Work is a funny thing.
From an early age we are taught that in life we must work as hard as possible. We must strive to be the very best. We must be the top of our game and push ourselves to provide for our families and to achieve status and promotions. It has been pushed on us by popular culture and even by the generation before us. Our parents worked hard so we could have what they never and so that cycle continues. To provide we must succeed. And to succeed we must work hard.
But what does that even mean really?
Everything is quantifiable in life and as is human nature we must quantify how hard we work.
How do you do it?
Do you value your hard work by the hours you’ve worked? The money you’ve earned? The praise you are given? The job title someone hands you?
We are all victims of these trappings of ego. We all think that these are the values in which our lives are worth.
But who gauges their success on the good they have done? The difference they have made? The art they have created? The smiles on people’s faces? Or the time spent with loved ones?
We all rush to tell others of our hard work.
“I worked 70 hours this week!”
“I haven’t had a day off in 2 weeks.”
“I earn more money than you.”
“I am the youngest manager in my company!”
We wear these things as badges of honour. We post about it on social media with equal measures of pride and frustration. And that is so dangerous. We are in competition with our peers as to whose life and values are more fucked up. We all follow a path that can only end in unfulfilled, empty lives.
I do not mean to take away from achievements. Setting Goals and working hard is important. Putting in the hours and work to complete a project or to create opportunities is vital. What I am pointing out is the constant, soul-destroying drudge that we put ourselves through with no end in sight because of what has been drilled into us.
Do the late nights to achieve your goal but don’t do them to prove a point or without an end game. Don’t get sucked into a toxic work pattern and waste 90,000+ hours of your life on something you hate because someone has told you that that is what you must do.
I am self employed and that can be harder. You don’t have someone to set your hours; you don’t have someone to tell you that you are doing a god job. You grind away trying to make something you love work. You feel guilty for taking a full day off because who is pushing your career if you aren’t? It feels like cheating if you reply to emails from your bed or take a break to walk your dogs. Shouldn’t you be at work at 7am and be the last to leave? Shouldn’t you work 7 days a week and never rest? Sleeping is for the weak after all.
You can tell yourself all the sacrifices are worth it but unless you have an endgame and goal they aren’t. I work hard now to grow my business so later I can take more time away and spend it with my loved ones or going on adventures or relaxing and enjoying life.
People seem to think you have to work constantly until the day you retire at 65 (or whatever year it will be when our generation finally gets there) to prove how hard they work and how fulfilling their life has been.
Bullshit. On average I work 60-70 hours a week. I am not proud of that. It is fucking dumb. But I do it so that I can enjoy time with my family and friends and take time out of the business to recharge and refocus on what I want from it. I wont do those hours forever. I wont let myself. Balance is key and I am unapologetic for the time I spend enjoying my life and having fun because I know what I have created. I know that I put my focus where needed and without time away from work I wouldn’t be able to keep pushing forward. I try to quantify my own success by the conversations I have, the opportunities I create and the life I lead.
I have a long way to go before I release my mind from the toxic thought processes of what “hard work” is though. I do doubt myself. I do feel guilty savouring an afternoon pint or starting work late. My brain still conforms to that 9-6, five day a week slog. But as long as we realise that the concept we have been taught is dangerous and challenge the norms then we are going in the right direction.
I write this to say: give yourself a break, cut the bullshit and focus on what really matters.