Confessions of a Recovered Workaholic

Sean McCabeMy name is Sean McCabe. I am the founder of seanwes, and I’m a recovered workaholic.

For 10 years, I worked 18-hour days, 7 days a week.

“But I love what I do!” As if loving my work meant it was any less of an addiction.

It was an addiction. I buried myself in my work.

I slept just 5–6 hours a night for more than a decade. I told myself I felt better sleeping less and sleeping more made me feel worse. Besides, it was a waste of time. I was “one of the rare ones” who could get by just fine on less sleep (I was wrong—click and listen for just 5 minutes).

I ate two out of three meals at my desk. I consumed dinner with a TV show, after which I returned promptly to my office to work again until midnight.

There was work, and there was sleeping and eating (although little of the latter two). I cared about sleeping and eating only as much as they enabled me to work more.

I was not physically active for most of my 20s. I sat at a desk (I didn’t own a standing desk). I didn’t walk, I didn’t run, I hardly even went outside.

“The business would not grow itself,” I thought. There were only two modes:

  • Mode 1: Working on the business.
  • Mode 2: Feeling guilty about not working on the business.

I didn’t like feeling guilty.

Had you asked me if I had any friends, I’d say, “Certainly! I mean, not a lot of friends, but who needs a lot of friends? I have a few friends. Good friends! Of course I have friends.” Had you asked me to name their names, I’d have no trouble providing a list of half a dozen people.

It wasn’t until some years later, upon reflection, I realized every single person I’d have named as friend was someone I paid. They were all on payroll—except my wife.

Wait, no…

My wife was on payroll as well.

I let loose an expletive.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

  • My health was poor. This was masked only by the fact that I was in my 20s. When you’re young, you’re like a rubber band—you bounce back—but bad habits catch up with you (mine would later).
  • There was no end in sight. I felt like I was treading water. There was always some surface-level reason (like meeting payroll), but I never took a step back to reflect on the big picture.
  • I had no quality non-work relationships. All I did was work. I didn’t invest in relationships. There were people in my life who might call me friend, but I certainly wasn’t being one.

The only relationship I kept up was the one with my wife. But I put that relationship in maintenance mode. I didn’t invest in my marriage beyond a few dates per month. Time was my most precious commodity (never mind that it was the one thing for which she was starved).

There was time spent working and time spent feeling guilty.

I didn’t like feeling guilty.

I convinced myself I didn’t have time.

  • I didn’t have time for sleep.
  • I didn’t have time for exercise.
  • I didn’t have time for relationships.

Don’t you understand? There’s work to do!

When I say I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 years, I’m talking about an average. There were some 14-hour days, but there were equally as many 18-hour days—and 20-hour days.

How to know if you are burned out.

Burnout is bad. I’ve experienced it. It took a full year to recover, and I consider myself lucky it took only that long.

You can’t afford burnout. Whatever you have to invest in preventing burnout before it happens is worth it.

If you wait until burnout happens, it’s too late.

If you’re wondering whether you’re burned out, you already are.

If you feel burned out right now, you have a long road to recovery ahead of you—and that journey must begin now. Don’t put off what is already going to be a lengthy process. Don’t continue pushing.

I’ll write more about recovery from burnout in the future, but for now, I will focus on preventing burnout in the first place. Whether you’ve been burned out in the past or are burned out now, you need to know how to prevent your next burnout from happening.

Going “all in” on a break.

I knew what I was doing was not sustainable. I knew I needed a solution. I was running myself into the ground.

I needed a break. I had to stop. Something had to change, some how…

I couldn’t keep working 7 days a week.

I couldn’t keep working 16 hours per day.

I know only how to be obsessed. I have an all-on or all-off kind of mentality. Either I’m going to be the best or I don’t care at all. It’s like a light switch. There is no gradient to my intensity. You get the full thing or nothing at all.

You might also call it an addictive personality.

Either way, I know myself enough to understand that if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go all in.

That’s probably why I became a workaholic.

But I couldn’t keep going this way. I needed to make a change. I needed to save myself from destruction. I had to take time off somehow, but I only know how to go “all in”.

This begged the question: what would it look like to go “all in” on a break?

Four years later: sabbaticals changed my life.

I now take off every seventh week as a sabbatical.

In a moment, I’ll tell you what I did and how it all works.

But let me first show you how different things are.

Today:

  • I sleep 8 hours per night.
  • I take off all major holidays.
  • I take off every seventh week.
  • I exercise 90–120 minutes per day.
  • I work 5 days per week and take off weekends.
  • I work no more than 8 hours per day (often less).
  • I spend 30 minutes every day talking with my wife.

How in the world is this even possible? How did I go from having “no time” to doing all of this—and still working 8 hours a day?

I sleep more, I actually exercise, I don’t work weekends or holidays, I get all my work done and there’s still time to spend a dedicated half hour conversing with my wife every single day. We call these daily chats Mini Dates. We also go on at least one “full date” each week.

It’s incredible.

This isn’t some radical 4-hour work week we’re talking about here. I regularly work 8 hours per day because I want to. Remember, I still truly love my work! I enjoy helping people. I like writing. Teaching makes me come alive.

But I don’t have to work 18-hour days to accomplish my goals or grow my business. I don’t have to be a workaholic.

How did I get to this point? What changed?

It’s all thanks to sabbaticals and changing my habits one small step at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but by making small changes, your life can look drastically different a few years from now. Imagine being a wholly new person, completely transformed in just a few short years.

It’s possible with sabbaticals.

This blog is a public draft of my upcoming book, Seventh Week Sabbatical. Subscribe to the newsletter to read my book as I write it.


I wrote this post as an introduction for the top of my About page.
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Otherwise, read about the Origin of Seventh Week Sabbaticals.