Sometimes The People That Work the Hardest Are The Most Fragile

Being at the top is not always a sign of a happy, secure person

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

We all know those people. The ones that work hard on their careers. Who place great importance on doing well in their chosen field. The ones who will sacrifice a lot to ‘make it’ in the career they choose.

The ones who don’t care about self-care, self-love and being healthy. The most important thing is their career. They don’t pursue romantic relationships because ‘they don’t have time.’

They are too busy to exercise, too busy to date, too busy to look after themselves. Too busy trying to cover a fragile sense of self to focus on much else.

These people work so hard to be at the top of their field. And very often they are. They are the best lawyers, accountants and professionals. They are given awards and bill the most fees. They love staying late at work and working on weekends. People that leave work early or spend time with their families on the weekend are ‘not ambitious’. They don’t have what it takes to make it to the top.

But here is the important question:

Why do you want to make to the top?

What does being at the top mean? Does it mean you are the best at what you do? The best professional in your field? And does being at the top make you happy?

I know a few of these people. And when I think about them I feel sad. Sad, because they are trying so hard to cover up a fragile sense of self.

Not everyone who works hard and puts in the hours and makes sacrifices is insecure.

But when it becomes the most important thing, when all else fades into the background, and you spend your entire life being the best in your job. It may be a sign of deeper unhappiness. A sign of addiction.

Your job at the top will not keep you warm at night.

It will not hold your hand and make you feel better when you cry. It will not make you laugh and comfort you when you are sick and tired. It will not keep you company and go on adventures with you.

All your success means nothing when you walk through the doors of your house alone. You leave your achievements at the door. And you enter as a normal person.

I once worked at the High Court as a clerk to a Judge. Judges are strange people. They are at the top of the legal profession. To be a Judge you have to work incredibly hard and make a lot of sacrifices. You have to make your life your work and take on cases that will get you noticed. But you also have to have a ‘calling’ or a sense of community. Judges don’t earn more money than top lawyers in South Africa.

Some Judges thought they were demi-gods. They did not greet you when you walked past them or even look in your eye. I often wondered what they were like at home with their spouse or partner and children. Did they expect to be bowed to and called ‘your Lordship.” Did they struggle with suddenly being normal?

Maybe they did. But when they went home, they were just people. People like all of us struggling with everyday problems. They were not demi-gods.

And perhaps some of them did expect that treatment. Special treatment at home from friends and family. And I am sure those ones ended up with no family and friends. Because your friends and family don’t care about your career achievements. Or at least they shouldn’t. They should care whether you are kind and generous and loving. They should care about your emotional well-being and whether you are ok.

I have known many people who place too much importance in being at the top. Who works so hard they forget to take of themselves. I knew a few people at University. The ones that had to get 90% for a test or assignment otherwise they considered it a fail. Why is so important to get good marks? Does it really matter? Not once in my professional life has anyone asked me what marks I got in my bachelors. I don’t think they care.

If being at the top means spending more time at work than at home with my partner, then I don’t want to be at the top.

What are those people trying to fill up inside of them? What do they think will change if they work themselves to the bone? And does it make them happy?

I know what makes me happy.

Spending time with my partner, friends and family, being outside, running, exercise and reading books.

It feels good to do excel at work too or get good marks for a test or assignment. Because for one tiny moment you feel validated. There is outside validation that you are smart, needed and capable. That feeling is wonderful and for someone who is insecure that feeling may be addictive.

I believe in hard work and pursuing a dream. But I don’t believe your career or your job should take over your life. It should not define you and be the first thing you bring up about yourself. Because you are so much more than your career. So much more than a mark on a test or grade on an assignment. You are not your career. Some people make that mistake. They take care of their careers thinking they are taking care of themselves.

So, next time you see that friend from University. The one who within 5 minutes of meeting you asks where you are in your career or rushes to tell you about the Master's programme they are enrolled in. Don’t mistake their achievements for someone who is happy. They may be very unhappy.

I am a Lawyer, Writer, Reader and Traveller. From Johannesburg, South Africa. I am writing to find my voice. Fortune favours the brave.

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