In my early thirties I spent a night in intensive care with a suspected heart attack. It later turned out to be a massive stress reaction. I didn't sleep that night. Instead thought about why I was constantly pushing myself to the limit in my work. What was so important that I evidently was prepared to destroy myself?
Early next morning I had figured it out. I had arrived at the conclusion that I was prepared to kill myself to earn love and recognition.
Now, once I had exposed this to myself it was impossible to continue with the destructive behavior. It just seemed so stupid. And I quickly realized if it was love and recognition I was after, there probably were smarter ways to get them. I had reached a new level of understanding about myself.
I will admit that it took some time to change the everyday realities of my life. There were a lot of social "contracts" that had to be renegotiated with family, friends and colleagues. Not always successfully which has ended some relationships. Still, all in all a real improvement in my life.
The remaining problem with this process is that it took away the meaning of work from me. What happened was I started to work less. To do away with the immediate pressure. But also because it freed up time to explore other things, or simply do nothing. On an intellectual level I understand that I need to work, both as a means for supporting myself and a way of building my self worth. But I must admit I have very little emotional drive in my work.
The paradox is that I seem to be doing better work than ever and earning more while working less and less. This baffles me a little as it is contrary to what I was taught to believe in.
During my current sabbatical I have examined this paradox some and have challenged myself to rediscover the meaning of my work. The model I'm currently running may work well enough for me, but what I have discovered is that I'm easily bored and seldom challenged to my full potential. This cannot be sustainable. So, I find myself convinced that if I'm going to work for 20 or so more years I'll need to put more emotional "capital" into my work.
Where this will put me looking forward is to be discovered. It is darn scary and very exciting at the same time.