My mid-20s were about one thing:
🎵 Work, work, work, work, work🎵
I wasn't about to date a girl, and my Christian faith + conservative theology wouldn't allow me to pursue guys. So I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, with a lot of time on my hands and a desperate desire to prove myself in my new job.
I've always loved working. I don't know if it's a genetic thing or something I picked up, but work has always been a great adventure to me. My mom has a picture of me as a toddler helping both my grandfathers in the garden . . .
In my mid-20s, I had a personal manifesto on working when you're single. It wasn't official or anything. It was just the loose way I talked to myself about work . . .
Brett, you need to work a lot. Like, a lot. You need to work your face off. You should be so tired at the end of the day, you think you might die. If you feel overworked . . . good. You're doing it right.
I'm talking 12, 14, 16-plus hour days. Think about it: If you work 80 hours a week until you're 30, that means you'll have the experience of a 40-year-old 10 years ahead of schedule.
I mean . . . what else are you going to do with your free time? Let me tell you what single people do when they're not working: TV, video games, social media, porn, flirting, drinking, gambling, hanging out at bars, etc. And, Brett, all that stuff makes you fat, broke, or worse. Doesn't it make more sense to invest that time into your career instead? Exactly.
Your boss needs to see you as an obsessive, maniacal raptor of results shredding through excuses and adding massive value to the organization. You need to make him successful and wealthy. Worry about making him rich, not yourself.
Brett, all the well-intentioned people bloviating about "work/life balance" are full of crap. Work/life balance is for married people and people with kids, not you—not single people. You don't need balance, you need to work. If you ever have a family, you can find balance then which will keep you from being that useless schlep of a dad who misses his kids' ballgames because he's slobbering over his spreadsheets at the office alone.
If you do this while you're young and single then maybe—just maybe—you can earn the promotions, compensation, trust, and margin you need to reclaim some balance in your life later on. But that's later. For now, just. keep. working.
This is what I believed, for better or worse. It was a bit intense.
Remember, back then I was working for a company that hosted fun run-based fundraisers at elementary schools.
I'd spend all day working on campus—motivating students and connecting with the teachers and administration. Then at night, I'd keep working—researching, sending emails, setting up sales meetings, preparing for the next day. We didn't have a marketing/creative person back then so I volunteered to do some of that as well. No one made me do it, I just wanted to. I wanted to stay as busy as I could. It was a new company, and we fought like hell to grow it. We worked really hard to make our customers happy and, as any businessperson will tell you, that takes lots of time and energy. The hours were long and the pay was short, but it didn't matter. It was my life. It kept me busy and busy was good.
I didn't know it then, but I was a workaholic in the making. And part of being a workaholic is constantly needing to prove yourself.
The workaholic doesn't believe he is enough, so he tries to become enough through work and achievement.
The workaholic fears being a failure, so each day is a new frantic proving ground for her worth. Every work achievement is another little felt merit badge she can proudly pin to her tired soul. Look at this, world!
Deep inside every workaholic man is a little boy who never felt big enough, strong enough, worthy enough. And that little boy can be very loud. He reminds the man of his lacking, of his lessness. Work is very noisy in the soul, so the workaholic uses that noise to drown out the little boy. Obsessive work can't deliver peace, but that's not the point. The point is that it's louder than the pain. This was me.
Brett, your world values "family men"—stable, married men with beautiful wives and a couple of cute kids. You may never have that, so you're going to have to do something else. Work harder, Brett. Just keep working. They'll be impressed with that.
The difference in a workaholic and someone who's just working hard can be very small.
The primary difference though is this: A workaholic is running FROM something and a hard worker is running TOWARD something. I was clearly running from something back then.
Imagine . . .
A man running from a wild bear versus a man running towards a finish line.
See the difference?
Both are giving it their all, but their motivations are very different. One is desperate, panicked, frantic, zig-zaggy, full of fear. The other is focused, determined, controlled, straight-line, confident.
A workaholic is running from some internal fear while a hard worker is steadily advancing toward an external goal. Of course, the workaholic always insists he's running towards a noble goal. He's incapable of acknowledging the bear. This denial is one of the byproducts of workaholism, and that's what I would have told you had you confronted me about it. I know better now.
In my mid-20s I used work to run from my same-sex attraction.
And my pain was like that bear—a hairy, snarling, snot-nosed creature rampaging through the forest of my soul.
Sure, there are lots of ways to run from the bear—booze, drugs, random sex, sports, gambling, affairs, TV, video games, work, materialism etc, etc, etc. This is called escapism.
Escapism comes in many forms, and they all bring you back to the exact same place—a need for more. The soul is never stilled. Peace never comes. Many people live and die running from their bear, and that's very tragic to me. Many of us are insecure people working like crazy to create a world that tells us we're okay, that the bear isn't real.
Of course, things in life are rarely ALL bad or ALL good.
It's usually a mix, and that's how work was for me. In retrospect, I'm grateful that work was my escape. It was certainly less destructive than those other vices.
However, that doesn't mean it was emotionally healthy. It certainly wasn't . . . I certainly wasn't. It would be years before I would begin to recover.
I think I also used work to keep myself out of trouble. I knew if I could stay so busy with work, I'd have a better chance at avoiding temptation. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise as well—I don't know.
I saw a meme on Instagram recently that just said, "NOBODY CARES, WORK HARDER."
What a sad, sad mantra for life. Yet, this was how I lived for so many years.
Brett, don't complain. Don't whine. Don't tell anyone. This is your problem and yours alone. If they find out, they'll think you're weird anyway. Just keep working, keep working, keep working.
The workaholism I developed back in Birmingham was just the start.
Within the first year of my job, I got two big promotions and a shiny new car. I remember so clearly the feeling of riding around Birmingham in that loaded, midnight black Chevy Tahoe, feeling so snug and secure, wrapped in my two-ton cocoon of metal and paint and leather. Materialism is the child of workaholism and it has a similar effect of numbing and distracting. I learned this then as well.
By late 2006, my bosses were pleased with my performance and had a plan for me: I'd move to a new city and launch our business there.
We debated which city was best, both for me personally and for the business. At that time, we only had teams in Atlanta and Birmingham, so it made sense to keep growing regionally.
I'd always liked Nashville. My mom, my brother, and his family had moved to Louisville, Kentucky, a couple years before and Nashville was right in between Louisville, and my hometown of Florence. So in early 2007, the decision was made: I was moving to the Music City.
I was excited for this new adventure.
But I didn't appreciate the incredible support network I had during my two years in Birmingham. I had a great boss who was a mentor and confidant, and I had great co-workers. But Nashville, I'd soon find, would be very different. I would be in a new role, in a new market, mostly alone. And to make matters worse, the year was 2007, and the tremors were just beginning. No one knew it, but a crisis was on its way . . . 👊
B.B.P.S. - During the original writing of Blue Babies Pink, I gave a talk at TEDx Peachtree. Here's a post and a picture album from the event.
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.