In the United States, many of us are workaholics. Because of that, making time for family, friends, hobbies or travel is usually a secondary concern. This is because many company structures don't allow for successful work-life integration.
Let me tell you a little story to explain what I mean.
I had a friend who worked in finance after college. He had a difficult job, but an even more challenging corporate culture. At his office, fifteen-hour workdays were considered normal. He'd laugh about how employees, including himself, regularly slept under desks to catch some shuteye before pulling all-nighters.
It might have been funny... if this happened every once in a while. But no, this was the norm.
Burdened with a hefty amount of debt and the pressure of succeeding post-college, my friend was left with one choice - conform to the system. Either that or be fired.
This was in 2009, in the heart of the Great Recession. Jobs were scarce. Millions of people were out of work. There were many hungry, well-educated, recent college graduates, all of them fighting for the same jobs. At that point in his life, my friend was ready to jump through every obstacle that was put in front of him, even ones that could have been catastrophic.
It wasn't just his financial firm. Every prominent company in that industry held new hires to the same standards. And internally, his bosses all supported insane standards like 80-hour weeks.
It was a bad hazing ritual passed down over the years. His superiors had all been forced to endure the same process. So to be one of them, he would have to go through hell... just like they had.
At first, my friend dealt with it like everybody else. But then, his mental and physical health began to deteriorate.
By the middle of his second year, he was using depression medication and alcohol to deal with his situation. He felt trapped.
Brutal anxiety attacks came next. At a certain point, he even contemplated suicide. Somehow, thank God, he survived.
To this day, he thinks of it as the lowest point in his life. And all of it was related to one thing - work.
My friends' story ended as a happy one.
He did get away from it all. He left the company for greener pastures.
Today, he is running a business with a close friend, and he's more alive than I've seen him in years. Yes, work is still hard. Sometimes it feels like too much. But at least he's regained his health and sanity.
However, a sad truth remains - many people haven't been that lucky.
Although awareness of the issue is rising, most people do not realize the terrible effects that stress and overwork can have on your life. And in some countries, they have even identified that overwork can lead to the most serious consequence of all...death. Yes, you heard that right.
Death by overwork is a reality of the developed modern world.
We're not talking about strenuous physical labor here. We're talking about white-collar workers - people who spend their days on conference calls, traveling on planes to business meetings, staring into computer screens all day. We're talking about people just like you and me.
And it's become such a readily observed phenomenon in countries like Japan, and more recently South Korea and China, terms have been created to describe it.
In Japan, it's called karoshi - the literal translation is "death from overwork". In South Korea, they call it gwarosa. The Chinese use the term guolaosi, which refers only to overwork-induced suicide.
This is a heavier topic than I'm used to writing about. But it's one that affects all of us.
So far, the United States doesn't have a term for death from overwork. But unless we make conscious changes, chances are good we'll be next on the list.