When Work Becomes an Escape
At some point all of us have lost ourselves in something. Maybe a personal goal, the love of your life, or a great job. We live, we love, we lose, we learn. Repeat endlessly and that’s the journey of life.
When (or why) does our focus in one of our life aspects delve into obsession, or addiction? When is it a positive light in life, and when does it become unhealthy? So much of what we do (or don’t do) is driven by forces in our subconscious we don’t even understand most of the time, and a recent study suggests that additive behavior (like workaholism, which affects many entrepreneurs) may be environmentally driven.
Being highly focused is engrained in many people’s personalities, myself included. It became clear to me at early age that hard work did in fact, pay off. During high school and university I was obsessed with exams and term papers, as well as mountain bike racing my way up to Canada Cup and World Cup levels. That was before I gave up psychology and dropped out of university when I got “hooked” on this exciting, sexy and lucrative industry of ours.
I attended my first convention years ago to promote JuicyAds, The Sexy Advertising Network, and focused for years on it day in and day out, while neglecting my marriage. (You can read more about my “affair” in the November 2014 issue of XBIZ World.) 189335
Focus and obsession can make you successful and get you everything you ever dreamed of, and it can cost you everything you care about. During that time, I also lost myself in the world of online (and real-life) poker, endlessly committed myself to volunteer work, and many other pursuits until my life was so full I had little time to do anything else — and strangely, my relationship was never one of these pursuits. When my marriage ended, my focus shifted to a full-blown year-long dating binge with the end goal of meeting the elusive “one.” You get the idea.
During marriage counseling when I was trying to save that ridiculously dysfunctional marriage, the therapist told me that many successful business people suffer when their ambition leads them into less than healthy pursuits, that alcoholism is prevalent.
A friend of mine who operates a super-sexually misleading “head shop” that sells drug paraphernalia (not blow jobs) confirmed this. They told me “you’d be surprised who comes in here, its business guys in suits. They have the money and a lot of stress, too.” It was as if the drive entrepreneurs possess is coupled with this risk of addiction.
That’s when I recognized my own workaholism and addictive personality, and these behaviors had permeated my life. Rather than seeing this as a weakness, it struck me as more like a strength, but one that could lead to disaster if misguided. The perfect example of that is when I got caught up in the party atmosphere of our industry conventions, especially when my marriage was nearing the end.
Whether the drinking and partying was a cause or a symptom, is uncertain. Drinking with clients is how I’ve made some of my most fun and solid relationships in the industry, but I’ve done some stupid things too (and forgotten a lot of names!) I wouldn’t change our work hard, play hard adult industry culture one bit.
The story that was posted online described an experiment where rats were placed in a cage alone with little else than two water bottles — one of pure water and the other laced with heroin or cocaine. With nothing else to do, it was little surprise when the rats got addicted and drank themselves to death.
However, when placed in a cage with toys, food and (most importantly) other rats, they did not get addicted and die from overdose. They still drank from both bottles but did not become so addicted that they died. The comments area of the article was full of arguing that this study didn’t explain chemical dependency where the body craves and needs the drugs it’s addicted to.
Addicts went on to say that they lived in a “nice house” yet still engaged in drug behaviors, and so on. Most of the comments seemed to miss that the “cage” is not just where we physically live, but also include our personal issues, struggles, and life history. People (like the rats in the experiment) often turn to distraction of some kind when they are unhappy, and sometimes that leads to alcohol and drugs. That’s not just limited to people who are down on their luck and miserable, either.
Successful entrepreneurs and celebrities seem to have an elevated rate of suicide. Success, fame, achievement and money often create cravings for more, and the feelings of inadequacy and failure when past success or happiness is unobtainable leads to losing themselves into behaviors to bring up their mood, or to simply end it all.
I had no idea how unhappy I was in my marriage until looking back as a much happier self. The negative forces of my relationship with “The Blonde” were dragging me down and I was miserable a lot of the time.
Instead of making the choice and ending it sooner, I was drawn to the positive upward spiral I got from the success of JuicyAds and my other business ventures.
Today it seems obvious that I pulled away from my relationship and became obsessed and addicted to work because I got a whole lot more out of it and received a better return on my efforts. The worse the relationship got, the more I was pushed towards work, which in turn made the relationship even worse.
So what? A bunch of rats in a boring cage died and a bunch of rats in a fun cage lived. What does that mean and why should I care? The article went on to suggest that approximately 20 percent of Vietnam veterans were addicted to heroin overseas during the war and 95 percent of them kicked the habit when they returned home.
Once the horrors of war were no longer present, there was no longer a need for drugs. This was duplicated in the rat experiment by placing fully-addicted rats into the “play” cage with toys and other rats and those same two bottles of laced and pure water. The addicted rats kicked their habit to drugs in the new environment, just like the veterans. Given a better environment, our interests, motivations, and focus can change dramatically without understanding why.
When my “war” with The Blonde ended, I went out for drinks with a friend but at the end of the night I didn’t feel any better — I actually felt worse.
Despite having to deal with the failure of my marriage I didn’t have any interest in alcohol, and it wasn’t fun like it used to be. My “cage” had completely changed and it took me awhile to realize that I was actually happy The Blonde was finally gone. Her parasitic presence in my life was gone, along with my interest in alcohol and I didn’t drink for months. My baseline of happiness had been raised to a new level, and I no longer needed my work or drinking to be satisfied with my life.
People can be happy on their own but we are the sum of our life experiences and sometimes things happen that turn our subconscious towards the idea of escape from our environment.
The world of addiction (extreme focus) to work, alcohol, drugs, or other pursuits (regardless of what they are) are just to get to that “happy” baseline, or at the very least to not care about the unhappiness anymore. When we find something or someone that we love and makes us happy, we are inexplicably drawn to it, just sometimes those loves are good and sometimes they’re bad.
Which leads us to the question of priorities. Just days after witnessing the horrific bus accident where a young cyclist was struck and dragged to death in front of the convention hotel (I was on the bus), I sat down with a close friend at a downtown bar in Amsterdam.
With the night of the accident permanently burned into my brain and still very fresh, it was hard to deal with and quite honestly a perfect time to drink myself stupid, or to go have a puff at a nearby coffee shop, to forget it, but somehow that was avoided. A choice was made.
If you were going to be driven towards something, would you prefer it be something positive that will let you deal with a problem and find long-term success, or instead something that is going to leave you unable to get past it or stop you from functioning at your best? As we enjoyed a smoke (the cigar kind, not the green variety) I asked this successful businessman if he smokes marijuana. I consider this highly successful businessmen to be one of the most intelligent, innovative and interesting people I have ever known. His response was simple — “Jay, my brain is the most important thing I have, why would I smoke weed?”
Experience has taught me many things (and I write about them here in XBIZ every month) but so many times they are lessons I didn’t expect to learn.
Once my divorce was finalized and I had fallen in love again, running my business became so much easier and that entrepreneurial drive came roaring back. My goal of building a better advertising network was revitalized and we have amazing new things coming soon from JuicyAds.
Maybe it’s true that behind every successful man is a beautiful woman, but one thing is certain — find what you love doing or find the person that makes life better, and you’ll go farther than you ever imagined. Now if only I can just kick this sex addition ... or maybe not.