Americans Are Crazy Workaholics -- It's Time We Brought More Balance to Our Lives

I was asked on the CBS Early Show about Ed Rendell's off-mic assessment that Janet Napolitano is a "perfect" choice for Homeland Security Secretary because she has "no life," "no family" and "can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day" to the job. Did I think his comment was sexist?


I didn't. But I do think it is emblematic of a pervasive misperception in America: the idea that to be a success you have to drive yourself into the ground, and that making work the be-all and end-all of your life is a good thing.

I've touched on this before: The prevailing culture tells us that nothing succeeds like excess, that working 80 hours a week is better than working 70, that being plugged in 24/7 is expected, and that sleeping less and multi-tasking more are an express elevator to the top.

Rendell's paean to workaholism epitomizes this wrong-headed approach to achievement. Indeed, the truth is the exact opposite. It turns out people are not only happier -- they are also much more productive if they are able to get away from work, and renew their passion and focus.

The alternative approach is what has led to America being awash in heart disease, high blood pressure, and other stress-related ailments.

In truth, Napolitano is a voracious reader (devouring one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time) and an avid tennis player (she plays twice a week, and her staff knows not to schedule anything during her "tennis time"). She also loves going to the movies and the opera, hikes and river rafts, and describes climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro as "one of the most memorable experiences of my life."

But that's not the messaging that go-getting Americans think they need to hype in their bios and CVs. What would their hard-charging bosses think?

After his comments became public, Rendell apologized to anyone who may have been offended and, in his defense, said that he too "has no life." And this is supposed to make us feel better about him rather than motivating us to enlist him in Workaholics Anonymous?

"To be Governor and to do your job well," said Rendell, "you can't have a life."

I beg to differ. To be Governor and do your job well, you have to bring more balance to your life -- learn to unplug and recharge. Judgment and wisdom are more than ever what is needed in our leaders, and round-the-clock stress and exhaustion is conducive to neither.

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