Hard work is a virtue. But are you working too hard? Maybe. Especially if you’re pouring your heart and soul into your job for the wrong reasons.
Working too hard is an American pastime
Hard work is in America’s DNA. We take comfort in the murky belief that if we work hard, we’ll get ahead in life. And when others aren’t as well off as we are, we assume it’s because they aren’t working as hard as they should be.
Work is also a common theme in the Bible.
Dozens of biblical passages talk about work. Here’s a sampling:
- Genesis describes God’s work in creation. It also describes Adam and Eve’s commission to live as workers in Eden.
- In Ecclesiastes 9, the writer tells us to do whatever we’re capable of doing with all of our might because there’s no work in the grave. (That’s an encouraging thought.)
- In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul takes the work ethic a step further, warning that anyone unwilling to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.
Although these and other passages can be taken out of context to support faulty theology about work and our responsibility to the poor, it’s clear that work is a biblical virtue. Work provides for basic needs like food and shelter, and gives our lives purpose and dignity.
But what happens when work becomes more than a vehicle to provide for our needs?
Even worse … what happens when work becomes the way we gauge success and measure our worth as human beings?
3 signs you’re working too hard
By necessity or choice, many of us are living work-centered lives. Work is an insatiable beast. If you let it, it will consume your time, your thoughts, your hopes and your dreams.
If you’re feeling burned out and beat up by your job, here are a few signs that you might be working too hard — and working for the wrong reasons:
- If work is a way to keep score: Last year, Melissa and I watched the History Channel’s The Men Who Built America — a series that profiled Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and other titans of American industry. One of the series themes was that these were wealthy men who were obsessed with making money, even after they had millions in the bank. To increase their earnings, they did terrible things to each other and their workers — not because they needed cash, but because money was the way they kept score. Sound horrible? It is. But we do the same thing when we use work as a way to keep score and rate our success. Whether you’re a retail clerk or a corporate VP, it’s easy to see your career as a zero sum game with winners and losers. When that happens, it’s a sign that you’re working to feed your ego — not your family.
- If you’re working harder to pay for a bigger lifestyle: Ever feel like your income has increased, but you have the same amount of money left over after you pay your bills? It’s called lifestyle inflation — the tendency to expand our lifestyle as we earn more income — and we’re all susceptible to it. Instead of working to live, we’re literally living to work because lifestyle inflation is driving us to make more money so we can buy a bigger house, a better car or a vacation home on the lake. It’s sad, but our culture actually encourages and rewards this mentality. For some people, working too hard to buy bigger and better stuff has become the definition of the American dream. But if you’re a slave to your job, you’re no longer free. That’s not American at all. It’s not spiritually authentic, either.
- If your life goals are all job-related: Over the years, I’ve developed professional and personal relationships with people at every rung of the corporate ladder, from entry-level workers to CEOs of large companies. Here’s what I’ve learned: Way too many people are working too hard because they have life goals that are exclusively job-related. It’s fine to have career goals. In fact, your employer might even ask you to update your vocational goals at regular intervals. But when job-related goals are your only (or primary) goals in life, it’s probably a sign that your using work as a substitute for more important things like relationships, family or a spiritually healthy lifestyle. Promotions and career advancement happen when you do your job well. But there’s nothing patriotic or admirable about working too hard and dedicating your entire life to advancing your career.
You weren’t created for work. You were created to live a well-balanced life that includes work. If you’re working too hard, maybe the problem isn’t your job — maybe the problem is that you need to re-evaluate your relationship with work and start working for the right reasons.