How to be a better hamster

*an open letter. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

Tom Brown has a problem. An addiction. It’s called workaholism. I think he’s aware of it, thankfully. That’s why he hired me. But I don’t think he realizes how extreme his case is. Workaholism is harder than other addictions because it helps build The American Dream.

image courtesy of james barker at

​If he had a different addiction then society wouldn’t lavish him with praise while his bank account swells. If he had needle marks in his arms or if he weighed 500 pounds then things would be different. Diagnosis easy. Drug addicts and overweight people don’t get on the cover of Forbes and Inc Magazine. The surgeon general has no warnings for overstressed work maniacs.

Tom was busy and missed our call scheduled for Monday. We rescheduled for Wednesday and he missed that call too.

This from a guy who paid me $2,100 in advance because he thought it would help him keep the commitment.

The spirit of the age today is busyness.



Now let me be clear. I like work and I believe there’s nothing better than a person who puts in a good day’s work. I love people who hustle. In this case I’m talking about people who are throwing away everything else in their life in the name of business success.
We are not defined by what we do for a living. 
Here’s all I know to say to someone like Tom (and others like him).

Dear Tom,

Time to say No to some things. Lots of things. You don’t have any space in your life. You are not working out of a place of rest. Hard work is good. Hard work never killed anyone. But stress. Stress kills more people than cancer. Hell, stress probably causes cancer. I’m willing to bet that nobody and no project gets 100% of Tom Brown’s attention. Ever.

What would happen if you focused only on what you like best, are good at and has the absolute most potential? You would get past the surface, you would dive deeper and find the edges, your creativity would kick in, your contacts would be engaged.

You would go pro. 

Some of these things to say no to will be big things. They look really fun and will have momentum and probably a ton of potential. If you are honest with yourself and if you truly want to change then you will drop ’em. You will sacrifice the good for the great. It’s like folks who want to quit smoking. They can try whatever they like- positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, patches, pills and Jedi mind tricks. Then after all that fails and they get ready to quit, then they quit.

Let’s be honest. People who get this many things going on are scared. People don’t work at this manic pace because its fun. They do it because of the fear of lack and/or the greed for more. Getting up before 6am to work on email, sprinting to keep up all day long, things falling through the cracks, hit more caffeine after lunch, home late in the evening, quick dinner and kids to bed then back on the computer for several more hours of email. And this isn’t just a phase or the season of a start up.

It’s a way of life.

What about life itself?

Your body
Your spirit
Your heart
Your self-care
Your home
Your quality of life
Your wife and family and friends

Don’t let the world fool you, my friend. The working world wants to see you run yourself to death on the hamster wheel. It validates their own way of life. And a few of them might show up at your funeral. Ironically none of them will talk about your professional accomplishments. They might say you were such a nice guy and it was nice knowing you and then the next day they will forget you man. After 6 months they will say, “Tom who?” And then their attention will be on themselves and the next army of hamsters that are coming behind you.

What will that tombstone of yours say?

“This guy always returned his emails in a timely fashion.”

I know that’s not what you want. That certainly isn’t what I want for you either. In our last session you mentioned your dream schedule. How you would get up early and exercise. Then be back home to enjoy the morning with your wife and kids. Breakfast together. Then you would head out to a more consistent schedule. You would be home by 5:30 or 6pm. Turn your phone off. Have energy! You can have that. I believe you will have that, and a whole lot more. If, and only if, you decide to do the hard work of letting things go. And that starts with what you learned in that junior high lesson on drugs.

Just Say No

Article by Matty McLain

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