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My Two Workaholics: Looking Critically at Our TV Work Role Models

written by: •edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 8/15/2012

It's Sunday morning. The family is at the beach. The sun is out. The coffee has been brewed, and you are in your office. While this sort of behavior is fine once in a while, if your life resembles that of some of the TV show workaholics I will discuss, you might want to rethink your life's balance.

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    A Good Protestant Work Ethic?

    Finding a good work life balance sometimes means developing an outlook lying between this kitty and your favorite TV show workaholic Working hard has long been touted as a virtue. In fact, hard work is a big part of our culture. However, there is a fine line between working hard and being diligent, and being a workaholic. Workaholics tend to neglect every other area of their lives in exchange for work. You don't have to be passionate about what you do, or even enjoy your job to become a workaholic. Here are some of the warning signs:

    • Getting more excited about your work than about anything else
    • Having a roller coaster pattern of productivity - some days you get tons done, other days it's slow-going
    • Regularly taking on work on vacation or on weekends worrying about work in bed
    • All you talk about is work
    • You work more than 40 hours per week
    • Hobbies become ways to make money
    • Friends and family members no longer expect you to join them for activities
    • Irritation with people asking you to stop work for other activities
    • Working or reading while eating

    These are only a few of the signs that you or a loved one might be a workaholic. While having one or two of these characteristics isn't a cause for concern, Workaholics Anonymous defines workaholism as having three or more characteristics out of a set of twenty.

    Workaholism is such a deep seeded part of our culture, that many TV show workaholics have entered our culture. Some people might not think they are a workaholic because their favorite television personality or character demonstrates such attributes. Who are these individuals and what can we learn from them?

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    Miranda from Sex in the City

    Miranda Hobbes is a high-powered New York lawyer. She regularly works 60+ hours a week and often chooses her work over other activities. In one episode, she even dates a woman in order to attempt to get a leg up on her career in her law firm. Her on again, off again relationship with boyfriend (eventually husband), Steve, is often affected by her workaholism. In the Sex in the City movie, she nearly loses Steve due to her workaholic ways.

    Workaholics are often unbalanced in their lives, however, and we often see Miranda with her best friends. There comes a point, however, when Miranda realizes that her son, Brady, is more attached to the nanny than he is to her. Many workaholics find bonding with young children difficult. It's important to make sure that life doesn't center around work to make sure friends and family members are not neglected.

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    Josh on West Wing

    Josh on The West Wing is another workaholic. But he's not the only one on the show who suffers from this. In fact, this show has often been said to fully embrace the shrinking levels of leisure time had by American workers. Josh holds his co-workers to a high standard, and he takes his work very seriously. Like Miranda from Sex in the City, Josh is a graduate form an ivy-league university. Perhaps this prestigious education says something to viewers: to be successful you have to graduate from a top-notch university and work often overnight, as do some of his colleagues.

    It's not enough to choose work over family or friends. Workaholics often work long hours, perhaps from fear of leaving their desks, perhaps out of a sense of competition with coworkers. If you find yourself spending the night at your office and sleeping at your desk on a regular basis, or if you're on a first-name basis with the janitor, you might want to look hard at other workaholic-like symptoms.

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    Oprah

    What hasn't Oprah had her hands in? She's had a successful acting career, made great breakthroughs when it came to her television talk show, engaged in a lot of work for non-profit organizations, and run a magazine. Her latest venture has involved creating a whole television network. By all accounts, most people would say that Oprah is the epitome of success in our country. She literally took every opportunity that came her way and seized it. However, when is it enough?

    Workaholics often have a hard time knowing when to say "no." They often take on more and greater projects out of fear that they will not have another chance to do so. To avoid becoming a workaholic because you have too much to do, learn to say the most valuable two-letter word you know, "no."

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    Sam Carter from Stargate SG-1 and Jack Bauer from 24

    Captain Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 is another classic television workaholic. She could often be found in the lab and would turn down other activities like fishing with friends in exchange for spending time researching. Her dedication to the lab leads her to alienate herself from her family and causes tension with friends and family members. While some might admire her dedication to finding deep scientific truths, others would condemn her for spending too much time in the lab.

    Jack Bauer works hard to keep terrorist organizations at bay. He's often seen running around dismantling bombs and saving people. He also constantly chooses work, even when there isn't a pressing issue, over family. He claims it's the nature of his job working for an anti-terrorism unit, but really, it appears that he often uses work to hide from the real issues that surface in his relationships.

    Workaholics may be doing important research or trying to save lives (think Jack Bauer from 24). No matter how important their work, when things calm down again, they tend to continue to follow the same patterns of choosing work over everything else. It's no wonder that they tend to alienate themselves from their families.

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    Mulder on X-Files and Michael Scofield on Prison Break

    Have you ever been so passionate about a cause that it consumes your entire life and you make it your life's work? X-Files' Mulder becomes obsessed with discovering the location of his younger sister who died. Even when his day is over, and he's at home, he's thinking about whatever case it is he's working on at the time. It seems as though Mulder has no work-life separation.

    Prison Break's Michael Scofield also has a difficult time dividing his time up between work and life. Even though Scofield is technically a prison inmate, he spends the show dedicated to exonerating his older brother and breaking his brother out of prison. Every second of Scofield's life is dedicated toward moving forward on meeting this goal.

    When your entire life revolves around work activities, even when you're lying in bed, there's a problem. Both Mulder and Scofield had a very difficult time peeling away their work obligations so that they could enjoy life after work.

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    When watching your favorite television programs, keep your eyes opened for those favorite characters who are less than worthy when it comes to our adoration. When you see a character that is demonstrating the characteristics of a workaholic, look carefully to see whether you can come up with solutions to their problems. Rather than idolizing those who consistently allow work to take over their lives, look for ways that the individual could add more balance to his or her life.

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