Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Few Notes On Positive Workaholism

When I was first becoming serious about a writing career in the early 1980’s, I attended a week long school for writers at Northwestern College in the Twin Cities. The meetings with editors and the classes that week were invaluable. The class on advanced article writing, led by Dennis Hensley, changed my life. At the time, though still in his early thirties, Hensley had published more than 3,000 articles. I later went on to purchase his book, Positive Workaholism: Making the Most of Your Potential. But it was something he said that week that really hit home.

Hensley said that if we set aside ten hours a week for writing, that would be 40 hours in a month or the equivalent of an American work week, which would equal three months of full time writing by the end of the year. "If you can't get anything written in a quarter-year of full-time writing, then you are not a writer," he said. From that day on I set out to carve out ten hours a week to devote to writing. I considered it my marching orders.

This Hensley formulation came to mind this week when I was calculating how much more time one has by sleeping less. I do not in any way suggest we go to unhealthy lengths of sleep deprivation, though many a famous person has done so to accomplish more. (e.g. George Sand) I was thinking about how many times I have been told over the years that we "need eight hours sleep." My guess is that there are indeed people who seem to need more sleep, but many who have a different body metabolism. I've spent most of my life sleeping six to seven hours a night, so the other day I did a calculation. If we have one extra hour per day to accomplish things, over a period of 70 years this would add up to an additional 2.9 years to finish that book you were putting off, or that masterpiece painting.

I'm not promoting a new law as regards how much sleep people need. In my own unscientific way I am just pointing out that we each have different lifestyles and needs, that universal pronouncements like the eight hour rule need to be tossed out. We don't all have size ten feet, so we need different sized shoes. Wear a pair that feels comfortable.

As for the book, like Hensley's writing class it is packed full of practical tidbits and entertaining anecdotes, many about writers and writing. His aim with this book is not to suggest we should work extremely hard to get rich. "Before the age of the push-button society, the ability to work something admired in a person, even expected." The book was written at a time when workers were clamoring for a four-day work week and longer vacations.

It's true that people can become so wrapped up in their work that they have breakdowns. But like many things the pendulum has swung the other direction to such an extent that a balancing perspective needs to be trumpeted. Being ambitious should be a positive quality, not a pejorative. Positive workaholics, Hensley wrote, are resourceful, organized, confident, eager, secure, competitive, motivated, useful, happy, assured and progressive. They are natural leaders, self-starters, problem solvers and talented workers.

We often hear how America got ahead by exploitation of the rest of the world. We don't hear much any more about the "Protestant work ethic" that set the nation apart from many other cultures, exemplified by parents and grandparents who became role models for many of us.

While doing a little spring cleaning I found a copy of the book on a shelf in my garage and inside the back cover flap found this photo from my graduation day at Ohio University. As a young art student I shared many of the characteristics outlined here... resourceful, confident, competitive, motivated, self-assured. But the path from there to here was certainly circuitous. I have much to be thankful for.

No comments: