3 subtle differences between workaholics and high performers

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America's Workaholic Culture


"I'm a recovering workaholic," admits Jullien Gordon, a nationally recognized speaker and founding partner of New Higher, on his website.

Workaholism, he says in a 2014 LinkedIn post, looks similar to high performance on the outside — but they're actually nothing alike.

Gordon spent years doing research and conducting experiments on himself to understand the difference between workaholism and high performance.

He found that while they both look like hard work, "the big difference is how the individual feels on the inside about who they are in [relation] to their work," he explains.

A high performer works hard in "healthy sustainable ways and feels happy and inspired," he adds. Meanwhile, a workaholic "works hard in unhealthy unsustainable ways and feels unhappy and burned out."

Here are three more subtle differences between workaholics and high performers:


1. High performers know their value. Workaholics allow others to determine their value.

"A high performer knows their self-worth and can thus work with a sense a freedom," Gordon writes. They do periodic self-evaluations of their performance so that they can constantly improve. And, he says, "they create their own feedback loops rather than waiting on feedback from others."

A workaholic, on the other hand, relies on external validation from those around them: bosses, colleagues, and clients. They wait for external evaluations, such as mid-year or annual reviews, to understand how well they are doing, which causes them to work with a constant sense of fear.


2. High performers give 100% at the right time. Workaholics give 110% all of the time.

Gordon says a high performer knows when to "turn it up." They know when they're expected or required to give everything they have — and they save their energy for those occasions.

"They don't buy into the illusion of 110%," he writes in the LinkedIn post. "They know that 110% is unsustainable. Instead they focus on increasing their capacity so that their 100% is better than the competition's 110%."

A workaholic attempts to go all out, all the time. "They have difficulty prioritizing what's important, therefore, everything is important in their mind."

He tells Business Insider: "The hardest worker doesn't always win, but the winner does work harder."


3. High performers do business. Workaholics are busy.

A high performer's primary goal is to do business. "The only thing that matters to them are results," writes Gordon. "If they can't see a way to create value in the moment, they facilitate or strategize instead. They know that like the economy, business comes in waves, therefore they get ready during the dips so they can capitalize during the upswings."

The No. 1 goal of a workaholic is to be busy at all times — as they believe that the busier they are (or appear), the more important they must be.

"Workaholics fill any space in time with busy work because they feel insecure doing nothing," he explains on LinkedIn. "The insecurity comes from not knowing their value."

Click here to read the full LinkedIn post.

Related: 13 things successful people do in between jobs.
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3 subtle differences between workaholics and high performers

Minimize the stress of your first week in a new job by taking time to organize your personal life.

"Any projects around the house that have been nagging at the back of your mind? Now's the time to get them done," says Ryan Kahn, the founder of The Hired Group and creator of the best-selling How To Get Hired online course.

Miriam Salpeter, job search coach, owner of Keppie Careers, and author of "Social Networking for Career Success" and "100 Conversations for Career Success," says your break between jobs is the perfect time to schedule doctor appointments and deliveries that require you to be home, and to run any errands that may be difficult to get done once you start your new job.

"Take advantage of not having to be reachable during the day, and stop checking your email or looking at Facebook for an afternoon or two," says Sutton Fell. "This gives you a chance to reset your brain."

Instead of staring at a screen for hours on end — which you'll probably have to do as soon as you start your new job — pick up a book you've been dying to read, or go take an exercise class you've been wanting to try.

"Before starting a new job, take the time to ensure that you are maintaining the relationships you had formed at your previous job," Kahn says.

Make sure you have contact information for the people that you worked with in the past, and plan on checking in with them on a regular basis once you're in your new role.

We know we said earlier you should take a break from technology — but it's okay (and advised!) to take an hour to two during your time off to update your LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook profiles with your new company and job title.
You might not have a chance to do afternoon lunches with people for the first few months of your new job, so your break is a great time to do these, says Sutton Fell.

Nicole Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert and best-selling author, suggests using this break to spend time with family.

"When you start any new job you should expect to work longer hours — at least the first several months," she says. "Utilize this time to make the most of being at home."

Whether you can get away for a night or a week, take a trip somewhere to recharge, see new sights, and take full advantage of your time off, Sutton Fell says.

In today's competitive job market, the more senior the position, the more you will be scrutinized in those first few months, Kahn says.

"You'll be expected to hit the ground running versus spending time learning the ropes. Get a head start by researching the industry and the company, and learning as much as you can about the position and the team you will be working with," he suggests. 

Give some thought to what you want to do differently from the start in this new job, Williams Yost says.

"Are you going to try to wake up earlier and get to the gym a couple of days a week? Are you going to try to schedule a networking lunch outside of the office once a month?" Use this time to establish a plan. 

During this rare lull between jobs, think about where you are headed. Where do you want to be in five years? In 10 years? How will this job help you get there? Coming in knowing where you're going will help you stay on the right path from day one, Kahn says.

If your work schedule is shifting at all, it's important to organize things like childcare, household responsibilities, and your personal routine, Sutton Fell says.

Salpeter says if you altered your sleep schedule at all during your time off, you should try to get into a "work-oriented sleep routine" a few days before starting your new job.

Don't forget to spend some time on yourself. Take time to relax, get plenty of rest, and indulge in some pampering. 

"Congratulate yourself on a job well done," Williams Yost says. "Treat yourself to a massage, new power outfit, or a nice dinner. You landed a job in a dim market; you should take the time to be proud of yourself."

Worried that it may be difficult to get back into the swing of things if you’re too relaxed during your time off? "Work is like riding a bike; once you start that first day, you'll click right back in," Williams Yost explains. "So don't worry about being too relaxed during your break. Drink it all in. Enjoy every minute of it. Then dive into your new gig with a new outfit, fresh outlook, and happy heart."

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