Why do we force ourselves to do things we don’t want to do?
Is it because we think there will be a light at the end of the tunnel? Because we see the act as a necessary means-to-an-end? Because we feel we have to prove our worth through struggle?
Or because it’s assumed that, in life, we just have to do things we don’t want to do?
What would happen if we challenged that?
When I was in high school, I firmly believed that hard work led to great results – always, without question. I prided myself in being a hard worker, and clearly the results spoke for themselves, right? A-after-A said so.
My first few years of college, however, broke that idea into tiny pieces.
I still remember my first “D” on a college paper and the comments from the reviewer suggesting, with indignation, that I hadn’t tried and must not have taken the assignment seriously.
Oh, had I tried. I had tried really hard.
My self-esteem crumbled. If I couldn’t work hard enough for something, clearly there was something “not enough” about me. Clearly.
Slowly, I began to wonder… did hard work guarantee success? I wasn’t so sure, anymore.
Afterwards, even as I picked myself up and eventually made a great experience out of my academic career, I struggled with feelings of failure and shame at not being able to work hard enough for things to be easy.
It wasn’t until 5 years out of college that I questioned it strongly enough for something to click.
I wondered, what kind of student could I have been if I had allowed myself to function without that shame? I wondered, who could I be without it now?
I returned to work, reinvigorated, with a growing sense of self-esteem. Those feelings of “not good enough” had been based on a faulty idea that no longer made sense, making them much easier to challenge and peel off.
In a few months, I went from struggling and trying to force myself to do things I didn’t want to do (to be a visible “hard worker”), to focusing on things I wanted to do. I still “worked hard,” but now I wasn’t doing it for the sake of trying to prove my worth: I was doing it because my work inspired me to it.
The difference was palpable.
Within half-a-year, I had transformed my work life, completely.
I felt energized, excited, and capable, and my work reflected that infusion of energy. I found myself doing things that, even months prior, I couldn’t have even imagined myself doing.
As often as possible, I prioritized things by what I wanted to do, by what made me feel inspired.
My internal dialogue shifted from “I’m putting things off because I really don’t want to do this, but I know I have to, so I’ll wait until I don’t have a choice” to “I know this has to get done, but I’m just not feeling it right now, so I’ll relax and do some things that I’m okay with doing (or really excited about doing) and get to this soon, when I feel relaxed enough for it.”
There was no going back.
About a year into my experiment, this philosophy began to clash with expected work norms:
“Work hard to get ahead”
“Employees need to be motivated toward their best behavior”
“With every job, you just have to do things you don’t want to do”
Those didn’t sound right to me, anymore. They sounded like things that needed to be challenged to their core.
I know now that hard work doesn’t guarantee success. Many a chagrined worker who has been passed for a promotion can tell you that.
I don’t think people need to be motivated toward their best behavior. But an inspired worker is naturally motivated to their best, most productive, most creative behavior and results. The idea of the inspired worker can revolutionize the work place and what we consider to be “work.”
And I don’t think I have to force myself to do things I don’t want to do.
I have a choice.
We forget that.
I have a choice.
And, really, what’s the point of rushing somewhere if the running isn’t fun?
If I’m not going to let someone force me to do something I don’t want to do, why would I be okay doing it to myself? Of course I wouldn’t, hence why I had such a procrastination problem, back in the day.
I know I can exercise that choice. I know I can relax and choose to be kind to myself. I know I can choose to take the easy route. I know that not only is there nothing wrong with that, but that it is also producing my best work yet.
Peaceful Dumplings, do you have any beliefs around hard work that need a little challenging?
What would change if you chose to relax more and follow your inspiration in the moment?
How could your workplace benefit from more inspired workers?
Also by Amparo: How to Overcome a Quarter Life Crisis
Photo: markus spiske via flickr