Lets suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is a good thing to have a good work ethic. Probably most people would agree that it is – although we could always dream up exceptions. For example, what if a person’s “good” work ethic drove them to become a workaholic? But lets assume that we are not dealing with these extreme or unusual cases.
So how does an individual end up with this elusive quality of a good work ethic? First the child is born. So far, no work ethic, per se. Then you start to grow up. Presumably, the development of the work ethic has a lot to do with the way a child is raised. Another way to look at it might be to ask the question: How does an individual develop self-control?
We learn habits – healthy and unhealthy
Lets imagine some childhood circumstances that might lead to a bad work ethic: Is the child left to choose his own bed-time? Is he allowed to eat whatever foods he likes without regard for a balanced meal? Is he allowed to misbehave without consequences?
Alternatively, are there other circumstances which could help a child to develop a good work ethic? Is the child given appropriate guidelines? Is he disciplined (in a loving and consistent way) for misbehaving? Is he required to go to bed at a certain hour?
Of course these examples are not intended to be offered as a guide for how to rear a child. Rather, we just want to point out that childhood training tends to impact adult personality traits – including work ethic.
That voice in your head
Another part of the work ethic equation might be thought of as “perceptual brainwashing.” What is the child being taught about the nature of the world – the way things really work? There are two broad classifications here. On the one hand, there are old sayings (or proverbs) which focus on personal responsibility as being key to success. Alternatively, there are other, contrary old sayings which teach that success is due to external conditions which cannot generally be affected by the choices that an individual makes.
For example, consider the case of a parent who teaches his child (by example) that the way to live life is by hard-work, studying and saving for a rainy day. Why kind of mottos will this person pass on to their child? Next, imagine a parent who teaches his child (by example) that the way to live life is by idly waiting until the government provides jobs that pay a “living” wage. Why kind of mottos will this person pass on to their child?
From the perspective of the child
Children do not like to be disciplined. It is the nature of the beast, so to speak. Every child, naturally wants to just do whatever he likes at the moment – and eat only what he likes – and go to bed only when he likes. While it is true that, at some level, children tend to gravitate toward adults who give them structure and consistency, it is also true that it is very hard for a child to resist when his attention is being drawn away by the latest toy or candy. Hence, left to their own devices, children tend to choose the life of undisciplined freedom.
From the perspective of the adult
Adults find out what life is really like. We learn that self-discipline is a good thing, because it helps us to reach our goals. People who enter adulthood with strong self-discipline skills tend to find school and work to be much easier to handle. We know that, if we can just hang on and push through the boring (but necessary) chores of life, then we will be happier at the end of the day. Hence for those adults who have a good work ethic, adult-level responsibilities are much easier to handle. Adults who do not have a good work ethic might, understandably, even feel handicapped when facing adult-level responsibilities .
One way or another, life seems to be unfair
So we see that, from the perspective of the child, a childhood of hard-work and discipline would seem much less desirable that a childhood of leasure and un-disciplined freedom. In fact, a child who is being disciplined may even look next door to his (un-disciplined) playmate and say to himself: “Life seems to be so unfair! Why do I have to go to bed at 9:00, but he gets to stay up as late as he wants?!”
By the time that we reach adulthood, our work ethic has already, largely, been set in place, whether for good or bad by the training that we receive in childhood. In this sense, an adult who was not taught to be self-disciplined as a child, might even look over at his self-disciplined neighbor and say: “Life is not fair! Why is he able to stay focused and on-task long enough to be able to complete these boring (but necessary) adult chores – but I am not?! I wish that I had gotten the same discipline and training that my neighbor got when he was growing up!”
So which is it? Is life unfair for the child who is being forced to learn self-discipline – or is life unfair for the adult who missed out on being disciplined as a child? A lot of it might depend on my perspective. In other words: Am I an adult now? Or am I still a child?
So, is there a take-home here – something that can help me to overcome my laziness? Yes there is. Although it is easiest to learn the habit of a good work ethic when we are still children, it is definitely possible to teach ourselves new habits as adults. As with any change, the hardest part is getting started. Its always toughest at the beginning – but when we keep on keeping on, there comes a point at which the new choices will become “second nature.” Every new day is a second chance to re-experience the childhood training that makes for a good work ethic.