Working hard: love of work or misguided hero complex?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

Interesting, and very American, with the long need to explain why working 80 hours a week might be bad:

In March of 2011, I was in the depths of burnout. I had been working 80+ hour weeks at least twice a month since the previous fall. My design studio, Metagramme, had an ongoing project that grew beyond all reckoning, swallowed the majority of our billable time, and crippled our ability to pursue new work.

I developed vision trouble. Distant objects refused to snap into focus and reading became difficult. Stress-induced bald spots cropped up in my beard. My relentless schedule created tension on the home front. Something had to give.

I bought a better monitor. I delegated more (I hired Jason, my first full-time designer around this time – poor guy didn’t know what he was in for). I made a half-hearted attempt at afternoon power naps. My eyesight improved, but the stress and exhaustion persisted. These efforts were really just Band-Aids on a gaping wound. As soon as time opened up and things slowed down, the hours were magically filled with other things. My motivation for working long hours wasn’t creative exuberance. I was driven by a superhero complex – a burden of responsibility that we shouldn’t have shouldered. I had said yes so often that I’d developed a warped sense of what I was truly responsible for. I was driven by fear of failure and an addiction to work.

Let’s say you work in a high-level management position for a monthly or weekly publication. You’ve been with the company for years and have lived through several waves of growing pains. Over time, you said yes to more and more responsibilities, even if it seemed many of them weren’t sustainable. You became responsible for the output of one or two additional departments. You add more content, more platforms, more offices. Granted, in the world of time-sensitive content and late-breaking news, the occasional frenetic day is unavoidable. But for years, this has been your norm. And when you finally break down and scale back, a host of new tasks floods in the gap. Family ties weaken and friendships fall by the wayside. The weight of the world is on your shoulders, and if you don’t stand under it the entire operation might collapse. You’re in crisis mode even on a good day.

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