When Work Ethic Works Against You

The downsides of having a strong work ethic, and how it can slow you down…

In today’s world, being busy is a looked at as a good thing. In order to be successful you must work hard, bust your ass, and get shit done. If you’re not busy, you’re looked at as lazy or unmotivated.

Around the world we have a culture that is addicted to working. Trading our time for money in hopes that our hard work will pay off so that we can afford to live a life we think that we want.

We’ve learned how to work hard and accomplish our dreams by putting in the time and effort necessary.

What we haven’t learned however, is how to STOP working.

I feel blessed that from a young age I developed a strong work ethic. From the time I was 12 years old I worked in my father’s warehouse packing boxes full of stuffed animals. My first job was at a home-appliance store where I organized paintings and sold couches and rugs. I’ve done door to door sales for a landscaping company. During summers through college I built, maintained, and repaired swimming pools.

This continued at University. Despite smoking pot every day I graduated with straight A’s and went to the library less than most of my friends because I had the discipline to study at home.

Then after graduation I maintained this same work ethic in my first job as a teacher. I busted my ass running around my classroom as a maniac and instilled philosophy into my students.

9 months into my contract, while everyone else was asking themselves if they should renew their contract or get a new job, I already landed a new gig that would take me to India.

Then when I moved to India I got swept up into the world of startups and entrepreneurship. The world that tells us we should be working 80 hours a week. The world that promotes the “grind”, and lauds long work hours for little pay in hopes to raise VC money and build the next big startup.

Naturally, my work ethic went back into superdrive. Before my six months in India was up I had 2 job offers and was considering starting my own company. 3 months after accepting one of the job offers, I decided to quit and start my own company.

In the first months of working on BrainGain I was your typical startup founder. Working long hours wee into the night, highly caffeinated and running off the adrenaline of starting my first company.

By the time I was 1 full year into running the company I was utterly burned out. I had run myself wild all over the city picking people up from the airport and finding them a place to live while trying to grow the business and make more money.

BUT now we had some traction. NOW we had to build a team and raise money. Build custom software. Time to scale baby!

And so the process repeated itself. Despite knowing the quintessential startup pitfalls of what not do do, I made those same mistakes anyway.

Long story short, two years later I eventually shut the business down. It had long sales cycles, low conversion rates, and wouldn’t provide me with the stability I needed for the long term in life.

But in that failure I learned the most important lesson of my life –

Hard work and long hours don’t guarantee success.

From a young age we’re taught that if we work hard, success will come. If we put in the hours we will inevitably achieve our dreams.

This is a blatant lie. The age old adage “work smarter, not harder” couldn’t be more true.

The truth? Hard work doesn’t guarantee you anything but a headache, stress, and anxiety.

Sometimes having a good work ethic is a bad thing.

Sometimes we work so much, we’re just working for the sake of working.

Instead of scrutinizing the systems we’re creating, we continue on with our day to day operations.

Instead of questioning the root cause of our failures, we try to put in more time to cover it up.

The pain of being busy isn’t painful enough to get us to stop and face the facts.

The unfortunate reality is that if you have a business that is unsustainable, it doesn’t matter how many hours you put in…it’s still going to fail.

All the while, we create unsustainable LIVES. We build businesses that we become a slave to. We take jobs that take our freedom from us. We “grind” through our days, under the illusion it will one day give us financial freedom.

Want to know who I really respect? The guy who works half the time, makes half the money, and has double the FREE TIME.

The person who has the freedom to go pursue a new 6 month project at the drop of a pin because they built a lifestyle that allows them to.

Don’t be a slave to your work. Learn how to turn off. Learn how to stop working.

The best part? YOULL GET MORE DONE!!!!

It seems counter-intuitive, but many times by working less we can actually get more done.

Steven Covey calls this “sharpening the axe”. If you want to chop down a tree in 60 minutes, spend the first 50 sharpening the axe.

Take time off, so that when you do go into your work, you’re refreshed and have a clear head and can make good decisions.

If you’re over-worked, stressed out, and sleep-deprived, it’s impossible to have a clear head and make sound decisions. It’s also very difficult to properly deal with people.

Yet, this is how most of us go through our days. One overworked day bleeds into the next, is compensated for with coffee, and then the cycle continues until we reach Friday when we want to explode….so we binge drink and go crazy, all to repeat it over again on Monday!

No thanks!

The most powerful and important skill to cultivate is to learn how to TURN OFF. Stop working. Go out and have fun, and be shameless about it.

A good work ethic can work against you. Cultivate a responsible laziness. The ability to know when you’re creating busy work for yourself. The ability to know when you’re past the minimum effective dose, and then stop and move onto something else.

It’s tough. I’m still working on it myself. But I’ve realized that working hard isn’t always a good thing, and for people like me it’s more important to learn how to stop working instead.

Hope this helps you become a happier. more productive, version of yourself!


Also published on Medium.

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