What Is Hard Work?

Hard work in the past meant physical labor, a job that made you sweat and took a toll on your body. Chances were that you went home after “a hard day’s work” tired, sweaty, hungry and probably with parts of your body hurting. You may have even felt satisfaction at all that, or grumbled that you were too old to be doing all this “hard work.” The number of manual labor jobs in this country has shrunk in the last few decades and so has the number of people training in these careers. The number of electricians, plumbers, farmers and pipe fitters are on the decline as well.

So what has hard work turned into? It is a job you hate doing, the ones I blogged about in My So-Called Bad Job, manufacturing or customer service? Is it hard work because you do not like it, it’s not your passion, or is it hard because it’s stressful? Job stress can be caused by any number of things, including a micromanaging boss, shouting clients or a paycheck that does not stretch to cover your bills.

Hard work doesn’t have to be a job you hate. It can be one that is mentally or physically fatiguing, though. Ever wonder how you could get tired out sitting down all day at a computer? Mental fatigue can physically wear you out, while sitting all day can actually make your body physically hurt because: 1) your body was not designed to sit all day, and 2) the approach to ergonomics and a work station that should actually work for everyone is usually one size fits all. But it doesn’t fit if you’re over 6 ft. tall or a pre-teen sized adult. Turns out sitting down isn’t so great for your heart either. Sedentary work makes you gain weight unless you exercise, and this extra weight along with all that extra stress can hurt your heart.

One of my jobs wasn’t hard work for me at all until I got a new work station. The job wasn’t mentally taxing. I had access to books, movies and CDs before anyone else got to use them. It paid the bills while I pursued my musical interests. But in the end, the job took a permanent toll on my body. That’s what made it hard. Years of struggling with carpal tunnel, nerve entrapment and physical therapy and Alexander Technique classes later, I now have permanent physical damage that isn’t going away. That’s hard.

I think the definition of hard work has become very personal, but we keep letting it be defined by other judgmental people. There is this myth in recruiting and in business in general that working in academia isn’t hard, that it’s slower paced than industry, and that is reflected in the lower salaries that academicians earn. There’s also the myth that Californians work longer hours than New Yorkers. Are they working harder, or are New Yorkers working smarter and harder than Californians, accomplishing more in less time? Who knows? I think it is important, though, to stop and think about whether your work is hard, not necessarily to make it easier, but to examine why you think it is hard and if you find satisfaction or dissatisfaction in your job. Does job satisfaction help you to be more successful? Happier with your life? I think the answers to those questions for you are also going to be very personal, but hopefully enlightening enough to keep you developing your own career.

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