Today I watched Tim Russert's memorial service and had myself a good cry. I can't say that I am one of those viewers who never missed a week of Meet the Press, but my husband certainly is. My first thought when he called me while I was waiting to get blood work on Friday to report the news of Russert's death, "What will hubby do on Sunday mornings now?" The next thought was, "Who's going to handle the election coverage?"
As a writer and communicator, I was fascinated by Russert's enthusiasm and energy. Although he could be classified as a Type A personality (workaholic). Having once been a workaholic myself, I can tell you that you don't sleep much. The brain is always going, going, going. I was multitasking in my sleep back then. I imagine Russert was the same way, because he had his hands in many things. While hearing about all of the things he did and was involved in, I wondered to myself how he could find time to be a husband and father. They say he only slept 2 hours the night before he died. He had just returned from visiting with his newly-graduated son, Luke, in Italy and had a show to prepare for on Sunday. He was on his way down the hall to go to the sound booth to record his voice-overs for the program. He rounded the corner and said his classic, "What's happening?" to a co-worker. That was, according to Brian Williams, the last sound he made in this world. He suddenly dropped, dead of a heart attack.
Workaholics also eat the wrong foods. When you are in a hurry, you don't fix a nice salad or sandwich to take to work in order to control your food intake, calories and carbs. You don't turn down the bagels or danishes in meetings. You grab something on the go, eat conference room food, skip meals, or load up on coffee to keep going. You believe your doctors when they say they can control what your diet and lack of exercise is doing to your body. They prescribe statins and blood pressure medication and diabetic medication (Russert was also a diabetic). Workaholics get their exercise by raising the heart rate with adrenaline, not aerobic exercise. They forget to take breaks unless you count stopping at the restroom on the way to the next meeting.
Workaholics have control issues. They have to keep tabs on everything and everyone. They have to be in the know. They have to achieve, regardless of the cost. I was like that. I worked as a government contractor. It was one of the jobs I could get without a college education. I learned on the job and worked my way up until I was running a large information system implementation at a military hospital on the west coast. I was in my 20s when I got on that treadmill. By my mid-30s I was feeling the burnout. That's me on the boat in Hawaii when I was 29, the girl on the left with the blonde hair. I ate whatever I wanted, drank, didn't sleep much, and worked like mad. After that afternoon cruise on the sailboat, I slept more hours in a row than I had the entire month I was in town (and yes, it was a business trip, working long hours!) I ended up with heat exhaustion from being on the ocean for 3 hours in the midday sun with my pale skin. After going back to the condo, I slept until late the next evening, waking up only to drink water! A sensible girl would have gone to the hospital to get some fluids. I just thought, "Nah, I'll be fine. Gotta go to work Monday morning!"
At that time of my life, I went home a weekend a month and ran my family ragged, too. I think they were glad to put me on the plane again! We would go out and have fun all weekend long. I played as hard as I worked.
Ultimately I had to slow down, though it was fun while it lasted. By the time of my second visit to Honolulu, for my 40th birthday, I had slowed way down (though I was running a global customer service department for a Swedish company). Even that proved to be too much after a while. Since then, I've been gradually having to slow down more each year. You see, I'm just not designed to sustain that kind of workaholism, but I learned from the best - my father. He worked 18-hour days on a regular basis. Being the creative type, myself, if I'm working long hours it's usually at the computer (previously the typewriter). But my health issues have forced me to learn to slow down. Sometimes life is too slow for me now, but it is better than it was.
And yet deep inside I miss being in the middle of everything, always keeping up with a staff, reporting to the higher-ups, attending meetings, putting together proposals, traveling all over the country, and meeting new people. I somewhat envy the life Russert was leading, though I think it's an incredible tragedy that he has missed out on many years with his family. Really, isn't that more important than being in the spotlight?
My heart goes out to Russert's family. They've been cheated out of a loving man, out of years with him. What if he had just learned to say no to people and new projects? Granted, he might not have been as well-known and well-loved by the public, but I'll bet his family would have appreciated it.
Peace - D