Workaholic or Hard Worker? A Look Into My Pandemic-Remote-Work Cycle.


By Miyuki Kasahara

Last night I finished watching season six of the Canadian sitcom Workin’ Moms on Netflix. It’s about the life of different mothers, with very different backgrounds, that are trying to survive everyday situations around family and work while trying to find themselves in the process.

I’m not a mom (yet), however each character and situation in the show feels so close to reality that you can’t help but think it’s going to happen to you at some point. I’ve been watching this show for a while now and out of the many everyday-life issues they portray, the one that has resonated the most with me is about what being a workaholic really looks like.

Two years ago, everyone in my life would have described me as a workaholic. “Sounds about right,” I would tell myself, since “workaholic” was not a word that had an unfavorable connotation. On the contrary, being called a workaholic had this allure. Or illusion around it of being a positive quality of anyone serious about their career in modern day work culture. Workin’ Moms was a very strong reminder of how misinformed we are about this term and made me wonder: “how did I get here?”

In 2014, Cecilie Schou Andreassen and colleagues from the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway published the first study that examines the prevalence of workaholism in Norway, as well as associations between workaholism, socio-demographics and personality. They developed the Bergen Work Addiction Scales (BWAS), the first workaholism instrument that provides seven criteria to measure work addiction:

  • · You think of how you can free up more time to work
  • · You spend much more time working than initially intended
  • · You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression
  • · You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them
  • · You become stressed if you are prohibited from working
  • · You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work
  • · You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health

“If you reply ‘often’ or ‘always’ to at least four of these seven criteria, there is some indication that you may be a workaholic,” says Schou Andreassen.

[Workaholism: the addiction of this century | News | UiB]

Kate Foster, Workin’ Moms‘ main character played by Catherine Reitman, is a PR expert, business woman, mother of two toddlers, and stepmom to a recently discovered teenager and finds herself unable to keep all of her roles afloat, ending up in the hospital with a first degree burn on her arm. Throughout the show you can see her slowly falling deeper into the Bergen scale without her realizing it until it’s too late.

It’s funny to see all of this play out on TV until you pause for a minute and realize what it truly means to be a work addict, recognizing how much the pandemic and technology is pushing us towards acquiring an addiction that is not recognized as such in our society.

Going back to 2020, the year that pushed us all to the edge of work life insanity, I tried to make sense of how my day-to-day looked from the outside and how I transitioned from adapting to a new work schedule, to becoming a zombie-like peddler of tasks to finding a non-toxic routine that was actually sustainable for myself. But before jumping into the cycle I should give you some important context.

At the time I was working full-time on my business, a digital platform for women entrepreneurs with a team of eight people in three different countries, and 350+ members in more than 20 cities around the world. Before the pandemic we were already making the transition to go fully digital, however, we still relied on a physical space, events and in-person meetings to connect with our members, our team, and our clients. I had moved back home with my siblings to take care of our grandma, and yes, I was single AF. Reason enough to be married to my work.

I should also make note that I was privileged to be in a position to keep working, which was not the case for many people around me. As an entrepreneur and business owner I often found myself responsible for keeping my business growing for the sake of my employees and the people who have lost their jobs. I felt it was unfair for me to have this opportunity and not give 110% to make things work, which added another great pressure to my own pandemic stressors.

So below is a look into my personal Pandemic-Remote-Work Cycle experience:

1. Adaptation

“Pandemic, masks, lockdown. What is even happening?”

In this first phase we all received the news that we were under a global pandemic. Things became very serious, and very quickly — next thing you know we were forced to stay at home and isolate ourselves. It was a scary time and we all had to figure out how to make the most out of this new pandemic reality. I set up a makeshift home office, upgraded my internet plan (still waiting for the day I won’t have a poor connection), and learned how to truly use the oven for the first time. No room for judgment here, you know this applies to you, too. Shortly after the lockdown was announced, I shut down our office, restructured our team meetings, and reimagined our internal processes. It was all too new but I had to move fast and adapt.

2. The “Gotta Hustle” Mindset

“You’re stuck inside, so you might as well WERK.”

During the following months continuing to run the business became like a race with no finish line. Everyone turned to digital, COVID news reports were replaying all over the internet and news, and hundreds of people bombarded social media selling temporary distractions: either you needed to buy a digital product to learn how to create your own digital product (a pandemic-proof business), you had to buy an online course to learn a new skill to survive in the pandemic-induced digital era, or you had to learn how to make banana bread (or some other quick-at-home sugary desert you will regret the next day). While all of this is happening, not a single person thought this would extend as long as it did. I was hustling and grinding like never before waiting for the moment life would all go “back to normal”.

3. Tired AF, But Still Hustling

“Oh great, another Zoom meeting!”

Days, weeks, months pass and the hustling starts to wear me out — big time. I would wake up, sit at my desk, work all day, go to bed, and then repeat all over again. There were days I would forget to eat or even shower had it not been for my sweet grandma feeling sorry for her screen-addicted granddaughter. One day I asked her what my job was, and she replied in Spanish: “You do the blah blah blah all day on the computer. Sometimes it’s a lot of blah blah blah.” Honestly, there were days I did not want to hear my own voice. By this time I was not only working on the success of my business, but I was also carrying out a fellowship, working part-time as a consultant, and leading an entrepreneurship learning program for a client. It was unhealthy at best. I did not notice my spiral until I broke down. That’s when I began to reassess everything in my work and life, but never slowed down the grind, as I didn’t feel I had a choice. Or so I thought.

4. Finding My Next New Hobby

“Guess what? I have 28 new hobbies!”

The reassessment phase for me became more like the reinventing part. I knew I had to spend some time not working, the issue was I didn’t know how to do that. So instead of actually figuring out a healthier way to work, I came up with new activities that would get me excited enough to stop working for a bit and focus on something else. I made a list of the things I have always wanted to try and even made up dreams to go after on a Sunday morning. I went from signing up for a free architecture course (because if you want to be an architect you will for sure take on a free online class), to applying to art school in Barcelona with the lousiest of homemade crafty application videos you can imagine. Whatever you’re thinking of, trust me, it’s worse. This new routine sustained me for a couple of weeks before my body was literally yelling at me to rethink the way I was doing things. Even though I was not alone, I felt lost in space. At one point I stopped doing things intentionally, and began to care less and less  about my work the way I traditionally have.

5. Figuring Out What I’m Really Doing

“Wait, what does remote really mean? Is it just video calls?”

I’m a natural planner and a strategic problem solver. Before jumping to conclusions I have adopted this process of trying to understand a problem or situation at its core by asking every possible question that gives me clarity. That is exactly what I decided to do when I realized that a major reassessment needed to happen: I started asking myself better questions. Paying attention to my own behavior and figuring out the reality I was in got me to a very simple conclusion that would change the way I work forever. All of this time I was trying to mold my life to fit in with the new normal and the expectations of what this remote life looks like. What I was not seeing is that I was actually given the opportunity to set my own standards and to make work fit into the life I truly wanted to live, which is far from sitting at a desk all day complaining about poor wifi connection. So my self-reflections turned into important questions: what type of work do I want to do? When do I want to do it? How do I want to do it — and where?

Before this last phase, my life was all about work because I thought I was responsible to live up to the expectation that, as an entrepreneur, it’s all about hustling, and if you’re not hustling then you’re just not doing enough. After I started asking myself these questions I understood that you will never do your best work if it’s not coming from a place of real intention and healthy habits to sustain it. I shifted from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance in every area of my life. Being a hard worker and having to fend for myself since I started working full-time at 15 years old wrongly led me to believe I was not allowed to design my journey, but rather, take it as it comes — whatever that might look like.

I also understood how awful it is to use the term “workaholic” to describe oneself and how very unfair it is for people who are experiencing work addiction different from people who are merely hard workers. Yes, I’m a hard worker, but certainly don’t want to be a workaholic. I’m blown away by the fact that workaholism has barely been studied over the past 45 years, and although the term “burnout” was coined in 1974, it is still being debated whether workaholism is an addiction or a lifestyle.

“Finding out what motivates our behavior, what motivates us to work in the way that we do, can give us a certain freedom. If that freedom means working less or maybe moving in and living in a cave somewhere as a yogi? Fantastic. And if that freedom means working more but having work not be a burden, that’s just as great.”

— Koorosh Rassekh, MMFT

Fast forward to 2022, I recently joined as COO & Head of Business Development for Kale & Flax, a company that does amazing creative work around the globe all within a four-day work week. I continue working as a business strategist on a few exciting projects, I am traveling and meeting new people everywhere I go, and I get to spend time with my family wherever they are.

I won’t shy away from the fact that I naturally enjoy working, sometimes even forgetting to take time for myself, but I also don’t want to become the next Kate Foster. I had to embrace a challenging learning curve on determining how to work remotely in a non-toxic way, prioritizing what’s truly important for me. I’m very happy to be able to choose the projects and engagements I want to spend time with, yet it’s taken more than a minute or two to get here.

Am I a hard worker? Hell yeah. I’ll always be. What separates my current self from the person I was 2 years ago is what I learned along the way:

  • · I know I can decide how to make work play into my favor, and create the kind of life I want to live — and I’m so very grateful and privileged for that.
  • · I know how to separate responsibilities from expectations, and know how to prioritize my needs and health first.
  • · I understand better now how workaholism shows up in the lives of people who actually struggle with this addiction.

Let’s open up this conversation and look deeper into what work really means for different people. Let’s talk about how we can all support each other in the process of living healthier, more fulfilling lives. If you are an employer or manager ask yourself how you can be aware of your employees work habits, and begin to craft a better work culture and environment. If you are an employee don’t be afraid to be vocal about the things you need in order to thrive in your workspace.

Let’s turn our hard work into the life we want, and not the other way around.

Connect with our COO & Head of Business Development, Miyuki Kasahara, on Instagram and LinkedIn.