Growing up, a strong work ethic was highly valued in my family.
My grandfather and great uncle co-ran a ranch and a general store. Each family had six kids, and all of them had their chores/work to do to help keep both going once they were around six years old. My dad has shared all kinds of stories around the work they did together to keep the family going
One of my favorite parts about family gatherings with my dad’s side of the family is when they get going on the stories of the ranch or store or growing up near the poverty line. In the midst of all the work, a deep comradery was built and shared, and many hilarious incidents happened. Through it all, a strong work ethic and deep appreciation of the worth of a dollar was formed, and I have seen it play out in the lives my aunt and uncles.
I have watched my aunt and uncles all build successful careers through hard work and perseverance. They each found a way to make the money needed to take care of their families, and take a financial step or two up from where they were growing up. Hard work and its benefits were honored and respected, and growing up, those were instilled in me in healthy and helpful ways.
Some of my fondest memories around this were the weekends spent clearing out the brush on our property and putting them into large piles that would become bonfires when the weather cooperated and lowered the fire danger threats to acceptable levels. Then the fun would begin.
It would start with a can of gasoline, a cup or two thrown on each brush pile, and then the tentative dance of my dad lighting a match, throwing it in the pile and leaping away incase it was the one that stayed lit long enough to ignite the fumes.
The fire would ignite, and then the joy of searching for any spare brush or wood that would burn in those intense flames began. It would continue for the rest of the day, until the fire had burned down enough that you could get within five or six feet to roast some brats, and later, once the fire had reduced itself to glowing embers in the evening, the smores fixings came out.
Sometimes the event even became an occasion to invite friends over. Let’s admit it. When you are 8-12 years old and your friend asks if you want to come be part of a giant controlled conflagration of previously unexperienced proportions, and then you get to ADD roasting brats over the open flames and making smores, who would say no?
Work led to fun!
At least it did until college came around.
The way my parents helped me get through college was giving me a job through the family company during the summers. It paid very well. It was a huuuuge blessing! It enabled me to save and put money aside, and give generously to people and causes I cared about without needing to work during the school year.
The main issue came my freshman to sophomore summer where I wanted to spend the summer helping at a youth camp in eastern Oregon. I wouldn’t have made much money, but it would have been a joy, even though it would have been very hard work. Staff had to be up around 6am, and many times that was after being up until midnight or later the night before, and they were on six days a week.
My parents were concerned about the financial end of things, and rightfully so, but put a definite flavor on my life going forward. Desire is not as important as making money.
I decided instead that summer to take another field labor job at a school project two and a half hours south of where I lived. I commuted down each week, worked four ten-hour days, and then came back for the long weekend.
I made bank again.
And it was the worst summer I have ever had.
And it set a tone that work is all about making enough money to survive and stockpiling the rest away for when you would need it. Work equals money. Work is not about joy or engagement. You sell your time and energy and hold out for the few spare moments you have outside of it to try and find some enjoyment there.
Yes, work is work, and just like any other part of life disappointments will come. But the disappointments are not supposed to be the main ingredients, they are supposed to be the hair or piece of eggshell that accidentally made its way in. Most of us just dive into a career expecting disappointments, but become slowly accustomed to them becoming the rule and not the exception.
If disappointment and discouragement are becoming the rule and normal part of your work life, I would challenge you to take a step back and ask if this is really what you are made for.
I had to do this a little over a year ago because the stress and strain of working in a field that was not what I was wired for was starting to kill me, mostly metaphorically but some literally (I was developing internal bleeding in my lower gut). I was working for an amazing company, with amazing people, had amazing managers and bosses, doing good, meaningful work that was creating a lasting positive impact on the world, and was getting compensated extremely well. But it was not what I was wired to do, and I had no passion or drive to do it.
I decided to step back and work on a transition out of the company and into a new line of work that matched what I am innately wired to do and am skilled at.
It has been a few months since I have become self-employed and begun my journey as a life/executive coach. It has a lot of unknowns to it still, and I am figuring things out as I got. There are difficulties and setbacks, but there is much more enjoyment and passion behind it. There are regularly problems to solve, but I want to solve them because they are opportunities to grow in alignment with who I actually am instead of working my way up a skill tree to reach a position that I honestly do not want to have.
Take an honest look at your work because you spend half of your waking time doing it. If you are regularly unhappy or worse, experiencing significant stress and strain that is not letting up or going away I encourage you to dig in to why that is. If it is something you control, change it. If it is out of your control, maybe it is time to look at changing the environment you are in. I know there are responsibilities you face, but you would be amazed at what a year of focusing on setting yourself up for a transition can do.
Work is not meant to be misery. Half your waking time is too much of your life to live in disappointment and discouragement. If you identify with that, start looking at how you can setup your future for the change you need.
To a life worth living.