The Perils of a High-Powered Career

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Apr 1, 2020

Apr 1, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

Think Your Job Is Making You Crazy? You Might Not Be Wrong.

There are a number of envious aspects to having a high-powered job: the authority, the prestige, the wealth. However, such a lifestyle can be arduous, and oftentimes even perilous, for those unwilling or unable to mitigate the stresses inherent in these sorts of positions. What pushes a person in a high-stress career to the brink of losing everything? Let’s examine what draws people to these sorts of jobs in the first place.

The traditional model for attaining success in corporate America requires the careerist (formerly known as the workaholic) to sacrifice his or her own personal and family life in service of longer working hours and greater expectations. In return, the careerist is awarded all manner of bonuses, promotions, raises, and stock options. The greater the frequency of these rewards, the more the careerist is conditioned to associate monetary gains with greater expenditures of time and energy. This pernicious mindset is sadly reinforced with every gift, attaboy, and adulation.

Of course, finding success in your career is a good thing. Performance bonuses and seniority privileges should be welcomed, as long as they don’t negatively impact your personal and family life. When a person’s career becomes their single, unwavering focus, things at home tend to fall apart. Spousal relationships disintegrate; parent-child dynamics dissolve. Mental health experts call this phenomenon monomania.

While most people identify with their jobs to a certain extent, people with this disorder tend to have an obsessive preoccupation with their careers. Because people with monomania can be emotionally and intellectually attached to an idea (like professional success), it can be difficult to differentiate between the presence of a disorder and general passion. Again, the hallmark of a disorder run amok is its negative impact on people outside of the problem: friends, family, neighbors.

Monomania is a legitimate behavioral and neurological disorder, and it can have serious implications when left untreated. Physical and behavioral symptoms may include high blood pressure, irritability, paranoia, social isolation, and estrangement from family or friends. Outcomes for people left untreated range from divorce, destitution, job loss, and even homelessness. While monomania is a relatively rare diagnosis and the above outcomes are far from typical, it is worth noting the exponential increase of workplace connectivity and its effects on work-life balance.

Mental health experts say that one of the commonalities among those in high-caliber jobs is an insatiable need for validation. Ironically, some of the most successful people in these career fields have very low self-esteem and will often look to others for positive reinforcement. When that reinforcement comes in the form of greater wealth and prosperity, it can be exceedingly difficult to break the cycle of sacrifice and self-aggrandizement. In other words, it is difficult for people to accept that their lives are out-of-control when they enjoy increasingly higher standards of living.

Moreover, when people affected by this disorder become accustomed to praise from their family and friends, they are likely left with feelings of anger, betrayal, resentment, and jealousy when that praise inevitably dries up. It is in these moments when familial and social dynamics are irrevocably and negatively altered. When the disordered person is confronted, he or she is forced to choose between his or her perceived notion of success and the continued health and prosperity of close relationships. And when that person feels so invested in a career that he or she cannot be moved to make the necessary adjustments, tensions boil over and relationships fall apart.

If you recognize yourself in the above description, don’t despair. You may just need to reassess your priorities and discover what was lost or diminished in your pursuit of professional success. If you cannot remember the last time you took your partner out on a date, or spent some quality time with your children, or took the time to call a loved one, perhaps now is the time to acknowledge those failings and forge a new path forward. Start with small adjustments before making any rash decisions.

Consider setting reasonable boundaries with your employer regarding your availability outside of regular business hours. A good boss will respect your personal space and give you the opportunity to thrive outside of the workplace. Take time to re engage with family and friends. Growing your inner circle while expanding personal and familial relationships is one of the best ways to stay grounded and retain your humility. Rediscovering an old hobby can also be a great remedy for daily workplace stresses.

Find a way to pull yourself away from your email and pry your eyes from your smartphone for a few hours a night—long enough for you to turn your attention to friends, family, and your self-care. These small gestures will pay major dividends over time, as those around you will begin to notice your transformation. Relish in this brand of wealth, because it can’t be found within the confines of an office, title, or paycheck. This is the reinforcement you have been looking for—the validation that you are doing right by your loved ones.

If you are in search of ways to achieve a better work-life balance and establish more harmony in your personal life, think about implementing some of the suggestions listed above into your daily routine. Your loved ones are sure to take notice.

On the other hand, if you are finding it more difficult than expected to give your personal life the attention you feel it deserves, consider seeking professional help. As mentioned above, unchecked monomania can have dire consequences for both you and your family. A licensed behavioral health expert will be able to guide you through the process of unraveling your obsession with work and seek more desirable outcomes for you and those affected by your struggle.