Workaholism Is A Choice (Usually The Wrong One)

People throw themselves into 100-hour work weeks because they are afraid to make choices that others might not understand.

If you work 100-hour weeks, no one (investors, co-founders, employees) can blame you if things don’t work out, right?

I had a moment like this during my first startup, when I was held late at a meeting, and didn’t have time to pick up my wife for a dinner were were supposed to attend.

I dashed off to the dinner about an hour late, and discovered that she wasn’t there, because we were on a trip, and I had forgotten that she didn’t have a car.

So I drove off to pick her up. She was furious, and rightly so. That never happened again.

Back in the 90s, there was a movie called “The Paper“. Michael Keaton stars as a workaholic newspaper man who neglects his pregnant wife, Marisa Tomei.

At one point, he tells her that she’s more important to him than his job, and that he’d choose her without hesitation.

She replies that life never presents us with a single big question, that every day, he’s being asked to choose, and that each time he misses an appointment or doesn’t make it home, he’s making his choice.

I thought about that scene the day I left my wife alone in a hotel room, and I still think of it from time to time.

And I like to think I’ve worked a lot smarter since then.

The life of an entrepreneur can be rough, but at least it’s a life of your choosing. The same can’t be said for your family. Give then a chance to make their own choice.

(This post inspired by Steve Blank’s “Lies Entrepreneurs Tell Themselves.”

11 thoughts on “Workaholism Is A Choice (Usually The Wrong One)

  1. Interesting post! Especially since I am dealing with the other side of it right now. My husband (the workaholic) doesn't quite get why I keep insisting on more time together…hahaha same old story I guess. But a painful one to live through for us. I am not sure how he will learn to find some balance, but I sure hope he learns soon.

  2. I've been a startup guy all my career, but have made a firm choice to do the "work 50" and be smart about it. The rest of the time belongs to my wife and family.

    If you have a fixed amount of time to work, it's amazing how much junk you don't waste time on.

  3. Important post. In my early professional years, I worked insane hours–the need to achieve was overpowering. Once we had a child, in her delightful tough love fashion, she put an end to that. I'm always grateful for the sanity she brought.

  4. Chris, you and Steve inspired me to write on this topic too. Your movie example is spot on. I remember watching the movie and totally relating to Michael Keaton's character at the time.

    Thank you.

    The Myth of the Work-Life Balance

  5. Anamika:

    It's tough to be the spouse of an entrepreneur. Inc had a great piece by the wife of the founder of Stonyfield Farms. At one point, she used her inheritance, the one thing she swore to her late father that she'd never touch, to help him make payroll:


    I totally agree that you can accomplish a lot when you're efficient. When I was actually caring for my infant son and daughter at the office, I got to be very efficient during their naptimes.

    Too many people substitute facetime for effort.


    Sounds like fatherhood was good for you. How are you enjoying grandfatherhood?


    Glad that this post offered some inspiration. I'm heading over to read your post now!

  6. I'm with you. Balance is important – that is why I built into the work ethos here that "work stays at work and weekends are for family and friends".

  7. @Chris –

    Good post. However, you missed one of the most important points. If your team is working this hard, there is no capacity for the sprint to the finish line. After sprinting for 24 miles of the marathon, the company is going to fade to the back of the pack as the rest of the contenders pass you by.

    Some more comments about the 100-hour work week myth

  8. Anonymous

    I'm trying to work through this, as the husband of a got-to-work-or-I'll-get fired wife. We've been married 25 years…have GREAT kids, but our relationship has suffered, and so has her health. We've talked, argued, discussed, etc. Temporary improvements have occurred, but a lot of back-sliding. I'm getting to the point of just accepting it, but there's no joy in that realization.

  9. Unfortunately, it's not always your own choice because if other people don't understand the concept of life / work balance they think of you as a lazy bum. I've run into this many times and it's extremely frustrating.

    There are tons of people who really do value face time over the actual work being done. There are also many who think that whatever can be done today at 10pm can't wait till 9am tomorrow morning.

    The reality is that our time is finite anyway. There are only so many hours in a day. Working like an ant is a life that isn't worth living. While most workaholics, just like any other addict, delude themselves by claiming that it's a temporary arrangement I've noticed that over the years it becomes the only way they know how to exist and they become incapable of just relaxing and having fun. They think of time spent away from work as simply unproductive waste.

  10. Argghh… again, forgot to check off follow-up.

  11. Chris,
    You say that workaholism is a wrong choice. But, please tell me if being a workaholic is wrong at all? I mean to say that I love working and put 80 hours a week. I achieve a lot because of this. Is this wrong or am I misunderstanding you point of view.

    – Rohan

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