Throughout 2015, I’ll be hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. It’s not all about alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, or workaholism. It’s more about the thing–whatever it is–that supplants inner sobriety, and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something? Today, welcome Ed Cyzewski, friend and author. Ed's upcoming book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order for only $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99)! Read his piece here, then jump straight to the Kindle store and nab a copy!
Without further adieu, welcome Ed to the Recovery Room.
The coffee from the local diner didn’t have to be good when I gathered there each week with my high school friends. It just needed to be unlimited and paired with a mountain of waffles or hash browns. These were simpler times before everything was local, organic, and humanely raised.
One friend, who had been missing quite a few of these meet ups, said he had something to confess.
We waited, hushed and nervous. This had to be about pornography, right? Or maybe just run of the mill lust. I mean, high school… right?
“Work has been like a drug for me,” he said.
“Huh!” was about all I could muster back then. I didn’t see that coming.
Nearly 20 years later, some things have changed. Our coffee is organically grown by farmers who are paid a fair wage. Our meat is raised humanely without growth hormones. The local, slow food, direct-from-farmer network is growing as fast as designers can slap together new badges. There’s been one other notable change: I finally get what my friend meant about work becoming a drug of sorts.
Mind you, this is a loose connection to the struggles one may face with a chemical addiction to drugs or alcohol. I’ve seen the latter up close with someone I know, and I don’t make such connections without some huge caveats. The thing itself is quite different, but the motivations and the habits are strikingly similar.
Working hard or even working long hours isn’t a bad thing. Aspiring for success or a promotion isn’t necessarily a risky matter. The problem is that I used work to hide from my greatest fear—or one of them at least. Working longer hours was the only way to escape my fear of being a FAILURE.
I can’t say that my fear was limited to not making enough money. While every freelance writer has to face that fear regularly, I threw myself into my work for a season of my life in order to avoid facing my fear of being a person who has failed—which means a lot more than what’s in your bank account. I didn’t want to appear as a failure in front of colleagues, friends, and family.
My reliance on work finally came to the surface two years ago.
On a whim I started practicing the Examen each evening through an iPhone app called The Examen [sic]. The app asks a series of questions about your day. The first round is Consonance: What energized you? What relationships are you grateful for? The second round is Dissonance: What is keeping you awake at night? What discouraged you?
After two or three months of dutifully answering my Examen questions every evening, I started to notice a few troubling patterns. First of all, I was most certainly struggling to trust God with providing for our family through my work. Secondly, almost every good aspect of my day was connected to my work.
Praise for my work, progress on a project, or an exciting new opportunity all qualified as positive aspects of my day. While there’s no doubt that my work, when it goes well, can be energizing or can lead to encouraging interactions, you would have thought that I didn’t have a family based on my Examine answers.
While pushing to build a successful career that could help support our family, I completely lost sight of my family. Along the way my fear of failure prompted me to keep working longer hours and measuring my progress in the tiniest of increments.
As my life swung out of balance, anxiety in the evenings about work became normal. I won’t even get into the dissonance questions in my Examen answers. Needless to say, it was all related to my work, too!
The steady discipline of the Examen drove home the ways my work habits shielded me from truly facing my fears about failure. Once I owned up to the fact that I may fail—at least in one sense, I started to let up on my work obsession.
If failing was possible and life could still go on despite failing, then I could stop working at 5 pm every night and focus on spending time with my family. Dinner is complete chaos with two children: a two-year-old and a 6-month-old, but it’s also a really important pivot-point in my day when I physically leave my projects and aspirations behind. My wife and I chat while I do the dishes, and bath time is complete pandemonium with two sopping wet kids. These moments are also among the first things I list during my Consonance answers in my evening Examen.
While a hefty project may intrude into our evenings during a busy season, I generally try to disengage from my work for the evening. At the very least, I tell my internal sense of urgency that working all evening won’t make much of a difference. If I fail, I fail.
Since that revelation about my work habits, I’ve had to let go of some long-held goals. It hurt to let go of them, to raise the white flag, and to admit that I at least won’t meet them at any point in the near future. I’ve watched many other colleagues reach these goals and maintain a level of success that I’ve worked hard to attain. I had to let go to at least part of my future plans and admit failure.
I failed. There I said it.
However, it’s more painful to hide from the fear of failure. Constant anxiety robbed me of the joy present each day with my wife and kids. Working constantly sent my spirit completely off-balance. I forgot how to rest in God’s presence, let alone how to be present for other people.
I’m not the most perfectly balanced person, but my wife and I chose our respective careers in the first place because we wanted a bit of autonomy with our work/life decisions. We don’t mind working hard or occasionally working long hours, but we wanted to have the freedom to choose how to structure our work days around our kids and each other.
The fear of failure removed that freedom from my life. Work became the only cure I used to treat it. I never thought that simply surrendering to my greatest fears could lead me to the greatest freedom.
Postscript: I write at length about the Examen and how it impacts my prayer life and work as a writer in my new eBook: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order at $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99).
Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life. He’s a part time freelance writer and work from home/local café dad. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter as @edcyzewski.
In last month's Tiny Letter (my monthly newsletter), I'm discussing the idea of resting within church practices. There, I write candidly about some recent changes in the Haines' household, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Sign up to read along!