Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Respectable Addiction

Over the holidays, I was visiting with my parents in the mountains of North Carolina, and even though I was supposed to be on vacation, I was logging in remotely to my computer to continue programming on a project that I hadn't finished. I had lots of excuses: the project needed to be completed, I needed to deliver on my commitments, I was enjoying working on the project anyway. But my wife would just smile sadly and give me a look that said, "I'm not going to contradict you because I know you'd argue, but you know that can't be true."

I started thinking about those checklists for alcohol addiction, and matched it to my working life:
  1. Do you hide how much you work?
  2. Do you lie to family and friends about how much you work?
  3. Do you work at inappropriate hours?
  4. Do you work alone?
  5. Do you binge work to the point of being sick?

And I had all the usual excuses the alcoholic has: but I'm still doing well at my job! My family is generally happy! There's nothing wrong with hard work! I can stop any time I want to!

But I can't. I have tried to mend my ways, probably as long as I've been working, and I've never been able to control it for more than a week or two before falling into the same patterns:

  1. Overcommitting on a project, promising to deliver more functionality or hit a tight deadline that can not reasonably be met in the allotted time.
  2. Once overcommitted, I start stealing time to cover up the shortfall. I steal time from sleep, from family, from other clients, from other organizations.
  3. Sometimes I overcome the deficit. The work is done, the client is happy, but I am exhausted. More often, the deficit continues, and becomes a string of missed deadlines and postponed appointments.
  4. Through it all, I keep lying to myself and others: "Oh, it's only a few more hours. I'll knock it out." "I really ought to be able to finish this in the time that I have." I modify the official record of my billing time, so it looks like I was steadily plunking along instead of cramming it into an all-nighter.

The same patterns emerge in the rest of my life. My work for the SKS follows a similar pattern: overcommitment, frantic binges of work, missed deadlines, inconsistent focus, and sporadic effectiveness.

None of this is new information. Anyone who ever worked with me understands this pattern. Every boss I ever had encouraged me to change the pattern. But I was intelligent, and hard-working, and in spite of the limitations on my capacity, I was making money for my employers. They accepted my inability to manage my time as a management challenge, and left it at that.

I'm not as bad off as many. I'm not an executive working 80 hours a week and a total stranger to his kids. I'm a consultant who works 60 hours a week and who is constantly overcommitted and stressed out.

I have hit bottom. I can't go on like this.



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