The ‘Hard Worker’​ trap and why it’s damaging your career, success and happiness

by | Mar 29, 2022

If ‘hard-working’ is a quality you’d list when you describe yourself or a trait you admire in others, then you’ve potentially fallen into a dangerous trap that’s limiting your success as well as damaging your reputation and health.  I’m sorry to say that the honourable badge of ‘hard-working’ isn’t what you proudly uphold it to be!

Firstly, let’s be clear about what I mean by ‘working hard’. Hard work means putting a great deal of physical, mental or emotional effort into something; doing a lot of work; working long hours.  Now, I’m all for doing work we love and pursuing things we’re passionate about.  But if the work you do isn’t lighting up your heart and soul, and/or it’s consuming the majority of your waking hours, then ‘working hard’ is a habit you need to break for the sake of your health, your sanity and future success.

Most of us are conditioned from a young age by our parents and society to believe that to be a success you have to work hard.  Mantras like ‘Hard work pays off’ and ‘Put in the effort and success will come’ are common sayings passed on from generation to generation. It’s beliefs like these that have been romanticized and seen as marks of a good person. Working hard is seen to be a moral and intrinsically good thing to do, but when it comes at the price of your own health, self-esteem, self-worth and reputation, is it really?

So let’s challenge this conditioning and the belief patterns around hard work.

I bet you can remember many times when you’ve busted a gut, put your all into something and yet not received the recognition you felt was deserved or achieved the outcome you were hoping for. If you care to look, there are also many examples of people being a success, making decent money, and having great opportunities without working hard and stressing out.  I know plenty and I can put myself in this category now!

If working hard DID equal success, there would be plenty more rich, successful people in this world today – you and me included!

The problem with working hard, and the conditioning that underlies it, is that it creates a vicious cycle.  Believing that working hard is the right thing to do, what good, committed people do, or it’s the path to future success, causes you to put in the effort and hours.  When recognition or success don’t then appear, you’ll believe you didn’t work hard enough or weren’t good enough, or there’s something wrong with you. So you put in more effort, or take on more work or responsibilities, to try and achieve that golden egg, so to speak.  The cycle continues.  Working hard then becomes part of your identity, and you end up caught in a trap, whereby if you lessen your (heavy) workload or reduce your (long) hours, you believe you’ll look work-shy and not be seen as a team player, or you’ll feel bad or guilty for not pulling your weight, so you keep on … and on … and on, caught in a trap.

The problem is that working hard isn’t scalable or sustainable.  There are only 24 hours in every day and you do need to eat and sleep at some point!  Stress and burnout issues soon manifest and it can affect our mental health too.

The problem with working hard

Aside from the obvious fast-track to burnout and ill-health, working hard also has the following negative effects:

Working hard reduces your creative, problem-solving abilities.

Doing and being on the go all the time, stops you from rest and recuperation time, thinking and reflection time.  Time away from work gives us an opportunity to see life from a different perspective.  In a more restful state, our brains are given a chance to process what we’ve been experiencing and suddenly see the solution or idea we needed or were pushing for.  Quieter moments allow us to connect with our bodies and intuition, allowing our inner wisdom to be heard over the noise of a frantic mind and body.  In order to contribute meaningfully and even more effectively to your job, don’t underestimate the time spent away from work.

Working hard damages your reputation.

Consistently working long hours sends signals to others that you can’t prioritise, delegate (and thus trust others), don’t value yourself fully, are insecure in your own abilities (because you’re having to outwardly prove yourself) and shows you don’t truly care about your own health.  If you can’t honour and respect yourself, or be confident in your own abilities or worth, then why expect others to?

Working hard causes you to miss out on the important things in life.

Slaving over a report, perfecting that presentation, working long hours pushes us deep into the weeds and we begin to lose sight of what’s really important.  We lose our perspective on and connection with life.  In the book ‘The Five Top Regrets of the Dying’ by Bronnie Ware, a palliative carer, nobody ever said to her that they’d wished they’d worked harder.

Working hard reduces your self-esteem.

While it might bolster your ego to say ‘ I have to work late’,  because it sounds and feels as if you’re important, what you’re actually doing if you consistently work hard is crashing your self-esteem because you’re repeatedly (albeit maybe subconsciously) telling yourself that you’re only good enough if you work hard.  It begins to define you, triggering guilt or low self-worth if you even consider taking a break or reducing your hours.

Working hard negatively affects your relationships.  

All work and no play makes for dull people … and stressed, tetchy, impatient and disconnected people.  If you’re not upholding good, healthy boundaries at work you’ll likely not set or uphold good boundaries and command respect at home or in your personal relationships.  If you don’t feel you can say ‘No’ at work, likely the same is true elsewhere in your life. It all adds up to feeling resentful and discontented. For any relationship to succeed it requires time and effort, but if our efforts are primarily channelled into work then it’s no wonder the arguments arise, the disconnection from your loved ones happens and your relationships break down.

Working hard sets a bad example for your kids.

We are role models to our children.  They take on board what we do, consciously and subconsciously, forming beliefs that either help or hinder them through life.  If we exert excessive energy on work we’re teaching our children that they need to push and struggle, to work (or study) hard to be a success when this is totally not true.  True success and fulfilment comes from finding a balance between rest and work, and pursuing activities that we love and are good at. Let’s be clear, I’m not condoning those who shirk their responsibilities.  Effort does need to be extended and we do have to take action and responsibility for our lives, but stressing ourselves out and working all the hours in the day is not the answer, for us or our children.

Working hard stops you from finding true inner fulfilment and living a happier life.

Giving your all to work can be a classic avoidance tactic.  Personally speaking, working long hours was a distraction from the other issues I was facing in my personal life.  I could throw my all into work and almost forget the rest of my world wasn’t going well. If work is stopping you from dealing with your own demons, be that the unhappy relationship you’re in, your sense of loneliness or feelings of not being good enough (read my Imposter blog here to help with that), then it’s time to face up to and deal with them in order to find true happiness and fulfilment.  Working longer hours and being all consumed by it, isn’t going to solve those kinds of problems, no matter how much you try to tell yourself!

What’s the alternative to working hard?  

If working hard really isn’t good for us, then what is?

  • Working smarter! Taking breaks to refuel your mind and body enables you to be more productive, creative and focused when you do work.
  • Know what you’re good at and love doing, and do them, for those tasks and activities will come naturally and easily to you.  This approach is known to enhance your sense of self-fulfilment, attract the right opportunities and reduce your stress levels.  For anything else that doesn’t fall into this category, ditch or delegate it (or find a way of doing it that you love).
  • Keep it simple. Many times we over-think and over-complicate the tasks we do. Always ask yourself, ‘How can I make this simpler?’ When you’re feeling stressy or overwhelmed by a job, this question helps you reset and work a lot smarter and more efficiently.
  • Take time to gain a sense of perspective – journaling or walking is great for this – to stop sweating over the insignificant stuff that really, really doesn’t matter in the whole scheme of things. It’s another good reason to take a break from work!
  • Listen to your body and honour it when it tells you that you need a rest, a drink of water, a walk.  Learn to say ‘No’ when your gut is screaming at you to say so.  Equally, learn to say ‘Yes’ to the things and opportunities that feel right, even if they feel scary or indulgent at the time – they’ll be exactly what you need.
  • Start gratitude journaling each day, taking a few minutes before bedtime to note what you’re grateful for in your life and also within yourself that day.  It’s a proven technique to help you increase your sense of self-worth and self-esteem, while also being a great record for your achievement, qualities and progress.

Working hard is commonplace in those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome.  Not feeling good enough causes us to work and strive harder, but doesn’t actually solve the underlying issue of low confidence and self-esteem.  So if you’d love to finally ditch your Imposter, you can join my new program ‘Imposter to Incredible’ or contact me for 1:1 coaching – as a former Imposter sufferer and ‘hard worker’, it’s one of my favourite areas to help others overcome.

I’d love to know your views on this topic, so feel free to join in the conversation.

With love,

Jo x