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Why Are We Working So Hard? A Valuable Life Lesson

The prize that I worked so hard for couldn’t be won—it was within me.

It seems like we pride ourselves on our workaholic habits. Yes, we are more aware of the negative effects, but what about the “why” behind it all? Obviously, we all work for money to live, pay our bills, and make it easier to enjoy ourselves, but I’m talking about a specific “why” that has plagued me throughout my life. 

Winning the Prize of Approval

I grew up with the old-school work ethic of taking pride in working hard and proving to be an asset wherever I was. I believed that going the extra mile would pay off—in respect, raises, and especially approval. I really thought that hard work would be rewarded in this world. 

But what if it isn’t? What if all my hard work and sacrifices don’t pay off like I expect? What if I get disrespect and mistreatment? What then?

I believe that we are taught from childhood that working hard and following the rules will win us approval and success. I’ve followed that plan my whole life. Somehow, earning admiration seemed like the ultimate prize. But what happens when it doesn’t come?

Reality Check!

Suddenly, a new reality emerges—working for approval is an illusion, a dream at best that turns into a living nightmare. 

We realize that we are not living; we are working, but not for something attainable. We are chasing a fantasy that always lies just out of reach, like the bone that greyhounds just can’t stop running towards.

I feel like that’s what I’ve done all my life. So maybe it’s time to step back and do a reality check on life to see what I’m doing and why. 

What is most important? What do I really want in life, and is it something I can actually get? Or is it something I already have?

(Important note: I still fully believe in the value of a great work ethic, and I believe it builds a character and pride in oneself that’s invaluable. What is not good is tying that to other people’s approval for our self-worth.)

I’ve learned that the approval I was killing myself for wasn’t real because it had to come from within me. If I don’t approve of myself, how can outside approval possibly satisfy me? It can’t, even if it comes. 

The best I’ve found is that when approval does come from those who recognize my worth, it simply confirms what I already know to be true about myself. It doesn’t tell me anything new. 

Now don’t get me wrong—it feels very good to get that approval and confirmation, but it’s not the end-all-be-all for fulfillment. It’s more like the cherry on top of the sundae that I had to make for myself. 

So what’s the lesson to be learned here?

Ask yourself: “Why am I working so hard? What’s the goal? What am I trying to achieve or win?”

Then ask: “Is this goal real? Is it something attainable? Will it bring me the fulfillment I’m looking for? Or am I looking in the wrong place?”

And finally: “Am I really benefiting from working so hard and putting so much of myself into this job? Or is someone else who doesn’t even care about me benefiting from all my sacrifice?”

My solution: Take it easy, and don’t work so hard!

That’s right. It’s not laziness or carelessness. It’s actually intelligence to work in such a way as to preserve your own body, mind, and health to be able to enjoy your life the way you want. 

This was a big one for me to wrap my mind around, being the over-achiever that I am. I’ve spent twenty years trying to prove that I can outwork everyone around me and still keep going. That’s taken its toll on me though, so I’m ready to step back and try doing things differently. 

How’s it working? I don’t have the mental anxiety and pressure to get everything done, and I don’t run around trying to be Superwoman. That’s way overrated!

I have found that I value myself more and am much more aware of anything that will infringe on my own well-being. If I don’t make myself a priority, no one else will, and it’s not their job to do so. That is all on me!

This new perspective is very empowering, but it’s also a work in progress. After so many years of living and working in one mindset, it takes practice and daily reminders to get in the habit of thinking differently. But it’s worth it because I have already seen the benefits and plan on seeing more.

So go ahead, and try taking it easy—easy on yourself—by knowing you don’t have to work so hard!

Previously published on Medium.

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