My name is James Laws and I’m a… workaholic

When I was an employee people would say that I had a really strong work ethic, but when I left the office and was working on my own thing, most thought I was obsessive.

I’m a driven individual. I have a few interests outside of my work, but work is also an extremely enjoyable hobby of mine. At least aspects of the work are. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for me to work a really long day at the office and then once the family is asleep, burn the midnight oil and see what else I could accomplish.

Workaholic is a word often used to describe me. If I’m being honest, that word infuriates me. It feels dismissive. It’s as if in some way the quantity and quality of work I demand of myself and at times others is unreasonable. Maybe it is occasionally, but certainly not all the time?

I actually start to resent those who feel qualified to label me as a workaholic. I feel like that is a way for them to feel better about how little they do in comparison. Perhaps they believe if they can place shame on my behavior it will somehow absolve them of their own laziness. I know it’s a cynical way of looking at it, but I’m writing from the heart today and sometimes the heart is cynical.

I might not actually be frustrated with them though. It may just be me after all. Maybe I am a workaholic that doesn’t know how to unplug. Maybe I’m one-dimensional with very little below the surface of my work. Perhaps I’m not really frustrated with my “workaholic” accusers, but instead, scared that they might be right.

It feels kind of lonely here in the shadow of this very real possibility. And what’s worse? The way I cast away the shadow is… you guessed it…work.

I wonder if I’m alone in this? I know I can’t be, but sometimes it sure feels like it.

If you are like me, would it be helpful to know that what others have deemed as a weakness in you is actually a strength?

Last week I had my entire team take the Strength Finder test. I’ve known about it for many years, but was reminded of it while recently at CaboPress and discussing company cultures.

It was a pretty cool experience and I was pretty amazed at the accuracy of the results. What was impressive wasn’t reading my own results and thinking, “yeah, that sounds like me.” It was reading others, some off whom I know really well, and thinking how I couldn’t have described them better myself. It was having people who know me really well and saying the same thing.

In some ways, these results were therapeutic for me so I would like to share my strongest one with you. I may share the others with you in future articles, but this first one is the most relevant to what I’m talking about today.

For my first strength I got Achiever

The basic description provided is this…

People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

Here is an excerpt from my personalized insights section…

Chances are good that you might have a reputation for being a hard worker. This partially explains why you may tell individuals they can accomplish more than they think they can. Maybe you pressure people to excel rather than settle for mediocre results. You may have a difficult time associating with people who do only what is expected or who whine when they are challenged to do more.

Sound familiar? It does a really good job of restating my feelings above. Before I go into what I found most important about this exercise let me share some of the action items the test suggested. Please keep in mind, even if you are also an Achiever, your results will be personalized to take your other strengths into consideration. This means your results could be very different from mine.

  • As an achiever, you relish the feeling of being busy, yet you also need to know when you are “done.” Attach timelines and measurement to goals so that effort leads to defined progress and tangible outcomes.
  • Remember to build celebration and recognition into your life. Achievers tend to move on to the next challenge without acknowledging their successes. Counter this impulse by creating regular opportunities to enjoy your progress and accomplishments.
  • Count personal achievements in your scoring “system.” This will help you direct your Achiever talents toward family and friends as well as toward work.

This book and the test that it promotes is helping me deal with what has been a point of ridicule for a long time. The ability to see being a “workaholic” as a strength and not a weakness is extremely helpful. It simply needs to be managed.

The most immediate thing this achieved (see what I just did there) was open up a unique dialog between me and my business partner, Kevin. There are a lot of things that are similar between us, but there are just as many differences. These differences can breed awesome innovations as we collaborate, but they can also causes tension.

To place this in perspective, Kevin is an extremely talented developer. I don’t really know how to explain what I mean, but it’s not about the code he writes. I think he has a brilliant mind. That’s enough about him. On the off-chance that he reads this I don’t want him to get a big head.

I am not a great developer. I know just enough to write some simple things and speak intelligently on the subject. At least I think I do. This means that in order to move our products forward I’m completely dependent on Kevin. Kevin works very hard to see that happen, but he also works very differently than me. In our conversation on this issue, Kevin had this to say…

I only have the mental bandwidth to solve so many problems in a single day. At some point I have to walk away because there is nothing more I can do in that moment. I understand that must be frustrating for you when it pushes deadlines. I know you feel powerless.

I know I block quoted that, but it’s a paraphrase. The power of those words can’t be understated though. Knowing that he can verbally empathize with how I feel in those moments gave me a sense of peace. What I discovered is that we’ve understood each others personal tension for some time now, we just hadn’t communicated it, so we didn’t know.

Now I know that Kevin understands my sense of urgency. Knowing that means that I understand that when he has to step away from a project it’s because he HAS to step away. It’s not because he doesn’t think it’s as important as I do.

The moral of my story?

Will the Strength Finders reveal something you didn’t know about yourself or someone on your team? Maybe. Maybe not. What it can do is be a catalyst to a dialogue that reveals unspoken empathy. Understanding isn’t enough. It has to be communicated. A team that communicates will always be better than a team that doesn’t.

What stories do you have about Strength Finder?