“Last time I checked working hard was a good thing!”
Work ethic is less valued than in the past
This is what an exasperated client said to me recently. Her college classmates critiqued her for working hard earlier that day. They were worried about her because she puts an incredible amount of pressure on herself. I can worry, too. This pressure stresses her out, causing her to get anxious, lose sleep, and beat herself up. But she is well rewarded for her efforts, excellent grades and award wining artwork. Plus, she knows it’s temporary, so for her it is worth it. Instead of being honored by her friends, she felt accused and attacked.
My Narrative Therapy teacher Michael White used to say that the best things you can do for “burn out” is 1) respite and 2) get acknowledgment- honor, notice, and appreciate the work that they are doing. For the person who is burned out, both of these are sustaining. In conversation with this young woman, she and I looked at the benefits of what she had accomplished and we celebrated that she was beginning Spring Break. Instead of a tearful, exhausted puddle, she left my office proud and excited. When someone is contributing more to society than they are taking, and not being overly self destructive, it might not be helpful to judge him or her. It is the equivalent of kicking someone when they are down. I’d rather be supportive of others. Nobody needs me to tell them to slow down. First of all, it would be hypocritical; second, it would be completely invalidating of all of the hard work they are doing.
Work Ethic History
So why are we both in awe of productive people, yet criticize them? (I’ve witnessed and experienced it too many times to not be surprised at this, I am just wondering.) It made me start thinking about the modern cultural discourse supporting a person slowing down. Quite an interesting backlash.
It has been over two hundred years that the opposite has been forced down our throats. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 17th century, (the Victorian period) and the rise of Capitalism, we have been encouraged to be productive. Pleasurable and unproductive activities were suppressed by society, so that a strong work ethic would be embraced by a population needed as laborers. Even the Catholic Church participated in this social phenomenon. For example, this was when and why sex outside a heterosexual, monogamous marriage was first deemed a “sin.”– to support industry. (Another consequence of the Fourth Patchacuti. Read about the Eagle and the Condor)
In modernity, the East has come West and Mindfulness (Read Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh) is sweeping the nation. (It is one of the foremost studied mental health treatments.) Now “sitting” still is the valued activity, with fantastic results on our mind, bodies, and spirits. Our world seem to be spinning faster and faster, everyone is trying to keep up, running from one activity to another. Stress is at epidemic proportions. Mindfulness has given us not only a respite from this, but total acknowledgement for our efforts since we are aware of each and every one of them, able to appreciate instead of judge ourselves and others. It helps us slow down inside, relating to all around us in a different way.
(Some people who are in the mindful world, might be criticizing the type A personalities who are not mindful of the present moment, but if they are judging, they haven’t gotten the concept of mindfulness.)
The one’s who judged this hard working college student, either feel like they care about her and see her work ethic as a threat to her wellbeing, or they feel threatened by her work ethic themselves, because she is performing higher than them. Usually when we are judging others, we are judging ourselves, ten times more.
Next time you see someone overworked, and begin to worry: acknowledge them for how great they are doing, love every bit of them, bringing appreciation and awareness into to all of it. Model Mindfulness. You will see their stress fall away, and from this less stressed place, they might be able to see for themselves if they are going overboard and make a change. If not, it is not time for them, keep loving them, and believe in them that they will get it soon. We all get it eventually. In the meantime, our compassion can decrease their stress, giving them some well deserved healing. I just have a hunch that people get it faster when they are loved and believed in than when they are judged and criticized. Who is with me?
How do you celebrate our work ethic, without going overboard?