Changing the Conversation Around “Hard Work”

What are you creating and who are you doing it for-

I used to have “hard work” as one of the bricks of my very foundation. I was attached to these two words like my name. They defined me, they fueled me. When anyone described me as a “hard worker,” my spirit beamed, this was a gold star to my identity. I took AP courses in high school staying up all night to read books, write papers, and solve problems. My own mother told me I should “slack off” and have more fun. In college I did the same, working myself into sickness and sheer exhaustion. Afterwards I did the same with jobs, working beyond the times most people would go home to prove this identity.

Perhaps it is precisely because I used a brick in my foundation that it crumbled, it wasn’t malleable enough to change alongside me, just like the very word itself.

Just take each of those words… separately, together. The definitions alone carry a certain energy.

Hard:

  1. So as to cause oppression, pain, difficulty or hardship; cruelly, harshly (Oxford English Dictionary).
  2. With a great deal of effort, energy, or force; strenuously, vigorously; assiduously; fiercely; intensely, profoundly (Oxford English Dictionary).

Work:

  1. Be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, especially in one’s job; do work (Oxford English Dictionary).

Hard Work:

  1. A great deal of effort or endurance (Oxford English Dictionary).
  2. Something that uses a lot of time and energy (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
  3. Industrious, diligent (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

How do you feel when you read those words? Do you feel excited? Energized? Expansive? Contractive? Discouraged?

For me, those words just don’t sound really fun, they no longer serve me. And I’m curious love how those words feel for you?

Are you also someone who has used these words as an identifier, sometimes in ways that have fueled you towards your dreams and at other times in ways that have held you down?

I’ll be honest, there have absolutely been times when I have focused my energy so intently on something and I have loved the results.

I have worked 24/7 for weeks on end to plan conferences attended by Nobel Laureates and hundreds of youth who are changing the world.

I have stayed up until 4 in the morning, losing all track of time as I’ve written poetry and created artwork allowing the muse to guide my word choices and colored pencil combinations.

But none of these things have ever felt arduous, oppressive, or cruel. Rather I’ve been excited to stay up into the darkness, being fueled by starlight because the project I am working on eradicates all sense of time.

I think it’s time to change our conversation around “hard work” because when you are focusing your energy so completely on something it should inspire you, not hold you down.

So I invite you to reflect on the following:

Who are you doing it for?

When have you felt all your energy focused on something?

What new term can you use for “hard work” that leave you feeling inspired?

When you are putting all of your energy and focus into something, who are you doing it for?

Are you doing it for your boss? For school? For someone else?

Are you doing it to make your parents or partner proud?

Are you doing it for you?

This is the first step in the process. Are you using your focus and energy for the highest good? Is it fueling your soul? If not, then stop. Yes, sometimes we might have to work to pay the bills so we can really focus on what matters. Sometimes what we are doing feels like an uphill battle but we know the end result will be well worth it. For instances… building pyramids, writing a novel, investing in your education, creating your dream business, raising a family. This does not mean you should stop doing this “work”, but in this, I invite you to consciously see what your efforts are creating.

When have you felt all your energy focused on something?

When has it felt really delectable leaving you feeling energized and inspired?

Yes there might be times where it’s a little more challenging, but does it leave you feeling more inspired and joyful than drained?

When has it felt draining and heavy? As you look at these instances, are their commonalities? Is it going against your values, are you feeling taken advantage of, are you feeling uninspired? What’s true for you here?

What other words can you use for when you are inspired rather than feeling weighted down?

In this way, I ask you to question if you are engaged in “hard work”- slinging that weighty definition around, involved in rigor that does not serve you or anyone else or if you are doing work that allows you to feel lighter and inspires you to move towards your ultimate vision.

Is there a new term that you can use for this?

Creative Flow.  Vision Expansion. Service. Innovation.

Use something that feels really good to you whether that still is hard work, one of these terms I just mentioned, or something else entirely. All I ask is that you know what you are putting your energy towards, why, and how it makes you feel. If it shackles you more than it frees you… stop…. ask yourself why you’re still doing it and if it no longer makes sense. Stop.

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One thought on “Changing the Conversation Around “Hard Work”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Such a timely post Camila!
    Reading this reminded me of an article I read today: http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/10/how-teens-benefit-from-reading-about-the-struggles-of-scientists/

    For me, the article challenges how we’re taught what is “right” based on “hard work” and not about the story of getting there. It feeds into the idea of if you work hard enough you should be able to “get it” — but often that focus on “getting it” masks that true joy and passion that you’re describing.

    Perhaps being a “hard worker” should shift to being “a dynamic and spirited grower”.

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