End the Hard Work of Working “Hard”

Photo by micheile dot com on Unsplash

Your energy is currency.
Spend it well.
Invest it wisely.
~ Anonymous

I don’t get it. Why do we glorify “hard” work?

Then, to make matters worse we’re encouraged to pair working “hard” with determination and voila! this is your recipe for success.

Really? Hands up if you’re ready to re-write that equation.

It’s time to untether from our beliefs about “hard” work and envision new, more sustainable and life affirming ways to work so we can bring our most generative contributions to life.

Meet Judy

Judy is the founder of a successful marketing agency. Our work together began right after she launched her three daughters off to college. With an emptier house and different demands, she’s prioritizing joy and is designing her work and life around her own needs and desires.

After delegating tasks that (better) belong on her team’s plate, she is clearer about the work she loves (even though she’s great at all the things) and the kinds of clients she most loves to serve.

Yet when we met last week I felt her “ugh” as she talked about some of the “hard” work she still has to do, that for now, is on her plate. She feels resigned to this work and recounts her father’s words: “you must start each work day by eating the frog first.”

She believes that this is where she must reach for determination to tackle the work…

Let’s pause and relax our default ways.

For Judy, who wants more joy, mustering determination to the tasks that aren’t “fun” is a well worn choice. So, in that moment, Judy attempts to put on her best smiling face, and feign a jolly “oh well”, but deeper down I can see there is no love for this residual work.

Should she force herself to just “accept” the hard work of it?

I say no.

This letter is written for all the Judys in the world. Let’s stop calling it hard work and end our dread.

What I love about Judy is that she is so “done” with glorifying hard work. Let’s lean into her courage and explore why it’s time to stop our odd love affair with “hard” work. (and save the lives of countless frogs)

Four problems with praising “hard” work

1. Work is neutral.

Work can be “hard” but it can also be fun, joy-filled, meaningful, challenging, intense, wild, slow…. you get the picture.

The reality is that work is work is work. Nothing more, nothing less.

It changes in nature when we layer on adjectives.

For example: The “work” of house cleaning is painful and grueling IMHO (in my humble opinion). Yet the woman who cleans my house LOVES it. She scolds me for pre-tidying the house before she comes because it takes from her own joy.

Another example: My 14 year son is a track athlete who does regular super-intense workouts. He loves them and is giddy to train. For me, his workouts are other level “hard” and they make me wince to think of trying them.

In both examples, the same work is experienced differently by the people involved. Now, there is no question that skills, experience, preferences all play into the adjectives we assign to work.

What would happen if you noted the descriptors you assign to the work you like/ dislike and become curious how it changes the task at hand, or simply reinforces pre-existing beliefs about that work.

Work is neutral.

2. We don’t accurately use the word “hard”.

It’s true, some work is hard. If you’re a stone mason, or excavating rocks out of your new garden you’re probably doing “hard” work.

But most work isn’t “hard” as per the definition which is work done with a great deal of force or strength.

In general, I don’t think we’re using the adjective well. And the more we continue to call it “hard”, the more, on a visceral/ somatic level our bodies believe it needs to bring intensity to the work and/or even expect pain.

Let’s save the word “hard” to describe work that is truly so.

3. If you measure a “good day” by how “hard” you’ve worked you’re on the slippery slope of burnout.

When a good day equals a day of “hard” work, be it consciously or subconsciously, it’s a pattern you’ll keep choosing.

All the women I know who want to get off the burnout or exhaustion train have to invite their bodies to experience ease and learn to trust it.

Because when a good day of hard work is your jam, then you’re going to equate a feeling of exhaustion and getting all the things done, and being busy, and falling into bed as The Evidence you’re doing well.

It also means you’ll be disinclined to build in pauses or breaks in your day.

It may also mean you’ll bring that force, and unrelenting energy and intensity to work that might not need that kind of “hustle”.

And it might mean you “push” through discomfort, past your intuition, and allow your neck and shoulders to cramp up because “hard” work is the thing to do.

Stop prioritizing “hard” work and making it a sign that you’re on the path to success.

4. “Hard” work has no room for ease and joy.

“Hard” work poo poos spaciousness.

It disallows the natural ebb and flow of your own energy and lacks the patience for true discernment.

And then we’ve got this other odd belief in our society that says “only once the hard work is done will there be room for rewards” (such as joy or whatever it is you want). Ouch.

Let’s say this another way. “Hard” work is allergic to rest. It’s demanding. It will make you its slave. And it doesn’t even believe you deserve a reward.

Let’s break up with the “no pain, no gain” way of thinking. Pain does not equal gain.

Why do we glorify hard work?

I know all my own (old) reasons for glorifying hard work — they’re baked into my bones! They include being raised with a strong Protestant work ethic, and values of service over self, cultural noise like “just do it” that encourages pushing through all my own internal resistance, and a personal passion for productivity and effectiveness (I’m an Enneagram 3).

Think through your own reasons why.

Reflect on your own language.

Notice if a good day is measured by exhaustion (or if a “bad” day is one when you’re too tired to push through).

Pay attention to how you override body signals or ignore scheduled breaks of any kind.

What beliefs do you see going on beneath the surface?

Judy’s practice

In our work together, Judy has developed capacities to pay attention to the beliefs that evade joy in her life, along with the spaciousness to listen and trust her own wisdom.

As we chatted about “eating frogs”, I invited her to tune in and set the “hard” work down. If work is neutral (even if it doesn’t always feel that way) we can instead pay attention to when we have the ability to do the more challenging work.

She tells me her morning energy is grounded, calm and more focused. She feels present in the morning. It’s easier for her to concentrate on details.

And she also notices her afternoon energy is lighter, playful and more spacious. Her more focused ways relax and she has room to be creative or think outside the box.

Judy, instead of labeling work, is going to practice aligning work to her energy. That means matching tasks that suit the AM energy will be done then where possible etc.

And joy.

She’s also going to weave in joy…. And for her that means coffee, 5 minute breaks to walk her garden in the morning and feel the dew on her feet. She’s creating room to have joy be a part of the work, instead of a “reward for” the work.

Your turn, here is a practice to end the “hard” work.

1) Notice your natural energy and daily rhythms and align the work to it.

What do you notice about your own energy — what patterns exist? If at first blush you don’t see any, you can check out this article on ultradian rhythms — the natural rhythms that are at play in the human body.

Start to think about what work you need to do to be aligned with the energy you have.

2) Build joy into the work.

While joy is a priority for Judy overall and she’s learned new ways to design joy into her life, she also is practicing bringing joy into the work.

Whether it’s joy, fun, ease, play, meaning, think about how you can design your work and the day to include more of what matters instead of making it a reward for work done.

3) Practice practice practice

Just because Judy is aware of how old beliefs keep joy at bay, it doesn’t mean she’s now scot free. Nope. instead when we see the old ways of working at play (or hear the well intended counsel of parents in our ears), we need to consciously set them down and re-choose our new way.

Practice is what makes new (skill) muscles get stronger. Choosing to release old beliefs and not practice them means these unneeded ways can release.

We can’t will old ways out of our lives, we practice the skills to re-align habits with new beliefs.

Using force, excessive discipline and self judgment to motivate change is (again) the old belief of “hard” work at play. Change is only “hard” if we decide it is.

Change is also challenging, invigorating, powerful and any other adjective we apply.

Instead, we can take ourselves by the hand, and can keep practicing and noticing how things change.

Dearest Reader, I don’t choose hard work for you.

May you find ease and boundless joy in your efforts and pursuits. And where there are challenges may they invigorate you!

If you’ve enjoyed reading about this fresh perspective on age old beliefs tied to success and how we work, I invite you to receive The Tuesday Letter so you can receive new ways of thinking about success and practices to bring them alive. Sign up here: www.womenredefiningsuccess.com/the-tuesday-letter

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Susan Doerksen Castro

Susan Doerksen Castro

Entrepreneur & Integral Master Coach™ helping accomplished women redefine success so they can realize a new, more fulfilling agenda for their lives.