Everyday Masochism: Why Are We Workaholics?

Masochism is self-discipline run amok.

Human nature seems to reside in extremes. I don’t know why, but when we do something or believe something, we can’t half-ass it; our minds lust after broad strokes. And to so many of us, suffering is the key to bliss. Growing up, you’ll recall learning about the importance of hard work and discipline; all sorts of platitudes will easily come to mind. As a culture, who we are and become are defined by our willingness to sacrifice for better days. And when people ask you what you do for a living, they really want to know how hard and how much you work. Suffering is a fetish.

Working in New York, I treat many workaholics. Their days and nights are consumed by spreadsheets, meetings, and fear. And most of them aren’t happy. It’s fair to wonder why they perpetually engage in activities that poison their moods; I often find it difficult to understand as well. But, then, I only have to explore my own decisions to grasp their reasons. Masochism is usually thought of in the context of S & M, but it’s much more prevalent outside of sex. We often derive pleasure from spicy food and horror films, mildly suffering for its sake. And pleasure, in those instances, in turn derives from a sense of pride. Fundamentally, masochism entails feelings of self-esteem and relief. On the one hand, we’re living up to our potential as we’re suffering; on the other, we feel less guilty and afraid of future catastrophes.

In writing this blog, I hone my craft and manage my anxiety of losing my ability to write. I convince myself that, while writing is hard, there’s some great reward that will result from it. As I write each word, the voice that tells me I have to earn my keep recedes into the night, and I can pat myself on the back for contributing today. If some of us were blessed with gifts, we’re keenly aware of how much we owe for them in return. Our social lives, our families, and we suffer for a modicum of contentment. As with most addicts, we’re grateful for just a little bit of dopamine; something to get us through the day. And, frankly, that bit of dopamine is all we get until we start all over.

Human nature exists in the extremes. And rest is akin to a spiritual death. So many of us won’t have children or families of our own because they both symbolize that death and a life we don’t deserve. We haven’t earned it; we haven’t worked hard enough for it, yet. Heaven is the final resting place and we find ourselves in purgatory, serving our sentences and paying for our sins, especially the sin of sloth.

If you ask a workaholic when it will all end, they’ll tell you when they finally feel absolved, when their conscience, at last, delivers a verdict of ‘not guilty’. And, like a prisoner in an unlocked cell, their longing for freedom is, more often than not, carried to their graves.

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