No Rest for The Wicked
It seems appropriate having had an Easter weekend to start with a title that draws from a Biblical quote.
Initially, it appears that it was “no peace for the wicked.” The idea that the punishment that awaited unrepentant sinners upon their death, was an eternity of damnation (no peace).
It has become more of a common, tongue-in-cheek turn of phrase now that we have lots of work and responsibilities that never end.
This got me thinking about my career in business, entrepreneurship and working hard.
Take a look around any of the social media platforms, and we are often confronted with many messages about the daily grind, the hustle, and the hard work being the only way to be “successful.”
I’m certainly not advocating that if you do no work that success in some measure will find you. Far from it.
Working 24/7, 365 days a year may lead to some form of corporate, business or financial success, but at a far more significant cost.
It has become almost a badge of honour hasn’t it that someone is always working?
The first to the office and the last to leave. We have seen the examples of Investment Bank Analysts at Goldman Sachs right now outing their employer as having inhumane working conditions, abusive managers and 95-hour weeks.
And we know this isn’t the only place it happens.
But working yourself to the bone in your early career is rife. Particularly chats I have had with friends in banking, management consulting, the legal profession and more. This is expected if you are ever to ‘make it’ in these structures.
I once asked a friend in investment banking what there was left to strive for? They’d been working 18-hour days, but making superb money, and they could afford the best places to live / eat and holiday in. They answered that many turn to alcohol, nicotine, drugs and other illicit activities to have a sense of a buzz and to help them keep going.
Then perhaps after 2-3 years, they totally burn out, need to take a year out or more to travel the world, then rediscover their values and morals to start again in something new. Albeit with a decent chunk of change in their bank accounts.
This is an example from the high stress deal making Investment Banking world and appreciate others won’t have the same situation (but it’s to prove a point that it exists).
I see why it’s an attractive career option. I myself was part-way through the interview process at Goldman Sachs in New York City when the financial crisis hit. So, I never knew what it might have been like if they’d hired me. But I wanted to be there and experience it.
But looking back I see this work hard then burnout cycle repeat itself in my career.
I can count 3 or 4 instances of this where it has been significant for me.
I’ve always worked hard and considered myself as operating like a business owner in any entity I worked for. Doing what was best for customers, stakeholders and the future of the business (even if that wasn’t always viewed positively by more senior managers – as they were looking at shorter term deliverables and figures).
The problem is I was buying into this work ethic.
Work hard, you’ll be rewarded, then you’ll be successful.
But I was missing the crucial element to this.
I was giving every ounce of my energy and soul to my work.
I’d take on too many tasks or projects without necessarily asking managers how to re-prioritise these or which deadlines to move. This would mean longer hours, putting some extra time in on a weekend to get ahead or to catch up from the last week.
My sleep would be poorer waking up thinking about the things that awaited me in the day ahead. I would drink more coffee and eat more sugary snacks to give me that sugar and caffeine high to keep working away. Being tired at the end of the day I’d neglect going to the gym or seeing friends and family.
And this can only last so long before something breaks.
On at least 2 occasions I have left a role due to massive declines in health. I knew it was bad when I was throwing up after work from the stress, having constant stomach pains, or getting angry with colleagues, and even on rare occasions with clients. And I’m typically a laid-back and personable chap.
In the build up to these major life events, rather than pick up on the alarm bells and warning signs, I’d ignore them or have some holiday time, then return to work. Only to feel the symptoms in the background.
After all, rest is for losers right? Only those that work hard succeed. Admitting we aren’t well is weakness!
My thinking has massively changed on this topic in more recent years. And I think of this as more people will be returning to the office after working from home for a year.
Working solidly only leads to less productive work.
I recently read the book REST by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. One of the main lessons I got is that the greats like Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens would work in chunks of productive time. Then typically stop working at e.g. 2pm in the afternoon to spend time walking, reading or relaxing. This would help the mind to ruminate on the day’s work and be refreshed for focused work the next day.
But we live in a culture where if you work in an office environment you are meant to be there between certain hours as we are paid for X hours per week. Even if you’ve come in an hour early and want to leave an hour early as your work is finished for the day, you might get the snide comments of “Glad you could join us today you part-timer!”
So inevitably, most stay at the office to put in the day’s “face time” and to be present.
I love the term presenteeism. Meaning you are physically in the office, but for a certain amount of time each day you are mentally booking your next holiday, texting friends, thinking about getting a new job, or about what’s for dinner.
My hope once the pandemic and lockdowns start to become a more distant memory, that we will have learned a great deal as to what benefits we have gained rather than return to all the BS of the old school workplace environment.
This also goes for the thinking in the world of entrepreneurs.
Working on a passion can also be dangerous. It’s very easy to always find something else to work on or complete. And with it, neglect that much needed space, thinking time and rest to be more productive.
4 of my main arguments for getting rest in.
Being Refreshed and Energised – we are more likely to do higher quality work and be more productive. Whether a business owner or managing others, this should be highly valued rather than see who has done the most hours.
Health – once reaching a point of burn out, I typically found in my career that it’s time to move on. So, as managers and employers you may be losing for good the employees that care the most about the business and work the hardest.
Better Humans – we aren’t designed to be working full on for extended periods of time and expect to be as efficient and effective.
Rest is Achievement – it can be seen as time where we are not achieving. But it actually is. That 60 minute walk, or nap, or play time with the kids, it’s all achieving other things for your wellbeing and social connections.
I am still working on this, so I have by no means perfected the art of resting, but I am now planning this into each day. I typically combine reading time and the occasional siesta in the afternoon or having a walk in the sun.
I’m finding my thinking is clearer, I’ve got more ideas and I have less of a brain fog.
So rather than plough on and think about squeezing in more work, what can you do that incorporates some connection with people you care about? Or involves something you love such as reading, cooking or listening to music? Or builds in some exercise each day? Even a short walk, or a few minutes on the exercise bike, or some yoga all adds up.
So, if you are starting to pick up on those burn out warning signs, remember what awaits the wicked that aren’t resting.
Your health is your only wealth.
Look after it and it will repay you. Abuse it and there may not be the time to enjoy the fruits of all that hard work.