Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Gayle Hilgendorff Headshot

Why Do We Work So Hard?

Posted: Updated:

Have you ever wondered why you work so hard? Why getting the next promotion, the biggest bonus or the highest praise is so important to your sense of accomplishment? Why you wake up every day determined to work harder to be better than you were the day before? Why the incessant drive for more and more success both energizes and exhausts you?

It doesn't take years of therapy to conclude that all of our current behaviors started when we were children. We were born innocent, free of expectation, with our only concerns being comfort and love. But then, just a few short years later, we are being taught what right vs. wrong and good vs. bad is from our parents and family who surround us. Our school years introduce success vs. failure, in the form of intellectual rankings and social groupings. By the time we hit adulthood and our first professional job, we have received our basic programming: the harder you work, the better you will be, the more people will like you, and the more material success you will have.

Enter society's standards. How much money you earn, where you live, how many children you have -- I'm exhausted even writing about society's high standards for success! But we keep it up, we work harder, we strive to be the best, to have the best and to provide the best. Most of us do find some happiness in this continual uphill climb -- until the day when we ask ourselves, "Why do I work so hard? and the answer doesn't make us happy anymore.

It's not easy. Years and years of mind programming, from our parents to our teachers to our bosses through to the constant stream of media that surrounds us. It's exhausting really. We don't know how to relax because relaxation is viewed as being something you only do on vacation (and yet we rarely fully relax, even on vacation). Relaxing during the day is considered lazy by some of our standards. Why do you think you multitask reading a magazine/book/email while watching TV? Because just sitting there letting ourselves unwind is not working hard enough.

We don't know how to say no, because saying no is not nice. We don't know how to enjoy what we have because there is always something better around the corner. We don't know how to stop and take stock of what we really want to have and feel because we are scared to think or be different. We feel unsafe, scared and guilty; so we just do what we know is "right," and work harder.

But what if we were to work harder at being truly happy? What if we could take all of what we have learned in our lives so far, and apply our overachieving, perfectionist, and Type-A personalities to the pursuit of happiness? What if we defined our true happiness as our ultimate success? Well, all of a sudden, working hard isn't so hard anymore. In fact, it's quite enjoyable!

Working hard is good for you when you know what you are working for. Working hard reaps the greatest rewards when you are enhancing your life and the life of those around you. Years of chasing the life of a successful corporate executive was extremely hard work, until I started chasing my success as a life coach. Nothing is more exhausting that spending your days trying to help others find their best lives, but it's an exhaustion met with happiness at the end of my day. A far cry from my stress migraine of the olden days. Did I ever think that the hard work of my childhood, schooling and professional years would lead to this? Nope. Not for a minute. It took a bit of reprogramming, a splash of faith and an overall desire to define my success and my hard work, in my terms.

We work hard because we strive for success. When we understand what success really means for us as individuals, and not how we were influenced by others, we can let go of hard work being a life defining attitude, and embrace the freedom to work just as hard as we want to.

For more by Gayle Hilgendorff, click here.

For more on success and motivation, click here.

From Our Partners