Here’s something I wrote recently on DiscussAnything, in response to someone complaining about being a workaholic. Amusingly, it might actually reach more people here (DA has a lot more readers overall, but any particular thread might not) and I think it’s worth sharing – or even just reminding myself.

If you can’t change it, channel it. I’m a workaholic too. I’ve been working for startups for most of my career, often working 70-hour weeks for months on end. I could retreat into a less demanding job and have more leisure time, but instead I’m basically saving up time for later. By working hard and aggressively developing new skills long after most people would have consider themselves experts, I can command a much higher salary than I would otherwise. It also allows me entry to opportunities at companies that have genuine prospects for large-scale success, who won’t even hire anyone who’s inclined to sit back and rest on their laurels. I’ve already had one hit that way, though it was more of a ground-rule double than a home run. Even without that mythical home run that makes me instantly rich, though, I’ll still be able to retire way before most of my more lackadaisical peers, while I’m still young enough to enjoy it (to which end my intense fitness program is also directed). Then I’ll be sitting back and taking it easy, pursuing projects or hobbies as I want instead of as the market wants, for the entire second half of my life. I’m willing to give up a little of my lower-quality leisure time (not the high-quality time with my family, of course, which is sacred) for that.

As I said, I can’t change that about myself but I can channel it so that it works for me instead of against me. Somewhere I read once about a distinction between high-reward and low-reward activities, and how they relate to people’s actual satisfaction with their lives. Jobs, sports, and hobbies tend to be high-reward. They’re often demanding of your time and energy, but you’re gladder for having done them. Watching TV or playing video games are low-reward. They require little or no effort or motivation to get going, but the hours turn into days and the days turn into years and you look back and feel dissatisfied at how little was actually accomplished. It’s a trap. It’s junk food for the soul. In the end people are happier if they forego the low-reward activities and push themselves to make high-reward things happen, even if that’s not their natural inclination. Lives can and should be planned to maximize long-term satisfaction, not short-term ease. Unfortunately, too few people realize that and too few resources exist to help them. What we get instead is bookshelves filled with extended rationalizations for sloth. Just remember, nobody ever went to their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time watching TV or playing games.