WARNING: This piece mentions firearms. You’ll see why.
There is a strange militance in workaholism.
It started innocently enough. You simply took the classes you needed. And a class you wanted. And a job you were offered. And an extracurricular you asked about. And a seminar you figured would be interesting.
You thought you could handle it. And you know you can.
But you also know you’re fighting a Hydra.
There are easy options. You could devote all your work to the Hydra, fighting in food-stained sweatpants, lobbing Red Bull grenades at the problem. You could half-ass your battle, trading total victory for parties and Smash Bros. marathons. Or you could walk away with your sanity intact, pick easier battles, breathe a little easier. After all, no one asked you to —
You can do better. You vow to do better. You will beat — no, destroy the Hydra. You’ll vault leagues above the minimum, beat every deadline by a week, and wear freshly ironed shirts the whole way.
Lesser students make sacrifices. You won’t.
The first thing you feel is exhaustion.
Your eight-to-five is relentless: no coffee, no lunch break. You alternate between dense lectures and sprints across your campus. You check the time. You check when the lecture ends. You listen to the professor. You check your homework. You check where you need to go next. You take notes. You check the time again.
By midday, you’re running from the fatigue. By your last class, it’s breathing down your neck. By dinnertime, it has brought you to the ground.
But you’re not done. You pick yourself up. You go to your dorm room . You open a Red Bull someone gave you for free. You check your homework. You check your emails. You send three emails and reply to five. You read three papers, taking notes on each. You remember you work better with music. You play music. You send two more emails.
Your phone rings.
It’s your friend. You pick up. You say, “Hey,”
Your friend says, “Hey, I’m going to a bookstore right now. Want to come?”
You say, “I wish, but right now I’m swamped with work.”
Your friend says, “It’s ok.” (He laughs.) “Yeah, your schedule looks brutal.”
You remember you posted a picture of the Hydra on Facebook. You ask yourself why you did that.
You start wishing your possessions were louder. You open your laptop hoping to hear pneumatic actuators sing. You imagine an electric whir every time you turn on your microphone. You order a mechanical keyboard, so that you can hear proof of every keystroke.
Everything must feel heavy now. Everything must give you affirmation that you are doing things to it.
At first it confuses you. Then you toss around your phone wishing for the clicking sound of a Glock nine-millimeter.
And it hits you.
You want your possessions to feel and sound like weapons.
Weapons are powerful. Their sound and their feel imbue power, even if it’s just a placebo. But weapons don’t care about your mental and physical health. They are not instruments of healing.
Life becomes a video game. You complete quests, grinding for experience, preparing for mid-term boss fights. Your phone battery becomes a health bar. Your social life becomes a side quest. You invest your credits in new items: textbooks, pens, meal-replacement shakes.
You power-walk to the dining hall for a hurried lunch break. You ask yourself why your life is turning into a first-person shooter. You swipe into the dining hall. You answer your own question:
Because workaholism is war.
This war isn’t against other people, or even yourself. Your only enemy is the Hydra. Your own goals.
Workaholism is a piece of toxic masculinity.
People other than men can take up workaholism, but the behavior is no less toxic. Like any aspect of toxic masculinity, it’s all about domination. In this case, about crushing the Hydra.
Workaholism consumes your soul, refocuses your priorities. You yearn for work. Work becomes a compulsion, embedded beneath conscious wants.
If you picked a lesser monster like you told your friend you would, you would vanquish it wishing there was more to do.
If you took a break like you told your mother you would, you would drive yourself crazy.
You asked to fight the Hydra. You deny it for months, but deep down, you know. You’ve always wanted this fight.
No matter how much it threatens to destroys you.
Written for Train of Thought.