The View from Antarctica: A Workaholic Does Not Need to Be Unhappy

by Louisa Wong:
Executive Chairman Global Sage and LinkedIn Influencer

In this series of posts, professionals reveal their best antidotes to work stress. Read the posts here, and then write your own (use #OutsideWork in the piece).

Everyone knows I am a workaholic. “Life is work, and work is life” is a mantra I live by. Life itself is a work in progress, and the work that you do potentially defines your life.

I truly believe that the purpose of life is to find our own path to contribute to a better world — starting with ourselves, our families, and the people and values that matter to us most.

When we set out to work on something, the very first question we always ask ourselves is why. When the “why” is strong enough, the “what” and “how” will take care of itself. The choices we make in life should make us better in our chosen work, and the work that we choose to do should put us in a better position to live the life we want. The successes and failures we encounter at work make us real and strong. Work enables us to have the means to make choices that make us a better person.

There are times when life takes priority and other times when work takes priority. It is in the ability to swing among many, often conflicting, priorities that we find harmony and success.

Confidence, honesty and having a strong support system are key to helping us swing across the cycles. As an entrepreneur, I have put my company and employees as my top priority and I have made choices that compromised my life. I have never taken any long holidays, and work meant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, non-stop. I have kept a simple life that allowed me to focus and dedicate all my efforts into overcoming the many extremes and unpredictability inherent in any startup and scale-up.

The burden of success also weighted down on me as I pondered on the many options forward. I found that the decision and path to selling a company are much harder than that of building a company. The responsibilities of an entrepreneur are actually very onerous, and they give you less flexibility. During those times, “life outside work” was about making time to stay healthy so I could endure the pressures at work. Regular exercise and a simple life proved to be the best medicine for me to handle pressure.

Success gives you more choices in life. I recently did two things I’ve never done before – I took a four week-long vacation and went on a life-changing trip to Antarctica, a privilege not available to many.

Antarctica is a place of extremes. It is the most remote, unpredictable, coldest, driest, windiest and loneliest place on earth. Sounds familiar? For some people, that is how they describe their own workplace.

Yet Antarctica is also the purest, a place where you find absolute beauty and clarity, where life has evolved for millions of years without you or me. In the vast white canvass that is Antarctica, everything is crystal-clear; everything is exposed and there is no place to hide — not even from your own thoughts. One thing I realized there: even in the loneliest place, one can find beauty when you leave things as they are. The same can be said of accepting things we cannot change, both at work and in life.

While my breathtaking experience in Antarctica seemed like a dream, it also exemplified the reality of today’s work where extremes and unpredictability rule. In spite of this, Antarctica moves calmly, with supreme control, and allows life to flourish. Nature moves decisively through its many cycles, sternly reminding us that even in the harshest environments, life finds a way to be beautiful.

Antarctica as my “life outside work” also allowed me to ask the tough questions, such as “why do I do what I do,” and to step back, reexamine what’s really important, and to see things from a bigger perspective. In Antarctica, I learned that sometimes the best action is to “let things be” as no matter what we do or can do in Antarctica, its extremes and beauty will last.

Should I have gone on more Antarctica-like experiences earlier on in my life instead of being a workaholic? While there aren’t that many truly life-changing experiences, for any experience to change life, one has to be ready. There is a time for everything. If I were to visit Antarctica earlier, the experience would not have made as much impact on me.  I feel humbled and honored to be among the few privileged to cross the Antarctic Circle and land on Cape Horn. The courage of the earlier explorers was evident in every corner of my journey and inspires me to continue to choose the path to reach the impossible.

Antarctica is what “life outside work” should bring: it makes us energized and inspired, and fully prepared and ready for our next challenge at work.

Antarctica is a dream, and I want to continue living this dream, and to live every day a Happy Day.