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  • Writer's pictureJenny Lynne Erickson

Death of a Workaholic

(And hello to a mom-aholic)

Illustration by Jenny Lynne
Ⓒ 2022, Jenny Lynne

There are many brands of workaholics. Mine was not focused on power and money. I didn’t measure myself by the number of hours I worked, title, paycheck, the size of my team, budgets I controlled, or who I rubbed elbows with. I didn’t eat, breathe, and sleep work; I had a life outside of my work and was able to take vacations and hang out with my kids on weekends. No — my brand of workaholism was sneakier and arguably more dangerous.

I identified myself by my work. It’s where I found my confidence and sense of meaning.

Decoupling myself from my work was difficult because, without it, I felt lost.

I felt comfortable helping business owners step into the driver’s seat of a business that, at some point, ended up owning them.

It wasn’t uncommon for people to come to me with long hours or unfairly low paychecks, and I was confidently able to help them build the business (and life) they wanted.

But I was always honest. The life I helped them build wasn’t for me.

Until I found myself needing a dose of my own medicine. And it was a lot harder than I thought.

When my kids’ dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer (and a nasty prognosis) at the end of January 2021 — a day I will never forget — I kicked into action.

I went from working 60-hour weeks in January to 45 in February and 35 in October when Dave went into the hospital and never came out, and I became a full-time mother.

To realizing that 35 hours is all I can do.

Fudge. (If my mom weren’t reading this, stronger words would be warranted, sorry mom!)

Everything had to change. The surface changes were easy. I brought on an assistant who changed my world and quickly took over all operations. I changed how I staffed, consciously growing less and in the right places.

My energy focused on building foundations that would encourage independence in my fledgling business.

I figured out the intersection between my clients’ needs, a market gap, and work that I can scale more effectively (and the beta is going well!).

I pulled back where clients were ready to run without me and set boundaries like meetings from 9am-3pm only and personal development time in the mornings from 7:30-8:30 am with my coffee.

My business phrase of the year has been: Slow down to speed up.

Whenever I got tempted to run too fast, I asked myself — can my team (as it’s being built) carry this ball if I need to drop it? If the answer is no, then it doesn’t happen.

But these actions — were only that — actions. They didn’t solve the deeper issue, which was the identity crisis I faced in the last 6 months.

I am a big ownership person. I will always do what it takes. But what happens when you can’t work after 4 pm because you pick up your kid from school and their world is falling apart, so you have to hold the space as their sandcastle crumbles? What about my own sandcastle? (Which seemed more like a sand hovel this winter…)

What happens to the commitment I made to myself and others before I knew any better?

I just broke it. Without hesitating.

This was my last year. I broke a thousand micro-commitments during that time — mostly to myself, but some of them to others. In order to meet a thousand micro-commitments to my kids.

Each tiny broken commitment was like a piece of fractured glass pricking my finger and little by little, the workaholic in me, an identity I had held onto so fiercely over the years, died…

It is a slow and painful death. One that is proving to be much more difficult than setting boundaries, asking for help (*gulp*), and working 35-hour weeks.

But with every prick to my identity, I am forming a new one. For the first time in my adult life, I am prioritizing my kids above work at all costs. Which is new for me. In the past I would weigh the impacts with an overly complex set of factors my brain would auto-compute. And my attention would be decided.

It was an algorithm biased towards protecting my sense of belonging in the world.

But now I’m holding two parents’ roles at the darkest time in my kids’ lives and there is no one else. So if they need to lash out, vent, cry, talk, laugh, forget, take a walk, or talk politics — I can’t pretend I would say no. Because I won’t.

In the place of a workaholic, a different sort of person is being born.

I’m still figuring out who she is, but for now, let’s call her a mom-aholic, at least for a few more years. I think the pendulum has to swing a bit before I will figure out who I really am.

Can you relate to my story? Follow me on my journey.


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