Thoughts on Working Hard (and Working for Somebody Else)

Thoughts on Working Hard - picture of sad businesswoman with head leaning against office building

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A few weeks ago, I published Mitchell Pauly’s post about slacking off at work.  It was, of course, hilarious….but it also got me thinking about my old job and how my attitude has changed over the years.  While I loved my old job, it actually taught me a lot about work attitudes and life in general.  Now that I work at home, and for myself, I have an even greater appreciation for where I’ve been and how I got to where I am now.  So, without further adieu, here are my thoughts on working hard and on working for somebody else:

When I first got a job at the funeral home with Greg, I was absolutely obsessed with doing everything perfectly.  I would come in early, stay late, and perform superhuman tasks to get the job done…and to get it done right.  No task was too big or to small and I frequently snapped at others who weren’t doing their share.  I was bossy… but I was efficient and great at my job.  Unfortunately, I was also extremely stressed.  I also cared way too much about everything that was going on.

Then, at a certain point, I looked around and realized that I was the only one who did care.  While I was obsessing over the details, my co-workers were often rolling their eyes, checking Facebook, and wondering what the hell my problem was.  “Just stop caring so much,” my coworkers would often say.  But, was that really the answer?  Should I really stop caring so much about the job that I was getting paid to do?  Shouldn’t we all try to  care more instead of me caring less?

Over time, I just got sick of worrying about things that even my bosses didn’t seem that interested in.  Instead of focusing on being perfect and giving 100 percent, I started doing less and caring less.  And no one seemed to notice.  At least, they didn’t show it if they did.  Regardless, they never confronted me about slacking off and stepping down my efforts.  In fact, I continued to be rewarded financially despite the fact that I was only putting about half of the effort that I had in the first few years.

Caring less about my job was very beneficial for my mental health as well.  When something went wrong, I stopped stressing out about it for days and weeks.  I still wanted to do a good job, but I only wanted to work as hard as my co-workers did.  Gone were the days of busting my ass while others were playing Bejeweled Blitz and screwing around.  When I had work to do, I worked.  And when I didn’t have much to do, I quit overexerting myself.  After all, why would I continue to put myself out when nobody else was?

Then We Started a Blog

Once we started our blog, I started putting in crazy hours before work, after work, and on the weekends.  We would often get up at 6:00 a.m. to write before work then go at it all evening after we got home.  The weekends were the same; while our friends were out partying, we were writing blog posts, editing, and commenting.  The more time we put in, the more our blog grew.  Then, at a certain point, I was able to quit my job and pursue freelance writing and blogging full-time.

Things are different now for obvious reasons.  Since I’m self-employed, slacking off would only cause me to take a cut in pay.  And, to be honest, I kind’ve miss the days when I was paid just to show up at work, no matter whether we were busy or not.  I miss getting a big fat company check regardless of whether or not our clients paid or the property taxes on our building went up.  Still, if I went to work for someone else again, I think I would put in slightly more effort than everyone else did, but not much more than that.  And, I wouldn’t drive myself crazy over someone else’s business again, especially if my extra efforts always went unnoticed.   I did exactly that for far too long.  And, after years of constant stress and frustration, I now realize that it just isn’t worth it.

What about you?  Do you think it’s important to work as hard as you can at your job?  Or, do you just work as hard as required?

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  1. I get where your coming from. I’m a perfectionist and overachiever. But sometimes it just gets me in trouble because I care too much. People just do their jobs and rarely are passionate about their work.

    1. Been there! I finally gave up on that at a certain point. It wasn’t good for my mental health.

  2. Holly I taught my nephew this lesson since I’m not that smart. When you go to work figure out who the three smartest people are and watch how they work and copy their habits. Then look for the three worst employees and watch how they work. If you can’t figure out who the bad employees, then it’s YOU. I follow that method in everything that I do.

  3. I think it’s important to put effort into areas where it’s possible to get a reward you desire. I also think it’s important to be satisfied with your life in general, and it can be tough to do that for many people working a job you don’t like or don’t have to care about. If you’re at a job that basically just requires you to show up, you have to evaluate whether the lack of energy that creates is worth the steady paycheck. Maybe you need the money, but an uninspired life isn’t something to reach for. I think your freelance work is much more satisfying because the hard work and passion actually means something, so even though it’s more difficult it gives your life more energy and purpose.

    1. I really did like my job. I would even say that it was “satisfying.” At the same time, overachieving didn’t get me anywhere.

      1. Junius Dexter says:

        Thank you this distinction is so important, I love my job but am so disheartened that others, don’t.

  4. Great question to get my morning started! In any endeavor (whether it’s my family, work, blog, running or whatever), my level of effort directly coincides with the amount of satisfaction I desire to receive from it. The more I want to be satisfied, the more effort I will put into it. Work sits lower on my satisfaction scale than some of those other items I mentioned. So I would focus on what is required at work and do my best to accomplish those specific tasks with excellence. I could only go above and beyond the call of duty at work if it didn’t interfere with other facets of my life that bring more satisfaction.

    1. I think that’s a healthy way to look at it! =)

  5. I have been faced with that dilemma several times, both at my first job and now. Besides one other coworker, I seemed to be the only one invested in the work. I found myself doing the same – going in early and staying late and it didn’t seem to make a difference to my bosses. If they didn’t care, why should I? Eventually I left there and now my bosses tell us not to stress out, but it’s kind of difficult when they’ve put us in the position we are in. Too much work to handle by ourselves and pressure to get it done.

    1. Yeah, I hear ya. When we were busy, I felt like I did the job of three people. Sometimes it was more than one person could handle. It’s frustrating when you’re expected to do more than what is humanly possible. At my job, it wasn’t anyone’s fault when that happened but that didn’t make it any easier.

  6. I used to be the same as you were, Holly, and you’re right: it causes so much stress! Now, I work real hard to find that life balance, you know? And I think Rick feels the same way: he definitely works hard at his job, but not to the point where he’s going to sacrifice his health or family time to do it.

    1. That sounds like a good plan. There’s nothing wrong with doing a good job then going home and letting somebody else worry about everything.

  7. My guess is the hardest person you will ever work for is yourself. If there isn’t a connection between not doing anything and a paycheck or income, then more McSlackerson. I agree if your job is creating a level of stress that is not healthy, something has to give.

  8. I think it’s a balance for sure. Some people work 6am to 6pm or later at my work, and they probably will rise the corporate ladder, but they also might not. They are sacrificing way too much for the company in my opinion and it really is not worth it. I like the fact that when you’re working for yourself, it’s all on you; sure you can slack off all day, but I doubt you will receive the same output or compensation than if you worked hard.

    1. I guess that is the difference. If I had a chance to be promoted at my old job, I might’ve seen things differently. But, it was basically a “dead end” job (not my employer’s fault, just the way that job was), so working harder wouldn’t accomplish anything anyways.

  9. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel says:

    Story of my life. Except for the self-employment thing, I’m still working on that. But I’ve got to the point with my current job (where I am very over-qualified) that as long as I do just a little bit more than the other guy, they love me, and that’s all that matters for now. The blog is what really keeps me going.

    1. Yes, exactly! Do slightly more than everyone else. More than that is not required =)

  10. I can definitely relate Holly as I was very similar in my past roles and still struggle with it today. It can be very stressful if you don’t stop to think about it. Now, there is always something that can be done so I really have to watch myself that I try to have that balance which is so important. Life is just too short to drive yourself crazy with work all the time.

  11. I’m in the same boat right now.

    I’m putting in crazy hours/effort into side hustle and the job that is paying the bills gets done but not much more.

    I’m not crazy about my job and I still do an above-average job at it so it is what it is. It’s definitely not a job that compensates for more effort so they get what they get from me.

    In the end, I feel that a job is what you want to get out of it. My job is a paycheck. My side hustle is passion. The more effort I put towards my passion, the more money I will make and the more enjoyable it will be. If I wasn’t passionate about the paycheck job, I definitely could increase the money and enjoyment, but it isn’t a passion so there is no need to worry about that.

    The Warrior

    1. Yes, sometimes a job really is just a job and a paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with doing what you’re paid to do then going home.

  12. This is something I constantly struggle with, honestly. In most things I try to go above and beyond, but inevitably there’s burnout. Seems like every couple of months I have to take stock of where my effort and time are being invested and “rebalance my account”.

    1. Yes, exactly. It’s easy to get burnt out as well. I certainly got burnt out at different times, and still do. Sometimes you just need to recharge.

  13. I firmly believe that you have to do the absolute best job you can in EVERYTHING you do, even if it’s a lowly taks like washing dishes.

    For example: I’m a white collar guy (computer programmer), but I do a lot of home improvement too. Whenever I’ve hired people to do the work, they usually cut corners and make compromises that I’m uncomfortable with. It takes me much longer to do the work, but at least I know it’s been done correctly.

    1. Hey, go for it! You be that guy. I don’t mind.

      At my old job, I took on way more responsibility than I was paid for. In the end, it only caused unnecessary stress. I wouldn’t do that again.

  14. I like to work hard. I like to learn and grow but at my current job that’s just pretty much pointless. You don’t get rewarded for knowing more and doing better than everyone else. All I would get was extra work because I could “do it faster” but yet the same pay. That’s why I am ready to be one my own. If you’re not rewarded for extra work there’s no point in doing it.

    1. Yep, I hear ya! I think that’s what I like about being self-employed. Working harder now actually does have a reward.

  15. A year ago, I probably would’ve said yes, it’s important to work as hard as you can. However, I’ve come to realize it’s really hard to motivate yourself when you don’t see a potential reward. I think it’s important to put in your best effort if you feel like it will help you achieve your goals.

    1. Sure, I agree. But, if it doesn’t help you achieve your goals, then it’s just a job. There’s nothing wrong with that either. At a regular job, I would do my best then come home and stop worrying about everything.

  16. I was that kind of employee that had to do everything, do it right, and then do something extra. It was extremely stressful for me and it was killing me… but that was the way I was built and I couldn’t make myself understand that hitting the brake pedal would be the best thing to do. I too used to get home and spend the next couple of hours working on my blogs… and after I quit my job to pursue a full time online blogging career, I used to work even 12 hours per day.

    My goal now is to limit work to 4-6 hours per day because I need time for my family – my newborn is more important than all the money in the world and even though I am a workaholic and find myself trapped working for 8 hours or more, I’m finally managing to limit the time and enjoy my life a bit more.

    1. Hey, it sounds like you’ve found a strategy that works well for you. Working 4-6 hours a day doesn’t sound bad at all.

  17. I always tried to do my job the best I could. Sure, as you said, it’s frustrating to see others who don’t care, but what mattered for me was to not get paid ‘in vain’. It helps me a lot in my new as a small business owner: I care for my clients and doing a good job, and this habit stuck with me all these years 🙂

    1. I always tried to give more than the best job I could. So much so, in fact, that it made me crazy! After I stopped, I just did the best job I could and went home. My mental health improved quite a bit with that move.

  18. Great post Holly. While there are people that slack off at work, I am not one of them. I work at 100% when I am there, because that is what I am paid to do. There is a reason I get promoted on a constant basis and get raises when others don’t. When you work hard, make people aware of it, and become the go-to, you hold your place at work. I work hard on everything I do, because that is how I was brought up.

    1. I definitely think it depends on your workplace. If working at 1000% percent set me up for promotions and raises, then I would keep at it as well! But, if working at 1000% percent got me nowhere, then I would ratchet it down to 100%. It just depends.

  19. I am “that” person at work, but I think it has to do with your position and “skin in the game”. You have a lot of skin in the game with blogging, but not so much at work. I get profit sharing from the company, so I have skin in the game to do things better (er “perfect”) than affect our bottom line (other things, not so much). I’m also like Mr1500 – a bit too much of a perfectionist – I lost a *lot* of that when Daughter Person was born, but I still want to do the best job I can.

    1. I also became a lot more relaxed once we had kids. I don’t know why…maybe just because I could no longer control everything. Regardless, profit sharing is a great motivator. I love money!

  20. You’ve hit on the main difference in the traditional employee & business owner setup: incentives. You can give 50% at work and, as long as you’re getting work done when you need to, there is no consequence (as you noted, that behavior is often rewarded). There’s no faking it as a business owner though.

    I like the authenticity of your current work situation. It seems like it’s set up to build better habits & character.

    1. Yes, definitely. It makes a lot more sense to work harder now that I actually benefit from it.

  21. Totally agree with the other commenters…there are folks that run the gamut at our office. For me, it’s not about being there from sunup until sundown…just a warm body at a desk. Instead, it’s about truly working smarter. I might be the last to come in and first to leave some days, but when I am there, I’m laser-focused on getting the job done and pounding out work. Drives me NUTS when people measure your commitment by how many hours you spend physically at the office.

    1. Ha! Didn’t mean to drive you nuts!
      There isn’t always a correlation between how many hours you put in and how productive you are. I’ve seen people waste epic amounts of time at work getting almost nothing done. Likewise, I know people, like me, who are rather efficient and can get a ton done in a short amount of time.

  22. I think that as you’ve seen, it depends. For you, as an entrepreneur, running your own business, the hard work pays off, but as an employee of an unappreciative employer, not so much.

    For most employees, I think it largely depends on the employer. My roommate started working at Armani a year ago. She puts in the extra effort, crazy hours, etc- and they promoted her and sent her to Milan for fashion week over people who have been working there for years.

    1. Fashion Week sounds like more of a punishment than a reward to me…but I get what you’re saying. Ha! it really does depend on your employer and specific work situation. Sometimes the extra work pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t.

  23. I’m guilty of getting distracted and focusing on what I want long-term instead of always concentrating my efforts on the present. When I get excited about a future plan it can become easy to mentally check out and focus on how to make those plans come to fruition.

    Then again, I also never let work slack. Luckily, things are quite manageable for me at work.

  24. When I only work as hard as required I don’t get the growth in my business that I want to see. I get stagnant, un-creative, start buying crap off eBay, and often very bored.

    When I bust my ass and work as hard as I can, I start to see results, get very creative, and it gets my “juices'” flowing and improves my mental outlook and ever other aspect of my life. I realize that I work for myself and my situation is a bit unique. If I was working for “the man” and had lazy co-workers, I might not feel this way.

  25. Todd @ Fearless Dollar says:

    I think about this a lot. I busted my ass endlessly for 8 years. I eventually got to the place where I was managing 140 people, and I had to bust my butt–for them. In a way, their needs manage me, not me managing them. I had to keep working hard, and I liked it, then I completely burnt out. Haha now I don’t think I will ever have the will to work that hard again!!

  26. I’m a hard worker and a bit of a perfectionist so I definitely went above and beyond when I worked for “the man”. But at the same time, I was rewarded for my work and quickly went up the ladder. It is hard when you’re busting your behind and see peers slacking off but what’s even harder is that stress you take on – the weight of the world is on my shoulders and it’s really not. Now that I’m running my own practice and I am “the man” I don’t mind working so hard because I directly see the benefits and hopefully set a good example for my employees. At the very least, they know to mute Angry Birds when they are playing it. 🙂

  27. You just echoed my wife’s feelings. She gives it 110% at work and rarely gets noticed by the management but they are always ready to find mistakes. Meanwhile the patients who meet her are always leaving kind words about her but the management cares less and some other employees are jealous. She really wants to go into self employment.

  28. I’ve always been raised to be a hard-worker. It is sometimes tough working in government because there is not enough incentive to work hard. You get promoted generally based on seniority and sometimes who you know. It makes working hard tougher when you see others who aren’t doing the same (and get paid more!)

  29. I feel obligated to put forth my best effort at work. Luckily I am at a company where everyone chips in their fair share! That helps a lot.

  30. I think it’s definitely important to work hard, even when you’re working for someone else. No, it doesn’t pay off 100% of the time.. but those times that you are rewarded for your dedication and your commitment to doing an excellent job make up for it, in my experience. I can’t say I love the job I currently have, but I threw myself into it from the start anyway – and I’ve since been rewarded with a working arrangement I’m happy with (I work remotely part of the time), being allowed to manage myself instead of having a supervisor constantly looking over my shoulder, multiple raises and a lot of freedom to essentially do what I want at the office. I think it’s important to always care, even when your coworkers don’t – it can be exhausting and wearing on you, but it’s still your name and reputation on the line. And you never know when that hard work will pay off in unexpected ways!

  31. Cool post Holly and thanks 🙂

    When I was doing the 9 to 5 thing years and years ago, I was the king of Slackers. That never was my intention upon starting a job, but like you, once I saw that no one else gave a crap, I would take that to the extreme. When I think back sometimes, I am always amazed that no one ever fired me!!

    These days my work ethic is way more sound since like you, I am self-employed. And even when I work very part-time at a local Comedy Club, I give a 110% because I actually enjoy it and appreciate the income I generate from it.

    However, if I ever had to go back to a regular 9 to 5 (which I wouldn’t) I would work as hard as everyone else…maybe 🙂

    Take care and all the best.


  32. I’ve always been a hard worker, but I tried to avoid taking work home with me, which at times, made me feel like a bit of a slacker. Some of my friends would take a ton of work home with them and they were actually pretty proud of it. Not me. I was proud to go home and relax! My biggest problem was I couldn’t always let to go of thinking about work, even if I didn’t take any work home with me. 🙁 I freelance now but still obsess about work occasionally! My goal now is to do a job that I am proud of but not to care more about it than my employer does.

  33. I always worked hard, because I am a self starter. I work hard for me! I even work hard at my blog, although I do not earn anywhere near my hourly rate.

  34. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    I do have the occasional time-waste at work but I also will put in more time than 9-5 when I have tasks to do. I’m a big believer in working hard when you’re busy and relaxing when you’re more free. I only wish more jobs had schedules that could let you go when you’ve got a light day!

  35. For me I worked hard as long as I can because I really love my job! If you enjoy what you are doing even if it’s your work then you would not notice that time flies so fast.

  36. I’ve busted my butt for years but the last two weeks of federal employee furlough hell have given me new perspective. I will do a good job, but from now on, I will no longer bring my work home or put so much of my own self worth in to a job. I used to jot down notes from my couch at 10:30 at night so I would remember my fantastic idea or I’d have a work happy hour that would turn in to late night policy discussions, and then I would never have time for myself. I had no hobbies or non-work friends. I clearly cared too much. If I am going to invest that much of myself in to my work, I better own the business, dammit!

  37. This is a really good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very precise information… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  38. Working hard mean a reward you will definitely get someday but at the same time when you are working hard you have to look up for other things as well; as this is era of intense competitions and people don’t hesitate to cross anyone path to success and try to make sure that he doesn’t get the best he is aiming at. So we have to keep an eyes on such fellow, actually rather than working hard like labourer focus on smart work but it does not mean that you take shortcut. Just keep your focus on and eyes open.

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