three reasons to stop working so hard

Working hard is an esteemed virtue in our society. Whether it is staying back at work, volunteering long hours for a community group or pulling all nighters studying for University exams, working hard is viewed as an admirable, even selfless act.

As someone who used to coordinate volunteer environmental campaigns whilst studying a law degree full time and working part time to pay my expenses, I know what it is to work hard and to feel addicted to the sense of self worth and purpose that hard work can bring.

However I paid a high price for my choices. One morning a little over a year ago, I couldn’t get out of bed. I spent most of the following month in bed, drifting between sleep and foggy consciousness and I was eventually diagnosed with the autoimmune disease Hashimotos Thyroiditis.

My life fell apart at the age of 22. Within the space of a week I had fallen behind in my University courses, dropped all of my environmental commitments, withdrawn from my social networks and was unable to earn an income.

As a result, over the last year I have been forced to begin what I’m sure will be a lifelong journey of learning how to properly look after myself and honour my own needs, even if it means disappointing others.

Some days I feel frustrated that I can’t keep up with the high-energy lifestyles of my friends. However mostly I feel profoundly grateful to have learnt about the pitfalls of the hard work treadmill at such a young age.

There are three excellent reasons why you need to resist both the external and internal pressure to work hard and overcommit. They are three lessons that I have learnt the hard way. I hope they help you to avoid physical and emotional collapse or worse, deep regret.

  1. Working hard strains relationships with our families, friends and partner.

Is there anything more important in life than the relationships we have? I doubt it. Connectivity is what we all crave. The people we love give us reason to be alive, reason to invest in the future of our planet, reason to hope and dream, to laugh, love, cry, be vulnerable and to be our best selves. Spending time with our people should always be prioritised over working hard.

  1. Working long hours makes us stressed.

There are countless articles and studies that document the effects of stress on our bodies and minds, yet it is something that most of us would rather not think about. Stress is a sign of a life out of balance, a life that is moving at an unsustainable pace. Stress is the runaway train that you can choose to ignore at your own peril.

  1. Working hard stops us from looking after ourselves.

I’ve learnt that the number of hours spent working is inversely proportionate to how well I look after my body and mind. Working hard leads to a take-away lifestyle. We use packet food, convenient transport and spending up big on weekends as attempts to fast track leisure time.

The catch is that the fast lane we’re living in has a destination. Sickness, sadness and an empty well of long-forgotten intentions. If we don’t invest meaningful time and energy in ourselves, we are of no use to anybody else.

I understand that working less is much easier in theory than in practice. Moving towards a balanced, slower paced life is a very personal journey and everyone has different circumstances, commitments and responsibilities to contend with.

The best piece of advice that I can give you on this journey, some advice I wish someone had spelt out for me, is that you can’t have it all. You have to choose.

It is highly likely that you will have to make sacrifices and compromises in your pursuit of personal peace. You may have to rework your budget, limit extra-curricular activities or negotiate with your boss. You will definitely have to learn how to say “no”!

I’m sending good thoughts your way as you decide whether to follow the current of constant busyness and hard work or to make like a salmon and start swimming upstream.