Yesterday I came across a startling realization.  I am an inner workaholic.  You might be too.  And before we all high-five each other for doing the work on ourselves to get better and fulfill our potential, I think we need to make a very clear distinction. 

There’s doing the inner work, and then there is compulsively moving from personal development book to book, from course to course, from retreat to retreat. 

This compulsion to always be working on ourselves – to the detriment of other things – is the whole opposite of inner work.  It’s inner workaholism and it isn’t healthy. 

This hit me HARD.  Like gut punch in the stomach hard. This whole time I thought I was growing and changing and working toward reaching my full potential!  I love personal development so much that I made this my life!  My career!  (insert record scratch sound here….)   

Luckily, before I had a full-on existential crisis, I took a deep breath, paid attention to my feelings, and sat with those feelings (like a good self-helper does!) for a few minutes.  Oh, the irony. 

Now before I go on, I want you to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you read a huge number of self-help books?  Do you do the exercises in them? 
  • Do you take course after course designed to help you find your purpose/dharma/bliss? (Or you would if you had endless amounts of $$$) 
  • Do you follow all the “people” what are well known in the business? 
  • Do you spend a big portion of your free time meditating, doing oracle cards, practicing breathwork, checking in on your Akashic Records, journaling, doing quizzes to determine your “type”, and then reading the newest book by the self-help gurus? 
  • Do you dream of going to the mediation retreats (or actually go)? 
  • When you’re wasting time at work (let’s call it a 10 minute mental break) are you looking at some type of personal development topic, product or service? 

First, let me be clear: these things, and people who provide these things, are great.  They really are.  I personally LOVE them! There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those activities in the list above!  I am not suggesting in the least that these aren’t awesome, awesome tools. My life would be way less interesting and informed without them.  Vilifying those things is not the point of this article. 

But… 

And here’s the big but… 

If you do all those things, all the time and always feel like you need to know more, do more, try more, then you are an inner workaholic.  

It might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate whether this is actually contributing to your growth.  Can you remember what all those books said?  What the point they were trying to get across was?  Did you actually internalize the knowledge?  Have you finished that course you bought?   

I bet not. 

We consume personal development material as a means of self-soothing, just like a person who smokes, or an emotional eater who sits down to a bowl of ice cream after a bad day at work.  We suffer from “feeding our feelings” with self-help nourishment. Ever had a personal development hangover?  I bet you have. (I feel like I’m having one now.) It’s when you finally say to yourself, “I need to step away from the PD for a while.  Maybe read some fiction.”  Too much of anything isn’t good.     

I actually had the profound realization that inner workaholism is actually a sneaky, insidious form of perfectionism, where we are constantly seeking because we feel that there is something wrong with us or that we aren’t good enough.  If we climb the personal development mountain, we will summit as a person who is impervious to criticism, to judgement, to doubt.  

(Gulp.) 

Perfectionism.  That devious word that gets thrown out in job interviews disguised as a weakness intended to mean a strength.  The word that people use to justify procrastination. The word we casually use to describe why we haven’t achieved our goals – “I’m still working in it!  It’s almost done! It’s going to be great!” 

(Cough.) 

Let’s call a spade a spade here.  Perfectionism is really us protecting ourselves from feeling “blame, judgement, or shame” as Brené Brown says.  There is no healthy perfectionism, just like there is no healthy inner workaholism.  If you are engaging in either of these things, you definitely need to do the inner work, but it is not in the form of compulsive personal development.  Perhaps, just a suggestion, you begin to figure out why you don’t feel enough in the first place. 

Find and fix the problem at the root!  Those negative self-beliefs are like weeds.  You can keep cutting the top off but until you get the root, they will just keep coming back. 

What drove you to believe you were not enough?  Who planted those seeds into your psyche?  Why do you believe you have to look outside yourself in order to find the answers you are seeking, or to achieve your greatest potential?  You don’t.  It’s all there hiding in your subconscious. 

YOU REALLY DO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. 

You can access your subconscious and dig out the weeds.  You can restore yourself back to your original programming.  It might take some time.  You might be walking through your proverbial “lawn” with the weed eater, plucking out old beliefs one by one, but it can be done.  Only you can do it.  Sure, there are some really fantastic tools out there to help and some great people teaching them.  Heck, I even do this myself (shout out to hypnosis!), but those people and tools are just guides to help you do the excavating.   

Pick a tool and go with it.  Test it out.  GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO INTEGRATE THE WISDOM it offers instead of hoping it works immediately and then jumping to the next thing when you don’t see an instant shift.  Do the exercises (I’m talking to you, serial book readers who skip the journaling or the homework).  Put the personal development down and go have fun!            

Let’s make an effort to exchange inner workaholism for just regular, old inner work.  The kind we strive for because it makes us move towards being the perfectly imperfect beings we are.  Do it because you like to learn about yourself or because you genuinely want to be the best version your self – flaws and all.     

I love what I do and I genuinely feel that I help people become aware and overcome those deep-seated beliefs that are no longer serving them.  I help uproot the weeds. But I am also human, and prone to humanness!  And let me say, again, that this was a huge wake up call for me.   

There is a saying that you can only take your clients as far as you, yourself, have gone and so I do pledge to do the inner work, but I won’t commit to compulsively striving for perfection under the guise of inner workaholism.  Practice what I preach!     

So, if you’re reading this and you can identify yourself, just take a few minutes to think about what you’ve read today.  What are you giving up so you can climb that perfectionism mountain?  Maybe you might want to share this with your fellow inner workaholics too.  I bet they don’t even know they’re doing it either. Consider it a public service announcement.  And if you do want to do a little digging through the weeds – for good old fashioned inner work purposes – contact me! I’ll be happy to go digging through the weeds with you. 

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