We go to work early. We stay late. We work weekends. We continue to work after returning home. Heck, some of us work while waiting for our car to be washed, or for the traffic light to turn green. Who are we? You falsely know us as the hardest working folks in town; the hustlers, go-getters, and over-achievers. Our culture acknowledges, admires, and affirms us. What the culture doesn’t know is that some of us are selfish, misdirected, unconscious, or at best, unstable cowards.
So many are hiding and never even realize it. I did it for years, and still stray back into the weak pattern occasionally. We cower under the cloak of disciplined labor and self-sacrifice, often automatically and unconsciously. Work is a safe place to take refuge. It functions as a protective shield from outside scrutiny. After all, no one can criticize our disconnected and unavailable status if we are exhausted from our tireless effort and commitment. People can’t ask for more if there is obviously nothing left, which is why we must return home to our families so visibly spent.
With our haggard body language, tone, and temperament, we broadcast how low our fuel tanks are at the end of the day. We adamantly project our destitute situation and ramble on about how much abuse we endured and how much more work there is still to be done. We pant as we bemoan the day and the unjust atrocities of it. We highlight our plight as the hero, the mule, or the oppressed, occasionally mentioning our dying need to kick our feet up and be left alone to catch our breath.
We would never dare admit that at the office that morning, we casually browsed the internet alone with our second cup of coffee, that we checked Facebook and Instagram, that we watched YouTube, had a phone conversation about senseless drivel, or took a 90-minute lunch “meeting” with a friend.
Alright, so maybe you didn’t do all those frivolous things at work this week, but you stayed an extra 20 minutes later or took the long route home, didn’t you? No? So you are the rarity that actually worked 10 hours nonstop, was fiercely and morally driven, and insanely productive. I bet you justify it by saying that you will work hard now (while your marriage is fragile and your kids are young) so that you can pull back later and take it easy.
Why do we do this? If it’s so miserable, and feels so much like work, why do we subject ourselves to more of it?
The truth: Working at our jobs is infinitely easier than the more important and more difficult things that we need to do.
Plugging away at the occupation is simpler, less emotionally demanding, and more predictable than the other stuff. It’s difficult to be a good spouse, a present neighbor, a connected sibling, and a charitable friend. It absolutely sucks to do the things that we don’t do well, that need more work, especially when we can be crushing something way easier. As humans, we are driven to win, to dominate, and to control. So naturally, we pick the repetitive things that have the better odds of a win. Not to mention that the work stuff typically comes with more appreciation, recognition, and accolades. (Certainly higher pay.)
So many people in modern society admire and idolize the over-working mentality. But if I am honest, I no longer want to be one of those folks. I want to be known for how well I handle my relationships, my time, and my emotions. Work ethic is an admirable quality that supplements character, but it’s not an identity. Doing your job well is important, even respectable, but when it’s at the expense of the other, harder things, then what is it? We all have more than one job to do. Why is one so worshipped and the others neglected?
I can only assume that we are either hiding, lost, confused, unfocused on what matters, consciously taking the easier path, ignoring responsibility, pursuing vanity, struggling to keep up with the Jones’, trying to stay busy so we don’t have to contend with hard things, or simply just professional escape artists.
If we take it one step further, someone who can’t get it all done in a reasonable time frame may also just be wildly inefficient, reckless with planning or weak in execution. Maybe there needs to be more focus on systems. Maybe there needs to be a new career altogether.
As for the part about our exhaustion needing to be seen… What is that? Think about it. If we need everyone else to validate our work, maybe the work isn’t valuable enough in itself.
Why do we do it in the first place?
Who is it for?
Is it worth doing?
What if we never mentioned the crud that happened today, searching for validation, permission, and sympathy?
What if we learned to suffer well, without burdening others?
What if we shouldered it all and protected the others from feeling it at all?
What if we left lesser things undone and placed irreplaceable things at the top of the priority list?
What if we could find a place in our soul that was delighted and proud of a job well done, even if no one else noticed?
Wouldn’t that be a nice vacation? Hopefully it would be one well deserved. Then, there would be no guilt, which is what I think all this is really about.
I hope this resonated with you, possibly irritated you, then made you sit alone for some courageous and honest self-evaluation. Who is missing out because of your love affair with work?
We are all in this together. Let’s be better about it.