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Question: Where is the fine line between a dedicated employee and a workaholic?

Thought to written word and thought to spoken word are different processes, tapping into different regions in our brains (parietal lobe versus temporal lobe via Broca & Wernicke’s areas, to be specific). Yet these two processes are clearly related (just as the synaptic connections between the lobes of a brain). Regarding the first, one must think about what to write and at some point come to the decision that, “Ahhh, yes, this is the thought that I’m going to write down”. Then as the writing begins, the writing becomes the thoughts. Sure, there are pauses. They serve as moments of reflection before the writing begins again. However, the process of transitioning thought to spoken language is a bit quicker, the reflections and pauses are often brief and sometimes incomplete before word is spoken. Now, what if one attempts to blend these processes together and, “speak a writing” through dictation. With dictation, one might ask, thought to written words and thought to language spoken; where does one end & the other begin?

The words you’re reading here are actually written word that resulted from verbal dictation I made through my iPhone while driving in the car. No, no need to worry, it was a hands free device set up as to only minimally interfere with my keen New Jersey driving skills. The fine line I am walking here not only exists between the processes of speaking and writing, but between activity and overtasking (my word for multitasking—with excess). So, between action and overaction; where does one end & the other begin?

The words you’re reading here are actually written word that resulted from verbal dictation I made through my iPhone while driving in the car. No, no need to worry, it was a hands free device set up as to only minimally interfere with my keen New Jersey driving skills. The fine line I am walking here not only exists between the processes of speaking and writing, but between activity and overtasking (my word for multitasking—with excess). So, between action and overaction; where does one end & the other begin?

Maybe it’s something about the wiring of my brain, literally, but I often feel the urge to seize every moment. That is not to say I can’t stop to smell the roses, or the scent of the yummy New Jersey Turnpike air, but I like to think I attempt to live each moment fully. If you’ve read my post about reality TV you know first-hand how I seize moments (converting “mindless” TV into an opportunity to start this blog). However, this multitasking does not take away from the value and enjoyment I experienced in every moment of the TV “chill sesh” with my roommate. In other words, I aim to both be present in the here and now, and to allow my actions of this moment to contribute to my future goal. This is done rather than focusing on, “the future, the future, the future”, and instead using this moment as a means to achieve that future. There is a fine line between this moment and the future, a fine line between writing and speaking, a fine line between action and overtasking. That line is where we should live. That line is balance.

I decided to walk the fine line of this car ride, the present, engaging in some moments of reflection and some time with my inquisitive nature, while simultaneously allowing the product of those moments to achieve a potential futuregoal; a result to share with you.

So, related to all this line walking; what about Deepak’s question? What about the fine line between a dedicated employee and a workaholic? Let’s start by defining these words. The word employee is defined in the dictionary as, “person who works for another in return for financial or other compensation” (Free dictionary by Farlex). This gives the word the connotation of doing work for someone else’s vision, if not doing someone else’s work entirely (at least to some extent). I believe one can be their own employee, literally, as an entrepreneur, or figuratively, as we are all “doing our own work” on this planet. This would make you your own boss. However, this is certainly not the conventional context of the word employee. This is especially true when considering the term workaholic, as it seems to stand regardless of if one is an employee of another person or company or simply of him- or her-self.

So let’s define workaholic. A workaholic is defined as, “one who compulsively works long and hard hours”. Being that I do work currently in a psychiatric unit, I’m familiar with the suffix, “-aholic”, which implies one who is addicted. In this case, the substance at the source of the addiction is work. However, it’s interesting to contemplate; does said workaholic abuse their work or is the work abusing the workaholic? I believe it’s a bidirectional relationship where the “pathology”, if you will, of the workaholic, enables the work be abusive.

I’ve shared with you a bit before about how I’ve engaged in a bit healthier plant-based lifestyle in the past couple of months. I have been doing quite well for a while. Though I have yet to make a post specific to macrobiotics (coming soon), I’ll share a few comments here. When I started this lifestyle I met a counselor who explained to me that I was in, “a wound up state” and the goal of my lifestyle change needed to be on, “loosening up” my system; biologically, mentally, physically and emotionally. For the seven weeks that I have remained committed to this change, I really have begun to feel relaxed. I had less of an urge to stay at work late, more willingness to stop and pause at lunchtime and less sense of general angst about constant deadlines to meet. However, about a week and a half ago I started to allow myself to be overcome by work yet again. The deadline is approaching for me to submit my abstract for consideration to present at the annual psychoneuroimmunology research society conference in June (as an aside, believe it or not my iPhone dictation software was able to accurately spell psychoneuroimmunology). With that, I recently allowed anxiety to return to my mind and tightening to my body. I wouldn’t be surprised if that tension was making its way to my gut by way of the gut-brain axis (topic for future post). My mind began to crave sugar and demand quicker meals while working. Now, if you’re like me, and believe philosophically or biologically that the mind and the body are inseparable, this would explain how these thoughts and demands of my mind took my body down for the ride. Just about a week ago my posterior neck lymph node popped out again and another one showed itself on the right anterior side of my neck, I experienced the first headache of the past two months, and fatigue set in yet again. Isn’t it ironc (insert Alanis Morissette shoutout here) how aiming to present work on the mind-body connection would permit an opportunity for me to experience my own mind-body connection?

This gut-brain axis is bidirectional, where the mind feeds the gut while the biochemical products of the gut and its environment (including the bacteria it houses, or the gut microbiome) feed the mind. Because of this interrelatedness, if one spirals downward, they both do. Therefore, I continued to work more, and focus on lifestyle less. It was of no help to this process to have positive (or negative, depending on your perspective) reinforcement. I was extremely productive. I drafted a complete manuscript on a potential peripheral protein marker in depression and antidepressant response… I nearly completed statistical analysis on three different data sets… I set up meetings and pushed forward on projects with multiple different principal investigators (PI). Note, a principal investigator is the “boss” that makes you an employee, specifically in the practice of research. But ultimately I could not continue to live in denial.

Maybe you noticed, this denial included denial of my blog. I began to reflect; was I not posting because I didn’t have time (I was too busy and working too hard), or was I not posting because I knew this blog represents my true self and is the place that answers to my inner questions are revealed? Well I come to you now to confess that I have been a workaholic. This being a confession my body tried to reveal long before the thoughts were created in my mind and spread to my written or spoken word. What if we all left behind denial to become constantly more aware and in tune with our body’s messages?

I had made plans to attend New York City’s vegetarian food festival long before my workaholic week hit, but despite knowing I needed nothing more than a good weekend’s restful sleep, nothing was going to keep me from missing this annual event in my favorite city in the world.

Let me back up for a brief bit of information. When I first spoke with a macrobiotic counselor in the beginning of January, I was informed that one food item I should steer clear of for two months was seitan. Seitan is a tender (somewhat meaty) textured protein derived from plants (soy or wheat depending) and often used by vegans and vegetarians. For me, being one who always appreciated hearty meals, seitan is simply glorious. This two-month stretch would make March 1, NYC Veg Fest, the day of my seitan fast breaking. Now for all those non-vegan vegetarian readers out there you must know that seitan is also a source of non-healthy, often “comfort” vegan food: vegan “wings” “hotdogs”, gyros and “beef” empanadas. 

As an aside, seitan can also be healthy, like anything else in moderation, particularly if prepared fresh and simply without processing through frying, baking or over seasoning. Even being as “wound up” as one can be when still practicing a plant-based and mostly macrobiotic lifestyle, I committed to breaking my fast with processed, seasoned, fried and yummy seitan on Saturday at Veg Fest NYC. However, listening to my inner boss, the employee (the one that writes this blog) gave a deadline: Sunday at noon you are to return to your blog, to your healthy lifestyle and to unwinding. Well there I was, “buffalo wings”, gyro, loaded “hotdog”, cupcake, brownie and chocolate chip cookie, later…

…back to working under my boss, my…self, back to doing the real work, the truth, to myself. I ended the Veg Fest at the massage station with a 10 minute shoulder tension release. I then met a close friend in New York City to exchange some smiles and memories. Finally, I returned to good ‘ol New Jersey for a quick cuddle with my beloved doggies. Here, I broke the fast I’d really been upholding. This fast I started just a week ago – a fast from my inner truth. I had replaced the lack of awareness of my body and mind with work and excess sugar and seitan. Now, by returning to myself and speaking the truth again here, I am even more satiated … with you “at the table” while I break this fast by writing this blog post.

As most stories I share on this blog (and experiences in my life), this one, too, comes full circle. While enjoying my “back to mac-ro” (as macro mom calls the fast breaking, though I added emphasis on the R.O.) lunch, macro mom and I decided to watch Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday episode featuring Deepak Chopra, himself. I could write an entire post on the messages he shares, but you could probably gain a glimpse of these by following him on Twitter yourself (@DeepakChopra). I’ll share a few quotes here that relate to this post and a few others on my INQUISITIVE NATURE page and leave you and your inquisitive nature to internalize them for discussion with your inner boss.

Deepak’s words:

  • “We now see the connection between what’s happening in the world of thoughts, feelings, images, and the brain, and the body, and the immune system. That’s all a single process. All connected.” – Deepak essentially defining psychoneuroimmunology

  • “The law of least effort… difficult for most people to grasp… do less and accomplish more. …What it means is if you’re rested, if your mind is at peace and you’re full of love and compassion; if you come from being and then feeling and then self-reflection, things will synchronistically fall into place because that’s how nature functions”

  • “Change your relationship with time because if you’re always in a hurry, then your biologicalclock will speed up. People saying, ‘I’m running out of time,’ their heart rate goes up, their blood pressure goes up, their platelets (dysfunction) and they suddenly drop dead of a heart attack. They literally run out of time.”

  • “This is what the monk said to me on the last day, ‘the most important time in your life is now, the most important person in your life is the one you’re looking at right now, the most important thing you can do in your life, you’re doing right now, the best way to prepare for the future is to be totally present now. Forget all your learnings, just remember that now is the moment that never ends’ ”

So back to the question I originally set out in this post. Perhaps a workaholic is one who indulges in excess and a dedicated employee is what we should strive to be, with the added caveat that the employee be employed by the boss of our inner (inquisitive) nature. Our boss knows best that the phrase, “everything in moderation,” truly means everything, including work.

I believe the root of the question comes down to the WORK. When our mind and body are in line with our own passions, our own state of wellbeing and health, doing work becomes less work and more, “giving back,” to humanity, the planet and ourselves. In that balance, it is impossible for an abusive relationship to form. This is because our inner inquisitive nature knows the truth, the answer to, “what is really best for me?” When we listen to the answer, we maintain moderation and keep our work-life, mind-body balance, without even trying.

So I post to you… there is a fine line between a dedicated employee & a workaholic; where does one end & the other begin?


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