For most part of my life, I used to call myself a workaholic. I used to be proud of my achievements and the careers I was building, and wore this badge with honor to the demise of my overall well-being.
It was not until I had reached a breaking point at the age of 30. My workaholism and concomitant perfectionism had trapped me in a vicious cycle, saying “yes” to each and every opportunity and dragging myself from one 12+ hour movie shoot to the next, even on the weekends, with no end in sight. Who needed sleep anyways? I was lying and telling myself that this was what I had ever wanted, but my passion for filmmaking would soon become a never ending nightmare and others began to expect and exploit my availability.
Born and raised in Germany, I naively used to blame my self-destructive behavior on my nationality. Germans have this reputation for being hard workers and are known to be living for a working rather than to be working for a living. It was a plain and simple explanation that allowed me to keep going for a little while longer until I realized that my private life had been empty and unfulfilled for many years, if not to say non-existent. It was then, at my lowest point, that I happened to run into this nice stranger on a movie set, who would promise me the world, but ultimately made me work even harder to feel worth anything.
As I learned through therapy, what was really happening was that I was reenacting a part of my childhood, not only in my private life but at my workplace, as well. It was the little girl trapped inside of me who was still wanting nothing more but to feel accepted and receive recognition for a job well done. Obviously, my inner child was seeking acceptance and recognition from outside; a pat on the back that would relief the anxiety of feeling invisible and build up my self-worth a little, just like back in the days when I had brought a good grade home from school (wearing the teacher’s pet badge at the time).
If I have learned anything in the past two years, then it is that workaholism is nothing more but a coping mechanism, and certainly nothing to be proud of. Like any other addiction, it is a result of unresolved and repressed trauma leading to low self-worth and self-acceptance, and therefore, a lack of self-love, which will ultimately translate to self-sacrificing and people pleasing habits, general unhappiness, and create an open door for those who will take advantage.
It was when I finally embarked on my healing journey and learned to love and accept myself just as I am, rather than seeking validation outside of myself, that my private and professional relationships evolved to places where I could feel secure and accepted, and where my efforts were appreciated enough that I never had to call myself a workaholic again. I have learned to say “no”.