“Hard Work Never Killed Anyone” – Really?

I’d bet that, as a kid, you heard the phrase “Hard work never killed anyone.

I can see why parents and teachers say it. After all, kids are prone to whining – about homework, chores, or anything that’s not exactly a lot of fun.

As adults, we’re sometimes averse to hard work too. Maybe we procrastinate, or we slack off.

Often, though, we work too hard. We put in long hours to impress our bosses, or simply to make a bit more money.

The thing is, Mom wasn’t telling the truth. Hard work can kill. Think about:

  • Stress-related illnesses, like migraines, high blood pressure and even heart attacks
  • Poor lifestyle choices caused by busyness (eating on the run, not exercising) that lead to long-term consequences like weight gain, diabetes, even strokes

In some working environments, and some peer groups, there’s a cult of busyness: you might end up feeling that you have to work long hours just to keep up with everyone else.

How Did We Get So Busy?

On the face of it, the long-hours culture seems odd. Over the past fifty years, technological advances mean that we’ve got all sorts of labor-saving devices that our grandparents didn’t have, like washing machines, dishwashers, computers…

In fact, a generation or two ago, people believed that by now, our main problem would be too much leisure time.

It’s not worked out like that. Some of that’s for good reasons – like our innate need to do productive, useful work. But there are a lot of not-so-good reasons too:

  • We work hard because advertisers convince us that we need to keep buying bigger and better products
  • We take on debt because banks push credit cards and unaffordable mortgages
  • We think that  “frugality” is a dirty word
  • We’ve been seduced by a culture that tells us “having it all and having it now” will make us happier

Perhaps we think that this way of life is inevitable. Our friends and colleagues all work hard, probably in jobs they don’t like very much, and let off steam at the weekends. But does it really need to be that way?

What Really Matters to You?

Prioritizing money and work above everything else can be fatal. And even if it’s not, it can come with a very hefty price tag. Do you really want to:

  • Spend the majority of your life working at something you don’t like?
  • Miss seeing your kids grow up?
  • Put money before your real values?

Your health and your happiness are important. Sure, working hard to reach your goals is a valuable trait … but it’s not the only thing that matters in life.

I know there aren’t any easy answers. I know that you might be in a situation where you have to work incredibly hard just to make ends meet. But if you’ve got any sort of choice, I’d urge you to start looking for ways to enjoy life a little more. That might mean cutting back on what you spend on things that you don’t really care too much about – and having more freedom instead.

If you’d like to explore some ways to get off the busyness treadmill, check out these great Pick the Brain posts:




Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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