In the realm of truths we, as humans, identify as self-evident, none might be more widely-accepted and, conversely, widely-despised as the necessity of a secure, full-time job, or at the least, a steady source of income.
In the lexicon of Richard Scarry professions, such as firefighter, secretary, businessman, teacher, etc., to more freshly-minted careers such as social media marketers and web designers, the common, albeit somewhat flawed, blueprint for a life of success relies on outworking your peers. Think how every NFL analyst strokes Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson; “He’s the first one in the building watching film and the guy who’s staying after practice to develop rapport with his receivers.” America loves hard-work, or at least the idea of it.
It makes sense, considering early Americans persevered harsh, primitive conditions, instilling a rigorous, Puritan work ethic to sustain them through blustering winters and humid summers. This hard-work is the same bedrock that generations of our forefathers built new lives in America upon as immigrants, and grew the nation from a revolutionary upstart, to industrial powerhouse, to the center of the political and financial world. The “American Dream” is the notion the United States provides all the opportunities for success one could dream of should they work hard enough and dutifully.
You could do a who’s-who of business leaders, scientists, engineers, chefs, etc., and see a long line of tireless workers who have risen to the apex of their professions due to their passion and commitment to their craft. But for those success stories, we routinely hear 100% avoidable work and stress related tragedies, such as the 21-year-old investment banker who died after working three days straight, or the 32-year-old lawyer who passed away after working 80-100 hour weeks.
This isn’t some racially-steeped John Henry fable; these are real young men and women working themselves past the point of exhaustion. They aren’t trying to prove the power of human intellect vs. computational prowess of a machine, rather the very work culture they opt into demands they push themselves beyond human limitations so the firm can be slightly more profitable. No investment analysis is worth the life of any one, lest a 21-year old. Yet, these stories don’t flood our RSS feeds and dominate business news headlines. No, instead these main-stream sources are full of articles on time-management tips, stress-coping techniques and so on. Why placate an antiquated notion of long work days equalling hard work, when you could rethink your personal stance on what YOU need to do to be most productive.
Not all of us have creative jobs, and that’s good, because we need analytical folks to keep the world running smoothly. But that’s erroneous when it comes to the way your brain continues to engage on a subconscious level. For me, I find most ideas strike me while commuting to and from work, usually from inspiration from something I’m reading or listening to. Usually while mindlessly sitting in traffic. So I keep my Notes app open and write down partial ideas, individual lines of prose; anything that comes spontaneously is put to (digital) print before it can evaporate into the abyss of eternity.
The shower is another place where hosses often do their best thinking. This may seem counter-intuitive, as showering is such an engrained process it requires no active brain-processing, but this freedom allows your mind to wander and consider topics it may not otherwise when you are focusing on a specific goal.
It may take concerted effort, but not forcing your brain to focus on one goal or task actually frees up your mind to create solutions and connections you never could have in a vacuum of focus.
Disconnecting from the seemingly inextricable tentacles of an implied duty to work long hours is not some pie-in-sky, hair-brained dream. No, in fact, our cigarette-loving, casual-working friends in France had email after work banned by the government.
So the question that remains to be seen: can our country of people born and raised on the belief that over-work (or entitled privilege) is the sole path toward financial, and, ultimately, personal happiness, reprogram ourselves to acknowledge personal-time, relaxation and a healthy life-work balance (and not the other way around) as equally important to leading successful, fruitful lives? I for one hope so.
Next time you’re feeling stressed at work and feel like you’re on the brink of being over-whelmed, just think to yourself: “Do less.” So to quote the venerable Paul Rudd, “The less you do, the more you do.” It’s an overly-simplistic existential thought, but it’s important to keep in mind when you’re stressed and working on too much at once.
Work is essential. Whether you’re in the corner office, counting down days until you retire from your middle-management hell-hole, or a young person trying hard to ascend the corporate ladder for that, oh so covetous money (I want it too, no judgment), just remember the Golden Rule of being a hoss: Treat yo self the way you want others to treat you. And when it comes to work, do less.