Workplace Warriors

“To achieve success, whatever the job we have, we must pay a price.” Vince Lombardi vince_lombardi_crop_340x234

80% of white collar workers admit to working after they leave the office on a daily basis. 69% of these pros don’t go to bed without checking email first. In some offices, co-workers compete for bragging rights based on who gets by on 4 hours of sleep or who downs the most energy drinks by noon.

Commitment, value, even success is measured in terms of what people sacrifice for their employers: sleep, family time, relaxation. The more you give…and give….and give….the better employee you are.

It’s a twisted kind of calculus.

And it’s spawned a cottage industry of professional advice on how to work less and do more. Be more productive in less time. Unplug from your email. Etc. Etc.

Somehow, it’s not translating. People are still working themselves to the bone. Blame it on the slow economic recovery, the next looming reorg or an obsessive boss. But I have a very strong feeling that complete blame cannot rest with these factors. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.

We are slavishly devoted to the façade of productivity, the belief that being in the middle of the game is synonymous with playing it well. This devotion is so fully enmeshed in people’s perception of work that the thought of truly venturing outside of it is too unnerving to contemplate. At least that is the reality here in the US. It’s unfortunate, because it substitutes real achievement for volume, and it creates an uneasy feeling that performance is measured by the ability to manage the vagaries of the workday over the ability to create what is needed.

I read a recent post that focused on the lie of busyness equaling productivity. It showed up the uniquely American belief in workplace pain and gain, noting that the Dutch believe too many meetings leads to vergaderziekte, “meeting sickness.”

There is a price being paid for this warrior culture, a price that I dare say most dedicated professionals feel all too dearly. Not a price paid for ready success, rather the price paid to remain in place.

Honestly, solving something this far reaching is not the domain of workshops or lists of productivity tips. Solving this, slowly and to last, begins at the opposite end of the Warrior Culture, far away from specific activities. It begins by doing nothing, by getting a good night’s sleep, by not focusing on every distraction that flits past one’s eye, by indulging in a meal eaten before a window not a computer screen. It begins by having the courage to turn down a meeting in order to carve out time to think.

I will fully admit this is a s-l-o-w revolution. Moving from one perceptual framework to another takes time and patience. The last thing needed is someone rushing off to make a warrior exercise out of not being a warrior. Yet the quiet, individually lead campaign from ostentatious sacrifice to grounded effort is not only the smartest thing to do, it’s the sanest as well.

As for me, it was hard to get to this point, and I continue to slough off years of preoccupation with workplace warrior culture. I’m finding, though, that what I produce now is consistently sharp and more relevant than ever. And the kind of satisfaction I find in my work is deeper. I still work hard, in many ways harder than before, and I still push myself. That will not change. Yet what may appear to be little indulgences – thinking time, sleep, a normal daily rhythm – create space where I can be good at what I do.

It’s the kind of professional price I am more than willing to pay.

One Comment

  1. I found your insights on Workplace Warriors quite relatable. Not that I am one but I know many who are one, think they are one, or think they have to be one in order to succeed. I cannot agree more that there is a overwhelming misconception in corporate America that working longer means you are being more productive. I have found that the opposite is often the truth. I know a woman who spends so much time during the day boasting to different people about how late she stays at the office because she has so much work to do, that if she stopped all of her boasting, she would realize she would actually get her work done a lot sooner. I’ve always valued quality over quantity, and slowing down generally leads to doing a better job and saving time in the long run. I don’t just mean work slower (although that often helps avoid the need to correct time-consuming mistakes), I mean getting a good night’s sleep and taking breaks to clear your mind of distractions so you can concentrate on what needs to be done. It’s amazing how much more productive you can be when you have had plenty of rest and a clear mind.

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