“Working smart is harder than working hard. It’s just less visible, and we care too much about what others see.”
I stood in a beautiful banquet hall, a microphone in my shaking hands, trying not to break down in tears. The new pink journal I had purchased for this event lay open on the table in front of me, covered in feverilously scribbled notes. Gorgeous, amazing, smart women from all over the globe filled the room and listened as the speaker and our mentor Gina Devee, grilled me. “You need to go back and reread history. You need to understand the way of the slave. You need to refresh your memory on what slavery actually has been throughout time. A slave can never, no matter how hard they work, get ahead. A slave can never rise above their station. A slave is never appreciated, rewarded, or praised for their efforts. A slave simply works, without reward, until they die.”
I nodded, seemingly understanding but seriously confused. A storm of emotions whirled through my chest, my heart beating, tears stinging the back of my eyes. I could feel the battle going on inside of me, the wise, knowing part of my soul completely understanding the truth and wisdom in her words…the other part of me, the hard worker, the get-shit-done, never slow down, make it happen girl was digging her heels and screaming “well how the fuck do we get shit done of we don’t, ya’ know…get shit done?!”
You see, Gina had just taken us to church, dropping serious gospel surrounding all the ways in which we self sabotage, the ways in which our thinking and our old stories make life so much harder. These limiting beliefs keep us from achieving everything we want and mostly make us miserable. After Gina ran through about 7 different female archetypes that can take over our lives and hold us back (martyr, victim, princess, etc), I realized that “slave girl” was running my show.
Slave girl was the one telling me to never rest, or slow down, that there was always more work to do.
Slave girl made me take on so much more than I could handle.
Slave girl whispered in my ear that I was nothing, NOTHING without effort, hard work, sacrifice, and struggle.
Slave girl told me everything in life had to be earned.
Slave girl made me believe that everything worthwhile lies on the other side of hard work, exhaustion, and effort.
Growing up in the Midwest, hard work was one of my core values, and a core value of everyone I respected and admired. Kevin Marks writes in his article, Humility and the Midwestern Work Ethic, “work ethic is a set of values attributed to individuals from the traditionally agrarian portion of the central United States. It consists of the principles that include “you are owed nothing in life,” “you can make it far with hard work,” and “a quiet and humble approach to work will pay off in the long run.”
How many of us totally believe this? I know I did. It just makes sense. You get out what you put in. It’s noble to work hard. If you don’t work hard, you’re lazy. We don’t expect anything from anyone. We’ll “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” knuckle down, get to work and never ask for anything.
We admire entrepreneurs who work nonstop for decades to launch their businesses to massive success. We celebrate the “successful” businessman who is never home with his family because he’s “providing” for them. We wear our effort and exhaustion as badges of honor, to prove we are worthy and deserving of all we have.
Our hard work ethic becomes our story.
In that conference room only a few short weeks ago, I felt angry, really fucking angry at Gina for suggesting that hard work is anything but noble. The idea that hard work is actually holding me back from my best life, that my tried and true work ethic was a crutch felt absurd. I sat down, biting back tears. I wanted to believe what she said, I longed for it to be true because the exhaustion in my bones was profound. My spirit had been screaming at me to find another way and here she was, offering another way, but it clashed so violently with what I believed, that I didn’t see how it could possibly be true.
In that moment, what I now realize, is that my old way of thinking was putting up one hell of a fight to try and keep itself alive. I had just been given exactly what I wanted, a new approach that would essentially murder my old self. The old self that HAD protected me, made me successful, afforded me so much in my life that it was terrified to surrender control because “what if?” What if I stopped working hard and everything fell apart? What if I became a lazy mooch? What if I never achieved anything ever again? What if people judged me? The fear was so strong that I felt ill. I cried in several women’s arms. I went back to my room at lunch and fell into a heavy sleep, emotionally exhausted.
When I woke up, I woke up. As I looked in the mirror, fixed my smudged mascara and prepared to return to the afternoon session, I realized I was tired. I was tired of my worn out, whiny, exhausted, martyr, victim story. I was tired of being tired, feeling run down and then whimpering about how I can never get ahead. I was tired of doubt. I was tired of struggle. I was tired of living in fear. I was tired of my old bullshit.
Having spent 2 days surrounded by the most inspiring women who also had doubts and fears, women who I wanted to shake and scream “you can do anything! Do you see how incredible you are!?” made me realize, I am just as incredible. I starting to realize that how I approached life, success, opportunity, and effort where a choice. I realized that I’ve spent years working hard and “never getting ahead” as Gina told me.
Yes, I’ve had success. Yes I have a wonderful life, but at what cost? I realized that every time I killed myself to host a party, plan an event, or make something happen, I never really enjoyed myself. I endured the struggle, thinking I would relax once I “arrived” and yet, I never really did. Holidays, birthdays, dinners with friends – I killed myself to make them happen and never achieved the expected rewards of such monumental efforts. I couldn’t “let things happen.” I had to fully exhaust myself to “make them happen” but then when things didn’t unfold how I thought they should, I was disappointed. Like a slave, no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t seem to get out what I put in.
As I returned to the banquet hall, it hit me that I had spent my entire life leading with the “see how hard I work” line. That I had prided myself on my effort above all else. That if you asked me anything, about pretty much anything, I would answer somehow along the lines of “I did it myself, I worked really hard, I didn’t have help, I suffered, I struggled, I’m tough….” hoping that you’d see how I had properly earned everything I had, from my kids, to my financial success, to my body, and everything in between.
I realized that my story and beliefs had led me to believe I was only worthy if I struggled. That success and happiness had to be earned through blood, sweat, and tears.
But if we believe struggle, sacrifice, and exhaustive effort is required to succeed, then we will never succeed without it.
Let that one sink in ladies. If something comes easy, you will literally self sabotage to make it harder, because you don’t believe you are worthy of success WITHOUT the struggle. Our rooted stories are that powerful. We must identify and rewrite these beliefs if we are ever going to outgrow our old ways and improve our lives.
What if I changed the story? What if I dared to believe that I could get ahead in every area of my life without working myself into exhaustion on a daily basis? What if I could be different?
Just thinking about the possibility of a happy, successful life without this bone deep exhaustion seemed too good to be true. I mean, Gina seemed to be doing pretty well for herself. What does success look like without hardwork? How does one actually move forward, get things done, make progress WITHOUT work?
Don’t Do Different Things, Do Things Differently
I came to understand that letting go of the slave girl mentality did not mean no longer working hard, it meant releasing the idea that hard work (really hard work) was the only way to be worthy of success and happiness. Instead of believing I can only rest when I’d done everything on my to do list, put in another load of laundry, paid the bills, did my workout, and picked up the living room…I can rest when I need it.
Changing the story means that when I work, yes, I work hard, but then I stop. It means realizing that I don’t work until I drop. It means that work is not the most important thing in life. It means changing the story about what is truly valuable.
Choosing to see life differently means that I open myself up to success without killing myself in the process. It means believing I can get ahead (and be a good wife and mother) regardless of how hard I actually work. It means I am open to help, to gifts, to surprise opportunities and inspiration and anything else I need to get things done without exhaustion. It means I’m less judgmental of myself and others and that I accept I am worthy regardless of the effort.
I will always be busy and I will always be a hard worker, but I am done being a slave girl.
I will prioritize self care, fun, connection with my family, and rest just as much as I value a hard day’s work. In fact, I will tell myself the more fun I have, the better my life gets. I will rewrite the old story and start doing things differently.
When you realize your to do list will never end, you can stop letting it rule your life. I’m finding that not only is life easier and happier when I stop glorifying work, but that I have been putting way too much on my place for no good reason. I’m seeing how much I over committed myself out of some twisted notion that the more I carried the more valuable I was. No more.
Yesterday, when rushing out the door to get the kids to school, I saw the mounds of dirty dishes, plates everywhere, crumbs, spilled OJ on the counter, pajamas in a heap in front of the TV. I resisted the urge to rush even more to get it all cleaned up. Typically, I would go into crazed cleaning mode, slamming dishes around, cursing them out for not helping more, kicking the laundry out of my way desperate to leave the house spotless before heading out the door frazzled, exasperated, and seriously pissed off. But yesterday, instead of heeding the call of the slave girl, I looked at the mess, shrugged my shoulders and said “the maid will get it,” and walked out the door.
I don’t have a maid. Eventually I did clean it up and had a talk with my kids about picking up after themselves, but in that moment I refused to let the energy of slave girl lead. I decided staying happy and sending my kids off for the day in a good mood was more important than a spotless kitchen.
It’s not about doing different things, it’s about doing things differently.
Can you relate? Do you struggle with slave girl running your life? Do you feel your work ethic is a source of pride?