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If you started reading this, I think it’s safe to assume you’re working hard, probably harder than you want.
If so, that begs the question, why are you working so effing hard?
This question is especially relevant for me these days, as I realized I’ve said “yes” to a few too many things. As a result, I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed, and that my life is out of balance. I’ve started making changes to address it, but some of these will require days, weeks, and in some cases months to bear fruit.
Common Reasons We Work So Hard
If you ask people this question, you’ll mostly get some variant of one or more of the following.
“I work so hard because…”
- My boss expects me to, and I don’t want to lose my job (this was a significant part for me when I was still an employee until 2008);
- Doesn’t everyone? (ditto);
- I must to make ends meet (ditto);
- I don’t want to lose my home/have the utilities cut/lose my health insurance, etc. (ditto); or
- I just do (this may be simply because your parents told you you’re supposed to and you never questioned it).
In some cases, you’ll just get a blank stare and the equivalent of, “Ummm, I don’t know.”
If any of the above resonates with you, you need to keep reading.
Some Less-Common Reasons We Work So Hard
In far fewer cases you’ll hear, “I work so hard because…”
- I’m working extra hard now as part of my life plan, so I can retire early (I’d say this was me, but given that I’m not likely to be able to retire at the comfort level I want until I’m in my mid-sixties, I’d hardly qualify that as “early”); or
- I love my job so I really don’t see it as working too hard (this is closer to where I am these days, working for myself with awesome clients).
If either or both of these describe your situation, kudos – you’re ahead of the pack. However, you might still want to keep reading.
Digging for Your Deeper Reasons
Most of the first set of reasons boil down more or less to “because I need the money.”
That’s a perfectly understandable reason, but it’s just the surface one. It then begs the next, deeper question, “Why do you need the money?”
For most of us, it’s the entirely understandable reasons of providing food, shelter, safety, and transportation. However, there are vastly different levels of those. You could survive in a small apartment with very basic food and using public transportation on much less money than what you’d spend for a fancy house in the suburbs, with several fancy cars, and gourmet food (especially if much of it is from fancy restaurants).
If you’re closer to the latter end of the spectrum than to the former, it’s really important that you make that an informed choice.
Does this higher lifestyle-choice spending align with your priorities and goals?
Have you even considered what your priorities and goals are to be able to answer that question?
If you haven’t, it’s almost guaranteed that the answer is, “No!”
Why Digging for Those Deeper Reasons Is So Crucial
If your values and priorities center mostly around your family and relationships, are you serving those values by working 50, 60, 70, or more hours a week?
By digging for your deeper “Why,” and evaluating what’s truly important to you, you will be able to make informed decisions to important questions.
For example, your boss offers you a promotion that comes with more authority and more money, but it also requires you to work more hours. Should you accept or decline?
If your career is a major focus of your life and lets you experience it as a life well-lived, your answer would be, “Yes!” However, if spending quality time with your partner and/or kids is central to enjoying your life, and you’re already working too hard, you might want to decline.
If you’re self-employed, the same applies if you’re already at or near capacity and a new client asks if you can help them. You may want to gracefully decline, or at least make sure they understand any limits you want to set on your availability. Then, enforce those boundaries zealously.
Failing to do this will almost inevitably lead to your working too hard and unbalancing your life at the expense of your joy and time spent on relationships and activities that make your life worth living.
Almost as important, sometimes you hit a really hard stretch in life. When (not if) this happens, knowing your deepest “why” makes it easier to bear down and slog through what you have to.
At the end of the day, money is a tool to achieve and/or have what we want. A financial plan is a means to obtain that tool. What you use that tool for is a critical piece of intel you must have to make sure you’re “storming the right hill.”
The Bottom Line
Any choices you make around how you live your life are valid and legitimate. The critical question is whether you’re making those choices informed by what’s important to you, or if you’re just letting life’s flow carry you wherever it will.
Because if you’re doing that, don’t expect to necessarily get where you want to go. After all, if you simply wander purposelessly through life, why would you expect to get to any particular destination?
About the author:
My career has had many unpredictable twists and turns. A MSc in theoretical physics, PhD in experimental high-energy physics, postdoc in particle detector R&D, research position in experimental cosmic-ray physics (including a couple of visits to Antarctica), a brief stint at a small engineering services company supporting NASA, followed by starting my own small consulting practice supporting NASA projects and programs. Along the way, I started other micro businesses and helped my wife start and grow her own Marriage and Family Therapy practice. Now, I use all these experiences to also offer financial strategy services to help independent professionals achieve their personal and business finance goals.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to encourage any lifestyle changes without careful consideration and consultation with a qualified professional. This article is for reference purposes only, is generic in nature, is not intended as individual advice and is not financial or legal advice.