Restoring, and Re-Storying Work Ethic Part I

“Work ethic is less valued than in the past.”

This is what an exasperated client said to me recently. Her college classmates critiqued her for working hard earlier that day.  They were worried about her because she puts an incredible amount of pressure on herself.

I actually worry, too. This pressure stresses her out, causing her to get anxious, lose sleep, and beat herself up.  But she is well rewarded for her efforts, excellent grades and award wining artwork.  Plus, she knows it’s temporary, so for her it is worth it. Instead of being honored by her friends, she felt accused and attacked.

Burn Out

My Narrative Therapy teacher Michael White used to say that the best things you can do for “burn out” is 1) respite and 2) get acknowledgment- honor, notice, and appreciate the work that they are doing. For the person who is burned out, both of these are sustaining.

In conversation with this young woman, she and I looked at the benefits of what she had accomplished and we celebrated that she was beginning Spring Break. Instead of a tearful, exhausted puddle, she left my office proud and excited.

When someone is contributing more to society than they are taking, and not being overly self-destructive, it might not be helpful to judge him or her. It is the equivalent of kicking someone when they are down. I’d rather be supportive of others. Nobody needs me to tell them to slow down. First of all, it would be hypocritical; second, it would be completely invalidating of all of the hard work they are doing.

“I long to accomplish great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble task as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also buy the aggregate of the tiny pushed of each honest worker.” ~Helen Keller

work ethic facebook anxiety 1

Work Ethic History

So why are we both in awe of productive people, yet criticize them? (I’ve witnessed and experienced it too many times to not be surprised at this, I am just wondering.) It made me start thinking about the modern cultural discourse supporting a person slowing down. Quite an interesting backlash.

It has been over two hundred years that the opposite has been forced down our throats. Since the Industrial Revolution in the 17th century, (the Victorian period) and the rise of Capitalism, we have been encouraged to be productive. Pleasurable and unproductive activities were suppressed by society, so that a strong work ethic would be embraced by a population needed as laborers. Even the Catholic Church participated in this social phenomenon. For example, this was when and why sex outside a heterosexual, monogamous marriage was first deemed a “sin.”– to support industry. (Another consequence of the Fourth Patchacuti. Read about the Eagle and the Condor.)


In modernity, the East has come West and Mindfulness (Read Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh) is sweeping the nation. (It is one of the foremost studied mental health treatments.) Now “sitting” still is the valued activity, with fantastic results on our mind, bodies, and spirits. Our world seem to be spinning faster and faster, everyone is trying to keep up, running from one activity to another.

Stress is at epidemic proportions. Mindfulness has given us not only a respite from this, but total acknowledgement for our efforts since we are aware of each and every one of them, able to appreciate instead of judge ourselves and others. It helps us slow down inside, relating to all around us in a different way.

(Some people who are in the mindful world, might be criticizing the type A personalities who are not mindful of the present moment, but if they are judging, they haven’t gotten the concept of mindfulness.)

The one’s who judged this hard working college student, either feel like they care about her and see her work ethic as a threat to her well-being, or they feel threatened by her work ethic themselves, because she is performing higher than them.  Usually when we are judging others, we are judging ourselves, ten times more.

Love and believe

Next time you see someone overworked, and begin to worry: acknowledge them for how great they are doing, love every bit of them, bringing appreciation and awareness into to all of it.  Model Mindfulness. You will see their stress fall away. From this less stressed place, they might be able to see for themselves if they are going overboard and make a change. If not, it is not time for them. Keep loving them, and believe in them that they will get it soon.  We all get it eventually.  In the meantime, our compassion can decrease their stress, giving them some well deserved healing. People get it faster when they feel loved instead of judged. Who is with me?

How do you celebrate our work ethic, without going overboard?

29 thoughts on “Restoring, and Re-Storying Work Ethic Part I”

  1. I am with you. I totally agree, and I have been in that situation many times whether at school or now while handling two jobs. People can only judge and criticize and point out to the things you are missing as you are working too hard, but they completely ignore the accomplishments you are making.
    I loved this post. Thank you Jodi.

  2. Just adding one thing, when we are motivated, I don’t think it is bad to do much. I think we can handle much more than we are expected to, and the more you exercise your body and mind, the more they can work hard.
    nikky44 recently posted..I believe I can flyMy Profile

  3. I admit I do tend to go overboard sometimes and work too much. My daughter keeps me in check. I agree that people need to be understanding when someone is working too much. Acknowledge the hard work and commend them for it before suggesting they take a little break.
    Kelly Hashway recently posted..Monday Mishmash 3/19/12My Profile

  4. Great post. I have a way of making sure that I don’t just spend the day ‘slogging’. I fit some (a little or a lot) creativity into each day. It might be a blog post, work on my novel or a play for my business, reading a book or playing with my children. My husband I have a practice of thanking each other for the things we do, even if it’s only to say thank you for being here for me. It always makes a difference.
    Fi Phillips recently posted..Mothers DayMy Profile

  5. Re-storying was one of my favorite interventions when I was practicing. This is one of the best explanations I’ve read.

    I think I’ve gotten better when it comes to criticising myself when I stay up too late writing. I say to myself, “Well, this may be a low-sleep night, but it’s all for what you’re passionate about.” Creativity and productiviity are what I’m choosing to prioritize on nights like that–not sleep. As long as I’m making an adult decision (my eyes open to the fact that I’ll be tired tomorrow!), I’ll be OK with it.
    Thanks for the insights, Jodi!
    Lisa W. Rosenberg recently posted..Blog Vs. BookMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Yes, we can’t be “fool” if we are making a conscious decision! You need to keep writing, it is beautiful!

  6. This really rings true for me Jodi- this topic is so applicable in our society today! I love that Helen Keller quote too. I can’t wait to tune in on the next writings

  7. Jodi, I completely agree with this and can’t wait to read the next 2. I too am often criticized for putting in too much time or for trying to do too much. I do tend to do that. I can’t say no to anyone so every time I’m asked to do something I find a way to get it done. That can be a problem sometime because I do need to set limits and not be used for my willingness to do everything. However no mater what I can say that I try to do my very best in whatever I do and I need to acknowledge that. Thank you Jodi!

  8. These days, my work is more cyclical, which is harder for people to understand who have a 9-5 job. As a writer, I have periods when I work long hours, but then I take down time after that phase of a project is done. When we look at others and perceive them as overworking, we may not understand the nature or cycles of their work.
    Nadine Feldman recently posted..Exercise On The GoMy Profile

  9. I love the Helen Keller and the Dalai Lama quote. How true they are! I am driven, work hard, take on a lot, between work, my writing, and my other activities, but I’m happiest doing all these things. I used to also serve on the board for my Homeowners Association and I did give that up. It’s hard to find balance but I’ll keep trying. Thanks, as always, for your insight. I find it very helpful!
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  10. I tend to beat myself for not doing more – I do a lot, but somehow, I keep feeling like I could (and should) squeeze in a thing or fifty more. Not a good way to celebrate work ethics, I know. I think that people who judge those who, in their opinion, work too much, tend to forget that people usually have a reason for what they’re doing, and that those reasons can be (and often are) good, whether it’s the feeling of achievement, of helping others, of doing something creative and constructive…
    Ivana recently posted.."We Vegetarians"My Profile

  11. It’s interesting that you bring up mindfulness. We’ve been going through the book 12 Steps To A Compassionate Life by Kaen Armstrong at our church. One of the steps is mindfulness. It’s kind of amazing how being mindful of yourself can make life much easier.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I love Karen Armstrong. I read her biographies and LOVED them! It’s the judgment that kills us every time

  12. Jodi, this post is a few days old now so I am behind the times but I just read it this morning and it prompts me to say something to you that I have been meaning to say for a while. I am so thankful for all the work and love that you put into your website and blogs. Wow! I love reading what you write as it inspires me not only with your ideas but also with energy and enthusiasm for the work I do. I can relate to being criticized for overworking and then I think about what you do and what other I know do and it helps me to feel like it is ok to be passionate. It is funny how being passionate can sometimes also be criticism as it easily becomes too passionate. Hmmmmm….. Wel thanks again Jodi for all that you do!

  13. Great post, I can really relate to some of the stuff you mentioned about over-working, I guess you could say that I am a “workaholic” but I don’t see it as a bad thing, as long as you get your priorities right (family first etc) the much higher chance of success you’d have.

  14. “Usually when we are judging others, we are judging ourselves, ten times more.” Jodi, this is brilliant and so true! Indeed we have to model mindfulness and accept that as individuals, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Instead of judging others for what we think they are doing wrong, it’s better to applaud them for doing what feels right for them. 🙂

  15. The posts remind me of the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” God has given us the ability to accomplish many things through Him. However, we must have focus and I believe in the power of healthy goals! They can allow you to accomplish what you really want to accomplish instead of going in circles! I encourage people to really figure out what is important to them and then focus all of your hard work on those ultimate important items!

  16. Wonderful post! I like what you said about burnout, and what people with burnout need. For about the first 2 years of my current job, I worked overtime all the time, weekends, etc. I had no problem with it. But after a while, it caught up with me. I realized that I was spending too much time away from my family. I realized that I was allowing myself to be taken advantage of (oh, Tina will do it!). And I realized I wasn’t getting validation for what I was doing. I do my best no matter what, and I don’t need my employer to slather me with praise all the time. But I was getting nothing, and I felt the hurt and the anger. I have pulled back, and I have found that I stay as busy as I was, because I’m now making time to do my own writing, exploring my creativity, and, most importantly, I’m taking time to savor my relationships with my family.
    Tina Barbour recently posted..Learning: Nature does comfortMy Profile

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