I got a chainsaw for my 12th birthday. I was raised somewhere in the northern woods of Canada, and I think the chainsaw was a clever trick by my parents to make me feel like a man and at the same time inspire me to work.
And work I did. I’ve worked every job I could get my hands on over the past 20 years. Peeling logs for wood cabins. Selling ground beef over the phone. Trying to build a Cutco empire and almost cutting my finger off on my first sales call. Getting dragged around to seedy bars, porn shops, and massage parlors apprenticing as a traveling salesman (That one only lasted a day).
This was work. I never thought much about it. I never knew how to make money, really.
I just knew I had to work. Work was good. Work was necessary. Work made me a better human… or so I thought.
Why do you work?
This week I was reflecting on a question, “Why do you work?”
I think it’s probably a question most people take for granted. We work to make money, right? Isn’t work about a paycheck?
If you’ve hung around the internet or read personal finance books, you’ve probably come across the idea of a money mindset. And one of the main ideas you’ve probably tripped over is the concept of a money block.
Basically, a money block – according to personal finance experts – is a sort of fixed attitude in your mind that stops you from earning. It’s an unconscious narrative you have about money, maybe from childhood. These are attitudes or beliefs that hold us back.
- Money doesn’t grow on trees.
- There’s never enough money.
- Rich people are evil
- For me to make money other people have to lose theirs.
And so on.
And yesterday, as I was in a cycle of money mindset videos on YouTube, I realize that many of us actually have work blocks. We have subconscious attitudes about work that hinder us from finding happy careers.
Like money blocks, a lot of these are probably things we’ve been socialized to believe over time. We might not even know we have them.
If I asked you, “Why do you work?” You might give me the right answer.
“I work to provide for my family” or “I love what I do.”
But if you’re like me, you might have deeper subconscious needs you bring to your work that stops you from being happy.
So why do I work?
Well, I should go back to that blue-collar background, growing up in a mining town in Canada.
In my world, work was the way to show you were a man. It was a way to show you were worthy, and to be accepted.
We hated lazy guys. And we hated being perceived as lazy.
Men worked hard. Men proved their worth through the amount they worked. Working men were valuable. Men who worked hard were loved and accepted.
And I was today years old when I realized that pretty much every job I ever had was an attempt to prove I was worthy of that love and acceptance. That I was good enough. And usually, this was to my bosses.
Working my ass off was a way to get approval. To show I was good enough.
In fact, in a really messed up way, my career hasn’t been defined by working to provide for my family or to make a difference, or to grow my wealth.
My single biggest work block has been, If I work hard, I’m worthy to be loved and accepted.
My work has been a messed-up way to gain self-esteem.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t work hard to provide for my family or to build my wealth or my career. I worked hard to have my bosses amazed at my work and to build my self-esteem. I worked hard in grad school to prove myself worthy in the eyes of my supervisor.
I remember at my first office job, I briefly sat to watch the 24-hour news channel that was playing in the lunch room. My boss walked by, and I jumped up and said, “I was just taking a break. Getting back to work now.”
She laughed at me and said, “Go ahead and watch the news.”
I’d log in on Saturday to make sure the work was finished. I never wanted to let a boss down. I’d be the one going the extra mile. I’d be the one sacrificing my time.
Because I was a hard worker. And that made me worthy of love.
Your work mindset is important, and I suspect a lot of us have different work blocks. A lot of us are still struggling with the attitudes around work we were trained for as kids.
I see too many people working in an attempt to prove themselves – like me.
But there are other work blocks or work mindsets too.
One of the side-effects of living in a government city is I’ve met a lot of people who are excited about power. They live to do important things and be around important people. They drop names like they’re hot. “I just had a meeting with the deputy minister.” “We’re working with the prime minister’s office to do X.”
These people seem to have an unavoidable drive to significance. Many of them seem to gauge their self-worth by proximity to power.
Their narrative seems to be, If I’m working with powerful people, I’m enough.
Why do you work?
So why do you work?
- Is it because you have something to prove, like me? Does the approval of an adult figure give you self-esteem?
- If work your safety blanket? Do you associate less work with less money or security?
- Is work your escape from your family or home life? Were you raised by a parent who always used work to avoid intimacy at home?
I challenge you to sit with it a minute. See if you can uncover some reasons that drive you in the workplace that aren’t healthy at all.
And, if you realize like I did that you’ve been driven by a toxic work block, start working on building a healthy model for your work-life.