‘Are you working as hard as you can? Why?’

Sounds like a question Michael Scott (Former Branch Manager, Dunder Mifflin Inc.) might ask us in one of his talking heads. And although it did make me laugh out loud, The Office isn’t actually where I heard it.

I read this question in a Laughing Sage Wellness Group (phenomenal holistic women’s health clinic) curriculum. And it made me laugh. One of those buddha belly, koan laughs. You know, where you think you’re on the right page, going along, understanding everything – when you suddenly get slapped up-side the head from the opposite direction:

‘Are you working as hard as you can?’ ‘Yes!,’ my internal monologue kicks into high gear, ‘Yes I am. Wait … well, I’m trying anyway. Trying really hard. I guess I could try harder in some ways. I guess I could do better… maybe I’m not really working as hard as I could. … I guess, I mean, I’m probably not. Okay, I know, I’ll try harder. I’ll work harder. I’ll …’ It is absolutely astonishing, and indeed even miraculous, that all these thoughts can surface instantaneously, in addition to sequentially, between the end of the first question and the beginning of the second: ‘Why?’

‘Okay, you, little eager-beaver-bunny, why are you working so hard? And now, even more: why so eager, maybe even desperate, to work as hard as you can?’ I look up to see that instead of reading ‘good and virtuous student’ reflected back to me on the zen master’s face it plainly says ‘fool’.

Why do we try to get to this?:

Because, you know, you could always do more, try harder, until you can’t. Until it’s absolutely impossible. – Which brings you somewhere in the near vicinity of the image above.

Don’t get me wrong. I know why we try hard, and even why we try as hard as we can sometimes. I know the virtuous and even intelligent reasons, like integrity, or taking the risk and finding the courage to really throw all of yourself into something, or to express dedication and devotion. I know these reasons, and they are good and true.

The trick is to make sure that this honest and earnest and good, part of yourself isn’t being co-opted and used in service of an agenda that isn’t your own. That it isn’t being exploited. Like when a wife says to her husband, ‘If you really loved me you would …’; or a father says to his son, ‘If you were a man would …’. And because we are, or at least want deeply to be whatever it is they are throwing around, we get coerced into taking action. We get coerced into proving it. In the case of working hard, we get coerced into proving that we are worthy. That we are worthy of success. That we are worthy of the fruits of our labor. That we are not ‘entitled’, but entirely responsible for our success. And we are no longer trying hard because it feels good and we want to, but in order to prove our worth. And to justify our existence. It’s insidious. And it’s propaganda. Sad, sad communist-Russia-style propaganda. Look:


Work hard. Try hard. Even try as hard as you can sometimes. But do it because of how good it feels to break a sweat. Not, to prove you that are not lazy, or to prove you are deserving. That conversation is a losing battle, because you could always do more. (And this has more to do with the existence of time, as a dimension, than it does with human laziness.) The only way to resolve that conversation in your life, i.e. to make it go away, is to shut it down. Like really bad advertising, or maybe you’d want to call it ‘good’ advertising: it’s low and manipulative. It’s not sophisticated, and it’s not even in the realm of truth. You don’t need to answer it, you don’t even need to engage: just slowly, or better yet quickly, walk away.