Mistaking My Power of Denial for Work Ethic

I have always been proud of my work ethic. I can work hard. I can endure a lot. Success in my career demonstrates this. I don’t have a high school diploma or college degree, and yet I make a good living, I am self-employed, doing exactly what interests me, and in pretty high demand within my industry. It all seems directly related to my work ethic. However, as I spend time unpacking my journey this year, I realized that what I see as work ethic is actually much, much more complex.

I can historically work 12+ hour days. It has always been my dumb self-employed joke: “Being a small business owner is great, because you only have to work half days–you just have to decide which 12 hours you are going to work.” While most of the last 20 years of my career has been working in a digital world, prior to that I worked construction, rock work, landscaping, and cutting firewood. In both situations I can usually go the distance and pull all nighters to release a product, or work sun up to sun down to make sure I get two cords of wood cut. I’ve always believed it was my work ethic that allowed me to push on through, but now that I reassess much of my earlier live(s), I realize a significant portion of it is driven by my incredible powers of denial.

One of the reasons I can work so long and hard is that I can also disconnect from the impact this work has on others around me. And as I’ve learned over the last couple of years, a profound ability to be in denial about the impact this work has on me. I was trained from early on to not acknowledge the bullshit going on around me, do not discuss your feelings, and just move forward at all cost. Ignoring the toll on yourself, and those around you. You get so good at doing this you do not realize that you are negatively impacting anyone, and it becomes just a positive–you are getting the work done. (#winning) It takes work ethic to be able to have this kind of stick to it right? That is what they tell us. That is often what we all believe. All in the name of getting the work done.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I will ever be able to unwind fully what is done. I enjoy my work. I’ve sufficiently run off most friends and family along the way. Even with this realization it isn’t like I can reverse course and change who I am completely. I love what I do for a living, and I don’t see 12 hour work days as a bad thing, when you enjoy what you do. I’m an introvert, so being social really doesn’t bring any value to the table for me. I guess my primary motivation in unpacking this is to ensure I take care of myself, and I take care of those I love most within my circle. I’ll maintain my “work ethic” as it stands, but I’ll at least be able to see it for what it really is now. Being more honest about who I am, and how I do what I do.