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Caroline Dowd-Higgins Headshot

8 Things I Learned As a Recovering Workaholic

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My name is Caroline Dowd-Higgins, and I'm a workaholic. I'm in recovery, and I have been clean for just a few months. My transformation is slow, and I am truly a work in progress; perhaps you can relate to my situation.

I'm an achiever with an inner voice that tells me to keep going, to accomplish and to take on more in order to succeed. I wake up excited about what to tackle next, and I love a challenge. I set extraordinary goals and constantly seek new projects for intellectual stimulation. I'm an employer's dream because I burn the midnight oil and never say no. I have often prioritized my career over my life and my loved ones, and for this, I am truly sorry.

The irony is that I'm a career coach and advise others about how to pursue work/life integration. I had a wake-up call recently that caused me to take a dose of my own career development medicine and start enjoying my life -- not just my work. It's never too late to change.

It was difficult, at first, to acknowledge my affliction, because like many workaholics, I really love the work I do. Only recently did I take an honest look in the mirror to notice that I was missing my life and the people in it, because I was working so much. I share this advice to help my fellow workaholics get a grip. Life is too short to miss, and every moment is precious. I urge you not to miss the life you deserve to lead.

1. Run the Mile You're In
As a workaholic, I was always planning my next project, looking for a new way to distinguish myself. My future-minded obsession made it difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy the moment I was supposed to be in. Recently, I learned the runner's adage, "run the mile you're in," and started to breathe deeply and pace myself so I could enjoy the now. I'm taking baby steps and so far, so good.

2. Give Up Guilt
As a woman in my fourth decade, I have finally learned that guilt is a useless emotion, so I have given it up for good. I thought I would be tempted to feel guilty about my new non-workaholic mindset, but I am not giving guilt any airtime. I know that my work ethic has not changed, nor has my ability to accomplish and take on challenging goals. I am simply ready to honor and enjoy my life as much as I have been enjoying my work, and I now know, there is room for both. Just say NO to guilt!

3. Work Smarter, Not Harder
I greeted a friend I had not seen in a while and we both lamented how busy we were. Is anybody not busy? I have chosen not to get wrapped up in the busyness of being a workaholic. I now choose to work smarter and not harder so I can be productive and not just busy. My to-do lists are more realistic, and my expectations have been realigned. Unless it's on fire, literally, or someone is in harm's way, chances are it can wait until tomorrow.

4. Take Your Vacation
I'll admit, over the course of my career, I've had massive amounts of vacation time I have never used. That's not a career badge of honor -- that means I was a workaholic idiot. Vacation is there for a reason, and we all need to take time away from work to recharge and focus on other things. Just like your lunch break, take it, relish the time away from your workplace and enjoy the world and the people in your life. I have now plotted my vacation time in advance just to be sure that I don't succumb to my old workaholic patterns and get seduced by some alluring new project that will woo me away from my well-earned time off.

5. Honor Your Body
There have been days when I worked 14+ hours riding the proverbial high of achievement and then collapsed into bed. I sacrificed eating well, exercising and spending quality time with my husband. I have always honored my need for eight hours of sleep a night, but I know many of my fellow workaholics struggle with sleep deprivation, which can lead to serious illness.

Bottom line -- you have one body in this lifetime and debilitating stress will cause a body to break down. Don't sacrifice your health and wellness for your work. I now measure a great day, not only in how much work I accomplish, but how well I eat, how much I move, the fresh air I breathe, how much I laugh and how I spend time with my loved ones.

6. Define Success
Like many careerists, I was defining myself by my work achievements. While I am still proud of my accomplishments, I am looking at life through a different lens. My definition of success includes my relationships, my time away from work and the life I lead beyond my career.

In Arianna Huffington's new book Thrive, she asks, "How do you want to be remembered?" Do you want people to say, "She never used her vacation and spent all her time at work?" As Huffington's Third Metric illustrates - redefine success. Create a life of well-being, wisdom and wonder. I am making a conscious effort to allow myself to define success on my terms -- it's not easy, but it's worth it!

7. Untether From Technology
OK, I'll admit, this is extremely tough. Can you unplug from technology when you are home and resist the urge to check your email, Facebook or Twitter feed?

I know there are times when you are on-call and you have to work late or go above and beyond -- that will never change. So when you can unplug, do it, and celebrate the time you have to enjoy your life.

8. It's Your Choice
I discovered that my workaholic tendencies were self-perpetuated. I was creating this scenario for myself, and it was my choice to change how I wanted to live my life. I also know that some career fields are ruthless and extremely time intensive, and often, we have to earn our wings for promotional opportunities. Been there, done that. I just want to reiterate that you always have a choice, and it doesn't have to be one or the other.

As a recovering workaholic, I can say that I have yet to master this new concept of prioritizing my life over my career. I am taking conscious and incremental steps, but I still fail. I do understand that life is short, and I want to enjoy it and cherish my relationships with people beyond my workplace. I'm at peace with failing forward and getting better every day.

I'm still going to be an achiever, and I'm still going to do great work. In fact, my productivity at work has risen because I am refreshed and healthier now that I am honoring my body and my life. I don't have a slacker bone in my body, so my work output hasn't decreased. I have given myself permission to enjoy my career and love my life.

A special thank you to all of my accountability masters who are helping me on my quest to live my life more fully. I am indebted to your coaching, and I am committed to helping other workaholics enjoy their lives. We've got to look out for each other. Now go do something fun that has nothing to do with work!