One of the first things my literary agent told me was, “I don’t like the character of PW Vanderleyden, but he makes a compelling story.”

For PW is representative of millions of people out there, chasing without knowing the reasons for the drive. “Career” and “workaholic” are the ‘reasons’ and why not, they are respectable terms, noble even. But what is the chase all about?

PW’s wife screamed at him. ‘You’re so stupid! Think! You can never run away from yourself!”

We are taught from young that being career-focused is good, admirable even, instead of teaching children to strive for balance and cherishing things of value.  But workaholism is not good and nor is it admirable.  It is just a respectable form of drug addiction and alcoholism.  But the are all the same: they are merely our reactionary responses to the chemicals that drive us into behaving like unthinking animals. This addiction is worse in people with unhappy childhoods.  You can read about the connection between childhood unhappiness and addiction by Dr Gabor Mate here.  (It made the provocative point that drugs are not addictive – they are only addictive to people whose neural pathways and circuits were denied of normal development because of their unhappy childhoods.)



PW had an unhappy childhood. As a child, he wanted to escape far from the homestead to the stars, but his Oupa told him that he could not; the stars are on earth if we know how to trap them. His indulgent Oupa then set about building South Africa’s first thermonuclear reactor in their backyard with copper wires bought from the cafe to catch a star for his unhappy grandson.

At 20, PW left the veld for Cape Town University. The workaholic young PW progressed very quickly (his wife gave up everything to support him) and was offered a professorship at Oxford.  But professorship at Oxford wasn’t enough. He wanted to be the Director General of CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. He wanted to build an accelerator so large that it can be seen from the skies. He wanted to be a ‘better’ Einstein.  He wanted to be the greatest thinker of our time.  All too soon, his loyal wife was not enough too. He had to chase a mathematician young enough to be his daughter in his endless chasing.

He could always justify his actions instead of facing up to his behaviour and decisions.  He was a great storyteller, forever talking, and by talking all the time and joking, laughing, smiling, he built up the layers so that he did not have to face his painful past. He was very attractive, so nobody peeled the layers back. But we can never escape the purpose that we were born for. And it starts with understanding that a lot of the things that drive us are merely chemical responses:

  • The chemical keys for lust – for both sexes – are high testosterone and adrenaline.
  • The keys for romance are high oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline, and low serotonin.
  • The keys for lasting love and passion are high oxytocin and dopamine and low adrenaline. (For “oxytocin,” read “oxytocin &/or vasopressin.”)

Because PW never had that bonding with his mother, he could not read oxytocin.  Testosterone and adrenaline were the two chemicals that he understood and dealt with. And he was heading for a train crash because testosterone and adrenaline are not compatible with old age. He was in danger of losing everything of real value because of his mindless chasing.

So what repaired the faulty circuits in his brain that were damaged by his harsh childhood? You have to read the book 🙂  It’s enough for now to say that we have to pause, be silent, listen deeply and know our Self.


Related post: The heart