We have a cultural allergy towards people who work too hard. They think that people who work too hard are not enjoying their lives. What if hard workers choose to work hard because they find it gratifying and meaningful? What if we start to rethink our definition of hard work?
For almost my whole life, I frequently get teased by my family and friends because of my extreme work ethic. I am proud of my work ethic because it has led me to enjoy many fulfilling experiences. On the other hand, I sometimes feel lonely and ‘different’ because of it. I remember back in elementary school, my classmates would snatch my pencil from my hand, and throw it across the room so that I could stop studying. Even my family used to tease me, of course, with a touch of humor and love, for my obsession with studying.
Now, the frequency of the mocking and teasing has decreased, but every time I try to overdeliver a project or work harder than anyone, I feel lonely because this loneliness takes me back to my childhood. I remember the mean words of those bullies who mocked my passion in studying, and some people who persuaded me to be more social with girls and to spend less time with myself. There’s a constant monologue in my head that rings loudly when I decide to work hard: “You don’t need to work too hard. If you work too hard, that means you are not special. If you work hard, you will be perceived as needy and too obedient. You need to do everything effortlessly.”
I know that I’m not special, this is why I work hard. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our intense and firm work ethic. As Maria Popova said, “So as you move through life, pedal hard–because that’s how you get places, and because it’s fun and so incredibly gratifying to propel yourself forward by your own will and power of intention.”
Here’s the hardest truth that I need to share: When you work hard, in fact, extremely hard, your hard work doesn’t always guarantee you to have the life or things you want. There will always be people that underwhelm your hard work, and say that your hard work is not enough. Obstacles will always greet you joyfully on your journey, and disrupt your work. Obstacles don’t care about how much work you have put into a project, a relationship, a senior thesis, a psychology exam, or anything. Once they come knocking on your door, you have to face where they are. Of course, this sucks. This is the truth that we have to face.
However, to work hard or to be idle is a choice that’s always available for us, if we’re conscious of it. I like to think that working hard is a sign of self-respect because you believe that you can achieve something remarkable. You believe that your brain and vitality can bring so much goodness for you and for other people. You believe that we, humans, exist not only to work from nine to five and retire, but also to create and make something more beautiful than it needs to be. Working hard can also be a sign of your deep love of the work you do. Any reason to work hard must come from within yourself, not from anyone.
If you have ever stayed up all night to perfect the design of the website of your creation, if you have ever sent a project to a company you’re applying for even if it’s not required but you love the company so much, if you have ever refused an invitation to a party because you need a big chunk of uninterrupted time to rehearse your speech, if you have ever become a volunteer to help your professor for his research, if you have ever created an app to solve a productivity problem in your office, I applaud your decision to be a hard worker. Again, it’s always a decision.