A nationally recognized thought-leader in this space, Thakor has been featured in a wide range of publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, NPR, PBS, CNN, Real Simple, and Women’s Health. In her most recent book, Money Zen, she breaks down the personal, cultural, and societal forces that have led us to falsely believe we can never have, do, or be enough, and shows us a fresh new path toward “MoneyZen”—her joy-based approach to living a life rich in financial health and emotional wealth.
What if everything we have come to believe about “success” is actually an illusion? What if our tendency to develop our lives around the act of pursuing money, accomplishments, and praise has not liberated us at all, but rather has left many of us addicted to these pursuits, even as they contribute to depression, anxiety, broken relationships, and a nagging sense that what we do is never enough — that we are not enough?
For nearly thirty years, I was swept up in what I call the “Cult of Never Enough.” By that I mean, no matter how early I started or how late I finished work, there was never enough time. No matter how much money I made, it wasn’t enough to feel like I could take my foot off the gas pedal. No matter how many accolades and awards I received, it was never enough to keep me from feeling empty afterward, like — okay, how can I top that?
My workaholism was just one symptom of my Never Enough mindset. Chasing after professional success at the expense of my mental health should have been an obvious clue that I was suffering from Never Enough–itis. But I couldn’t connect the dots and see that the voice in my head whispering you are not enough was the root cause of so many harmful behaviors.
What I call the Cult of Never Enough is similar to what Buddhists call the realm of the Hungry Ghost. Hungry Ghosts walk among us, always in search of love and belonging. But even where there is plenty, they can literally never get enough. Just as the Hungry Ghost can never feel sated, adherents to the Cult of Never Enough never feel worthy. There’s a hole in our souls that we try to fill with things like work and money, praise and success. But these substitutes can never reflect our worth as human beings.
Of course, pangs of self-doubt are a universal experience that trouble us all from time to time. If you’ve ever felt like your friends were having intelligent conversations that you weren’t smart enough to take part in, or that no matter how much effort and time you put into looking your best you somehow fell short — these are the dark alleyways of a mind dwelling on the false belief that you are not enough.
When you focus on any one thing at the expense of your personal health and relationships in an attempt to feel like you are enough, then you are allowing the Cult of Never Enough to suck the joy from your life.
It’s important to keep in mind that an obsession with work performance isn’t necessarily driven by ego or greed. Workaholism is an equal-opportunity affliction that can affect people from any background, employed in any field, at all income levels. I’ve met professors who measure success by the number of citations their articles receive, graphic designers who measure their worth by the volume of projects they are involved in, and podcasters who are solely focused on the number of downloads they achieve. Somehow, no matter what those numbers are, it’s just not enough.
Here’s the tricky part. Aspiring to greater career heights in and of itself is not problematic. Learning new skills and achieving new milestones can bring great life satisfaction. But when this pursuit goes too far — when your self-worth is tied up in numbers, like mine was — then you can never have enough citations, clients, or downloads. The Hungry Ghost keeps you endlessly in search of more.
And this behavior results in terrible health consequences. A 2021 report by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization found that over-work resulted in 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016. The majority of those deaths? They were people 60 to 79 years old who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74. In other words: Workaholism is a lot like smoking. Even if you quit overworking now, it can still lead to early death later.
Obsessive work behaviors don’t just impact our physical and mental health. They can wreck our relationships as well. Work addicts are often absentee parents, neglectful friends, and rotten romantic partners. In fact, marriages in which one or both individuals are workaholics are twice as likely to end in divorce than in couples where neither spouse overworks, according to research at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Many people feel so severely trapped in toxic work behaviors that it meets the clinical definition of an addiction. Except that workaholism is a socially acceptable addiction. It’s not just woven into our emotional history; it’s part of the economic fabric of global capitalism. There are countless books, podcasts, online courses, and TED Talks designed to help us be more productive, build bigger businesses, have more followers, learn to #CrushIt. We are constantly encouraged to achieve more.
It’s hard to resist these trends. They fuel and feed our addiction. It has taken me years to extricate myself from the Cult. The first step is to unpack the early experiences that can cause us to feel as if “it’s never enough,” leading us toward toxic behaviors around work, money, and success. Only then can we begin to understand how best to transcend the intense cultural and societal trends pushing us to go-go-go! The secret to “finding your enough” is revealed once you begin to recognize the fact that you are enough.
This excerpt is from her newest book “MONEYZEN: The Secret to Finding Your ‘Enough’” (Harper Business/ August 2023). Copyright © 2023 by Manisha Thakor. Reprinted by permission of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.