I lived the life of 24/7 work for the first ten years of my practice. I was always at work. Work was where my life was most meaningful and energized. At that point, I had no children, and my wife, LaFon, worked right alongside me in my business. In a way, the business was like our child, and we put everything we had into watching it develop and grow. We started right out of graduate school, in a small storefront off the state highway.
After a couple of years, we moved to a larger office, with more space and more people coming on board to help with our mission. We worked night and weekends with the best intentions. Work, though, was never done. It was just paused for things like eating and sleeping and church on Sundays. I didn’t take vacations, and time off was measured in hours, not days or weeks. I felt guilty for taking time off and guilty for not wanting to take time off.
I had no time for anyone other than the people I was dealing with through my practice. The only way my friends could spend time with me was by booking an appointment. I literally worked them in between the depressed mother of four at one o’clock and the men’s anger group at three. It was out of control; I was out of control. I spent my time helping others find balance, perspective, and insight — and found myself totally missing the mark.
Those early years, though, were heady and exciting. They combined the secular bang of business success with the spiritual high of mission and ministry. Each day, each hour held the potential for another win, so I just kept going and going, day after day, week after week, year after year. Such a pace was impossible to maintain, of course. In my race to help others, I reached a point where I was exhausted, dispirited, and burned out. The people who before had given me such a jolt of energy I now saw as draining the very life out of me. I began to resent them and the work and the demands.
The business was doing great, but I was not. I needed to find my way back to the balance and peace I so desperately wanted to help others find. My journey from the abyss of burnout became the book Becoming Strong Again: How to Regain Emotional Health. That book, published in 1998, resonated so strongly that it came out with a new title and a new name, How To De-Stress Your Life, a decade later in 2008.
I say all this as a way to be honest about what I’ve gone through in my own life. I’m not proud of many of the choices I made back then. To this day, I regret the stress and pressure I put on myself, my friends, my family, and most especially my wife. What I do not regret, however, are the valuable lessons I learned from a more balanced perspective.
I consider every personal shortcoming, every painful life lesson of value. An understanding of my own nature and shortcomings increases my insight and compassion for other people. What I experienced gives me an ability to see down the road where others are going, to sound a warning and point out a different direction. Work can be a personal pinnacle, but you need to be careful of lofty heights. Pinnacles and towers can elevate, but they can also become prisons. When work becomes your life, works steals your life.
The above is excerpted from chapter 5 in Battles Men Face: Strategies to Win the War Within by Dr. Gregory Jantz.