October 6th 2020
Did working make me more or less happy?
This year when Covid happened and life changed, I was certainly working less. Was I happier to have more free time, less hours eaten away by work each day? No, I wasn’t. I wanted to continue doing what I know how to do best – working hard – so I started new projects to occupy my time. I wanted to stay in control, and working less didn’t make me happy because it was out of my control, it wasn’t a choice I was making for myself.
I love what I do. I’m so excited to now be back launching events, creating new adventures and feeling the energy that comes from our fitness and adventure communities. This is my passion, the fire that lights me up, keeps me going, and for the most part it makes me really happy. But what I didn’t realise was the extent to which I tied my happiness to my work, and how lost I could feel without it.
From a young age, a label I desperately avoided was being ‘lazy’. My Dad, Aunty and Grandad were all incredibly hard workers and I grew up knowing this was the only way to be. ‘You have to work hard to get what you want’ was the only mantra I had. Laziness was a very negative word in my family, because if you weren’t working hard, that’s what you were – lazy. I can’t remember when I became conscious of it, but certainly throughout my life, hard work was praised, and it became essential to the way I lived life. Even to this day I encourage my own kids to study hard, I praise their work ethic. Because working hard leads to success, which leads to happiness… or does it?
As Covid dragged on and on, I started to recognise my pattern of constantly looking for things to keep me busy. I knew that truthfully this was coming from a place of fear – I was scared to stop. I was so afraid of being unproductive, of not working my absolute hardest, that I was really running away from my fear, rather than confronting it. So I finally stopped trying to create more and more work, and instead tried to appreciate the extra time I now had, to pause and reflect.
I realised I had attached my sense of self-worth to being a hard working, busy person. I realised that when this busy-ness was taken away, when I didn’t have work there to bury myself in, I felt the shame of being ‘lazy’ – the one thing I have been trying to avoid all my life. My cycle of working hard to create happiness had been broken, and left me feeling lost and frustrated.
It made me think of how often I see this in the fitness industry – it’s so easy to recognise in people other than yourself. As a Personal Trainer, encouraging my clients to work hard, to set goals, to achieve their very best seems like a given. When it’s needed, that approach is great, but pushing harder isn’t always the answer. The notion of high intensity workouts, running fast and lifting heavy being effective because you’re ‘working hard’ is true for the most part, but what happens when you get fatigued?
Just working harder and harder won’t give you the best results. When people don’t stop, when they get caught up in the mindset of ‘rest = laziness’, and every session they need to work harder than the last – they only end up injured, physically and mentally stressed, and worse off than when they started. As their trainer it’s my responsibility to encourage balance, with lighter workouts, and rest days .
I certainly squashed my notion of work-life balance a long time ago, and I now concentrate on being centred. I plan down time into my schedule, that’s my control freak coming out again – I even have to plan and have control over my down time! I’m trying to work on letting down time just ‘happen’ rather than needing to plan it. I don’t want to miss out on the perfect moment to relax, just because it didn’t happen to be on schedule! I wouldn’t say I’m totally comfortable with switching off and relaxing – I’ve still had continuous days of walking over 30,000 steps each day, still overachieving to give myself a sense of purpose – but I’m managing to find my peace with not working as hard, with switching off the computer, sitting in the spa, having non-planned down time. I still can’t watch endless tv without feeling guilty about the wasted time, but every now and then I am managing to find the happiness in stopping and just being.
I know I want to keep working, moving forward and chasing my dreams because truly I LOVE what I do! but I also know I need to consciously take time to relax and enjoy what I have. I need to let go of the binaries of ‘productive’ vs ‘lazy’ – they’re not the only two options. I can take time out, I don’t need to be switched on every minute of every day, constantly striving for achievements. I can find happiness and self-worth in other places too. So from one controlled worker to another – we’re not perfect, we’re all a work in progress, but by naming and addressing out self-limiting beliefs we will grow. I am awesome, and so are you.