How King of the Hill helped me realise I’m a workaholic

Friends and family would be the first to point out how much I work. A lot of that comes from enjoying my job, but a bit more of it comes from the fear of not working. Not making money or not keeping the brain active in some line of employment is an odd fright to have, but it is there and present fairly often. For a few months, from December 2021 to February 2022 (and a couple days in March), I was working two full-time jobs on top of each other and was convinced I could make that work no problem. This was a choice, rather than a forced commitment that was spurred on by money troubles or any personal worries. Three months working two eight hour shifts on top of one another isn’t healthy, naturally, but it would take another month and an episode of King of the Hill for me to realise that.

The problem of workaholism has stemmed for a lot longer than that, though. More than a few moments have been, in hindsight, miserable and embarrassing. Cancelling social plans so I could crank out another album review, excusing myself to the bathroom on a date so I could answer work emails and editorial enquiries. One particularly grim moment, which happens occasionally when I cover gigs, is getting back to the hotel room filled with booze and cheap quality takeaway and settling in, not for rest, but for another few hours of work. Covering Sam Fender’s concert at Utilita Arena was a phenomenal time. But stumbling back to the hotel room at 3am, heavily inebriated, only to sit up and write for a few more hours was a mistake. I was up at 7am to get to work for my other job at 8:30am the next day.

For me, it’s strange how the same culture that feeds my workaholism is also what cemented the reality of a situation I’d only just come out of. One of the rare delights and grand shortcomings of working as an entertainment journalist is that all forms of relaxation have become work. There was strong denial from me time and time again that I could, in fact, enjoy watching a movie or reading a book on my own time but an episode of King of the Hill set me straight. I enjoy more the rush and fun of writing up thoughts and sharing them, of getting paid for work I find easy and enjoyable than I do actually engaging with art or culture. Maybe I just plain don’t like films. Who knows.

That came to a bit of a head when actually taking a breather, kind of. The beauty of home computers is that, with three monitors, you can work and watch at the same time. King of the Hill, the wonderful show made by Office Space director Mike Judge, was the catalyst of realisation. It is also the only use my battered Macbook gets at this point. A vessel for quality programming and nothing more. It was during a freelance shift with Daily Star that the penny dropped. King of the Hill has that early Simpsons quality, of good humour and life lessons embedded into one, only King of the Hill gets better and better rather than dropping off somewhere around its eighth season. There are plenty of classic episodes to choose from, but there’s only one that helped rattle my brain a little bit, Stressed for Success, the 19th episode of the eighth season.

There’s a bit in this episode where Bobby Hill is unnervingly twisted and trying to stay on top of everything. There’s a new companion book to a film that’s just released, a singer’s new track is out now and everything starts to get a bit much. The breakdown and panic attack happens (thankfully not yet for me), and it’s the calm of realisation that comes after it that hit a bit close to home. “I need to quit. Oooh, I feel better already. Hey, my stomach just unknotted.” So that’s what I did. I quit. Well, I quit a couple weeks ago, but I was sitting twiddling my thumbs and wondering if it was a good idea to quit a job that I’d clamoured for ever since getting out of university, as well as another job I’d just taken but felt unsure on. Both are gone now, in the past, and I feel better for it knowing I have one job like most people.

Ironically, as I’m writing out this paragraph, I’d told myself I was going to go for a walk after finishing up an eight-hour freelance shift. A Daily Star shift, sandwiched in-between early morning email checks and what will, without a doubt, be another late night of editing, writing, gathering up more content and preparing to do it all over again the next day. The normal day for me when I had a commute was waking up at 6am, working from 7:45am to 4:30pm, a long rush to get home (sometimes it’d be 5:30pm, other days 6:30pm), a quick spot of coffee and something to eat and then it was back to work until around 11pm. That, probably, isn’t that healthy.

But it was worth it while it lasted, and it is still worth it as it continues in a more relaxed, fully from home form. The beauty of taking an impromptu sabbatical is that it becomes a release. Splashing cash on books and booze was a nice bit of ground to catch myself on because it offered some genuine rest. There was still work within there, but a stripped-back approach that focused, at the very least, on work I enjoy. Review work and podcasting, the good stuff, not the bread and butter, “there are bills to be paid and this is how you do it,” type of work. I enjoy the latter just as much as the former, but there are days when one or the other is more enjoyable.

Do I still work too much? Absolutely. As soon as this article is filed and published, it’s onto the next one. This is article number 10 in a day that may stretch into the early hours. It’s all about balance, and unless there’s a King of the Hill episode that talks of how to balance the work and play mentality, then it’ll take a long while before any realisation is met. Worries over overworking are downplayed by fear of not being able to figure out what to do when there’s no work. Having a day of absolutely nothing is unforgivable, I’m not sure how I’d react to having absolutely nothing to do in a day. Fear of relaxation, maybe. At least King of the Hill has shown me what might happen in the end.

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