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Paul Wenske Kansas City

Paul Wenske Kansas City

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Published by: api-26490720 on Feb 10, 2009
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009 as of 12:00 AM EST
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About Melinda Beck
As The Wall Street Journal's new Health Journal columnist, MelindaBeck is returning to her love of reporting after a seven-year stint asthe editor of Marketplace, the paper's second section. Before joiningthe Journal in 1996 as deputy Marketplace editor, Melinda was awriter and editor at Newsweek magazine, and wrote more than twodozen cover stories on topics ranging from the Oklahoma Citybombing to the O.J. Simpson trial to liquid diets and the dilemmas of long-term care. She's always found covering health-care issuesparticularly exciting, as evidenced by awards she's won for her stories from the Arthritis Foundation, the AARP, the AmericanSociety on Aging, the American College of Emergency Physicians,the National Institute of Health Care Management and the AmericanCollege of Health Care Administrators. Melinda graduated from YaleUniversity and lives in New York City with her husband and two
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 You Might as Well Face It: You're Addicted to Success
Forced to take a buyout from the Kansas City Star last summer, Paul Wenske lost his sense of identity. "I'd been an investigative reporter all my life, and then boom," says Mr. Wenske, anaward-winning journalist of 30 years. "Suddenly you're not the same person you used to be.You look in the mirror. Who are you?"The deepening recession is exactingpunishment for a psychological vice thatmasquerades as virtue for many workingpeople: the unmitigated identification of self with occupation, accomplishment andprofessional status. This tendency caninduce outright panic as more and morepeople fear loss of employment."It's like having your entire investment in onestock, and that stock is your job," saysRobert Leahy, director of the AmericanInstitute for Cognitive Therapy in New York."You're going to be extremely anxious aboutlosing that job, and depressed if you do."Over-identification with work is one of manyculprits in the epidemic of recession-relatedanxiety and depression that mental-healthproviders are reporting. Fear of losing one'shouse or failing to find another job are likelybigger contributors. But unlike thoseproblems, the identity dilemma is within theindividual's power to address, requiring no lender mercy or stroke of job-hunting fortune. Oneapproach can require mental exercises, lifestyle alterations and a new set of acquaintances.But the science behind cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychotherapeutic approach that aims tochange self-destructive thinking and behavior, suggests that that work can bring long-lastingrewards.Like a drug, professional success can induce a feeling of ecstasy that quickly feels essential.Recapturing that feeling can require greater and greater feats, a phenomenon that -- more thansimple greed -- explains the drive for ever-larger bonuses and conquests. "With riches,success and fame ... you find that greater and greater doses of your 'upper' are needed tobecome 'high,' " David Burns, a Stanford University psychiatrist and pioneer of cognitivebehavioral therapy, writes in his 1980 book "Feeling Good."One recommended exercise for people caught in that trap is to evoke memories of earlier times that were free of things deemed essential today. "I've published a lot of books, but whenI look back, I'm no happier than in graduate school sleeping on a mattress on the floor," says
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Dr. Leahy.Often reinforcing the achievement cycle are colleagues who share the view that large bonuses,medical breakthroughs or great works of journalism are the only important measures of worth.One solution -- simpler in theory than execution -- is to broaden one's circle of friends andcolleagues.One of the biggest fears for holders of respected positions is the potential loss of publicesteem. Therapists say the high achiever often holds self-defeating double standards, feelingsympathetic toward the unemployed while assuming that unemployment would bring him onlyshame.For Michael Precker, that loss of status wasn't as grim as the fear of it. A veteran foreigncorrespondent and editor for the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Precker took a buyout in 2006 andnow manages a high-end strip club. "I really wondered how it would feel to sever that link --Michael Precker of the Dallas Morning News," he says. "But it has been easier than I thought. Ifeel lucky." Likewise, Mr. Wenske is working happily as a senior community-affairs adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.To disassociate identity from professional status, therapists recommend taking pride incharacteristics that can't be stripped away -- virtue, integrity, honesty, generosity. They alsorecommend investing more time and pride in relationships with family, friends and community.Of course, obsessive attention to work can breed success. But therapists say that addingsome balance tends to help rather than hurt performance, in part by reducing pressure.For 18 years, Steve Roman was the public-relations director of the largest bank in Arizona; hisforced buyout in 2000 made news in the local papers. "That separation was unsettling.Everybody knew me as Steven Roman of Bank One," he says.His new career at a Phoenix communications firm is less visible, but gratifying because he is afounder and owner. More gratifying yet, he says, is the status his two children have grantedhim. "I love saying, 'I'm Kyle Roman's dad. I'm Katie Roman's dad.' "
Melinda Beck is on assignment.
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