Karōshi – Death by Overworking

This guy has been working too hard

This guy has been working too hard

It seems these days that almost everyone is super career-oriented.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Having a good work ethic is an excellent trait, and it’s one that I highly recommend trying to actively cultivate in yourself.  But, just like everything else, some people take it too far.  Just think of the common storyline, “Mom/Dad is trying hard to get ahead to provide a better life for their kids than they had growing up.  But somewhere in the process, they lose sight of what’s really important and don’t spend enough time with their family.  Angst and life-lessons ensue.”  Sound familiar?

Now this post isn’t about spending time with your family (even though I will probably have a future post on that topic).  It’s about taking work-addiction so far that it kills you.  Sound far-fetched?  It isn’t.  In fact, in the hyper economy-centric country of Japan it happens so often that they have a name for it, karōshi.  From Wikipedia:

Karōshi (過労死), which can be translated literally from Japanese as “death from overwork“, is occupational sudden death.  Although this category has a significant count, Japan is one of the few countries that reports it in the statistics as a separate category.

That is pretty crazy.  People are literally working themselves to death.  And why?  It’s very important to remember WHY you are working all those hours at your job.  Are you paying off debt?  Saving for retirement?  Putting the kids through school?  Saving for a new car?  Want to buy a boat?  Want to travel to Europe?  All of these are reasonable, but some are desires while others are actual NEEDS.  It’s up to you to decide what is “worth it” in terms of trading your time for money.  In the end you only have a finite amount of time and how much of it you spend trying to earn money to buy more stuff is up to you.

Also, just to give you some perspective, here’s an article* from The Guardian in which a palliative nurse (meaning she eases suffering, rather than curing people) named Bronnie Ware lists the top five regrets of the dying.  The article’s content can also be found on her blog here*.  Guess what shows up in the number two spot: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Something else comes up in that article that I talked about several weeks ago. I’m just going to quote the whole snippet on the number five regret:

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Anyway, different people have different desires, and maybe you are perfectly happy to keep putting in extra hours in exchange for extra money (or maybe you must for whatever reason).  This article is just a friendly reminder not to work yourself to death for trinkets.  Take a moment and think about why you are working, and what’s important to you.  Then re-evaluate whether you should dial it up or down a notch.

Either way, just remember that no matter how hard you work, you still need time for yourself.  Time to golf, sew, cook, read, make music, laugh, and do whatever makes you happy.  Because if you won’t make time for yourself, no one is going to make it for you.

*The Guardian’s article is very good and very brief, by the way, and definitely worth a read.  But if you aren’t turned off by the idea of reading an extra paragraph per regret you should just read her blog.

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