What Is “Work Aversion,” And Do You Have It?


Work aversion is the the flipside of work addiction.

They work together, in tandem.

You work like crazy because your life is in disorder. You avoid work like crazy because your life is in such disorder that you shudder at the thought of tackling it.

Maybe you have a terrible, unethical boss or a depressing workplace, so you get caught up in the drama yourself–twenty-four seven–as a way of keeping yourself so busy that you don’t have to think about it. Or maybe you cut out early and watch Law and Order reruns instead. It’s the same thing.

It’s the long hours on Wall Street because you’re “only going to do this for a couple years.” It’s the “I’m still searching for my passion” excuse.

Or in my case, maybe I stop writing this column mid-sentence to check my email and my phone. It could be work aversion, it could be work addiction. That’s the point — they are often indistinguishable from each other. The context, the personal reasons are the only differentiating factors.

What Steven Pressfield calls the Resistance is particularly common in creative work for this reason. It’s a job that requires vulnerability and introspection by its very nature. So we swerve. On the other hand, once the inspiration is out of the way, creative work is mostly about putting your ass in the seat. And we can swerve from that as well — being too lazy or too busy.

This isn’t just true for artists — it’s true for whatever we happen to do with our lives.

We all find ourselves asking: Why am I so busy? And conversely, why can’t I seem to get this simple thing done?

This is the struggle. I think it’s something we all go through. That’s ok.

What it really comes down to is this: a fear of being still, a fear of looking and facing things. And then taking the next step–doing something about it.

Who knows that this is for you, I don’t even know what it is for me. I do know it’s there.

It’s very hard to be happy if this attitude is part of your life. You can be distracted. You can have fun. You can do cool things. You can make a lot of money. But you can’t be happy — not with that unnamed object looming over the show.

I think this is why having systems is important. It’s something that people who focus a lot on productivity miss. The point isn’t to get more done–the point is to clear your plate of distractions, excuses and bad assumptions. So you can access the deeper parts of yourself.

I’ll give you an example: some of my best days are Saturdays. Why? Because I wake up naturally. I exercise with no deadline. There are very few emails. There are no phone calls. There is nothing on the schedule.

There’s nothing surprising there–everyone loves the weekend. But I also do amazing work on Saturdays. Not of volume but of quality. That’s because the work is coming from the best possible state: relaxed, unforced, quiet, unburdened, open. I get things done quickly, happily and better yet, it all feels like a bonus because I didn’t need to do any of it.

It’s not just that I am more productive. I am more fully myself–not adrenalizing, nor undermining. On these days, I am happy. I coast on it the rest of the week.

The reality is that that some version of this day is possible every day. Every day could be a Saturday. But I — we — choose to only allow this to happen incidentally, only as a result of larger factors outside our control.

We have to know: We have the power to make our own lives. Yet we don’t. Because we’re addicted. Or we are afraid.

This can change.

Of course, it’s not just having a system. Yes, it’s important to delegate, to organize, to prioritize. But it’s mostly important to know what kind of person you want to be, what you want to do with your life. So you can make those choices — along the lines of the priorities you actually have, not what is easiest, least painful or most immediately lucrative.

Because when I said earlier that we have a fear of looking inward and doing something about it, I left a part out. It’s not just “something.” It’s a lot of things — it’s a long hard road, filled with tough decisions and difficult periods. There are no epiphanies. Remember?

Just self-work and self-care.