with it.
(2) Work sucks — but I need an income, and so I deal with it. (by the way, some of these people have really successful careers).
Many people fall in between! But let’s talk about these two camps for now.
Camp 1: Voluntary workaholics
Many of these people are defined by their work. In some cases, it’s because they are intellectually fascinated by it. In other cases, they are running from inner demons, suffer from depression, and the stimulus of a very intense work-life helps keep them going.
And when they hear people say things like: “I hate when all people want to talk about is work” or “you should really take a break” it pisses them off.
Why? Because these comments cut more than people think they do.
“I hate when all people want to talk about is work.” That’s like saying: “I don’t want to hear about your favorite thing that most defines who you are.” And in some cases these people don’t really know what else to talk about.
“You should really take a break” cuts deep because sometimes — these people are working so damn hard to try to accomplish something, when life is basically punching them in the face all day, that they need encouragement to keep going. Imagine running a marathon, and the people on the side of the road saying: “hey! you should stop for some water and maybe just quit?” You’d want to flip them the middle finger.
A lot of these people view their job as their “identify” (which is a concept I really love from the book Atomic Habits. And working helps them live up to that identity, and when people talk down to them about their work-life balance, it is like speaking negatively about their identity.
Camp 2: People who have diverse interests and are not defined by their work
These are people who — in many cases are good at their jobs, but don’t feel defined by their work. When they go on vacation they can unplug (and they like to unplug). Their job is not necessarily their Identity, it’s just part of what they do. And they may identify as: “being an artist,” or “being a marathon runner,” or “being a great friend,” or “being an avid reader.”
That doesn’t mean they don’t want to be successful though. And the treadmill that Voluntary Workaholics promotes makes them feel like they have to work so much, that they can’t pursue the outside interests that define their Identity.
This is similarly insulting. When Voluntary Workaholics humblebrag or joke about how much they work — it makes these people with diverse interests feel like they either have to (a) work more than they want to, and give up those passions or (b) feel guilty for not working enough, and wonder if the Voluntary Workaholics consider them lazy.
By bragging about how much they work, Voluntary Workaholics are passive aggressively saying: “not working as hard as I do makes you less successful than me. In turn, it’s also like saying: “your interests outside of work are not as important as my interest, which is work.” AKA “your Identiy is less important than mine.”
The worst part is that each side thinks their camp is the only right one to be in, and is super offended by the other side.
The reality is — both work. And both should stop giving a hard time to the other. It’s not like people who are obsessed with work are better for any reason, and it’s not like people with more diverse passions are superior either. It’s just different.