What does it mean to have a “good work ethic?” It means that a person is consistently willing to reasonably self-exert in a range of different ways, in order to achieve worthwhile outcomes. So here is the question: Do people sometimes convince themselves that they have a good work ethic when, in reality, they are only willing to exert themselves in certain areas – and not in others?
Lets consider the case of someone who works at a job that requires strenuous manual labor. When this fellow comes home at night he is exhausted. So, you would think that a person who was willing to do that kind of a job would have to have a good work ethic, right? Maybe not.
The purpose of this article is to explore the case of people who are seemingly very diligent workers – but who also identify themselves as being kind of lazy. Sometimes this happens when an individual recognizes that their willingness to strongly exert in comfortable or familiar ways provides them with a type of “moral cover” that allows them to avoid doing other un-comfortable or un-familiar tasks.
What is labor?
Labor is focused self-exertion over time in order to achieve a desired outcome. The “focus” part means that, there are only certain results that employers are willing to pay for. Its not just the exertion that the boss wants – it is the narrowly focused exertion that gets a specific job done. Otherwise, the fellow who burns the most calories per hour at the gym would be the one who makes the most money.
This may seem counterintuitive, but, in fact, the boss does not really care whether you actually sweat or not. He only cares whether you get the job done. Of course, though, usually, “getting the job done” means focused self-exertion – and some sweat.
So we see that there are many different ways in which we can exert ourselves. But only a very small number of all of the possible “Exertion Pathways” will solve a problem that someone is willing to pay for.
What is honesty?
What is meant by honest labor? In this sense, honesty means two things:
- Making a sincere effort – in order to reach my own goals.
- Making a sincere effort – in order to reach my employer’s goals.
But aren’t those just two ways of saying the same thing? No, not always. The difference hinges on the question of who, exactly, is my employer?
Who am I really working for?
Ultimately, am I working for the boss – or for myself? For a self-employed person this is an easy question to answer. He is definitely working for himself. But for a boss-employed person, isn’t he still really working for himself? A boss-employed person is, indeed, actually working for himself. But the boss and the company form a “Shell” around the worker that may prevent him from clearly seeing it.
So, if I think of myself as working for the boss, then “an honest day’s labor” means that I do what the boss tells me to do. But what if I think of myself as the boss? (This gets tricky when I am employed by another person who thinks that he is the boss.) For various reasons (mainly psychological in nature) it is easy to forget who the real boss is.
The main problem comes up in those cases in which the best-interests of the boss do not match up with my own best interests. Specifically, the boss has a certain plan for me. He wants me to continue to be available to work for him at the times that he likes and for the wages that he likes. But is his plan also in my best interests?
The Shell Job versus the Real Job
What is the real job that each of us faces in life? The answer to this depends upon the answer to the question: “Who am I really working for”? If someone else is the boss, then the job is to: “Do what the boss tells me to do, so I can get my pay.” But if I am the boss (even though I may be working inside the shell of an external boss), then the job is to: “Do whatever I can (legally) in order to make the most money.”
This distinction goes to the heart of the idea of “honest labor”. To summarize:
- Shell Job: Do what the boss tells me to do, so I can earn my pay.
- Real Job: Do whatever I can (legally) do in order to make the most money.
If my focus is on the Shell Job, then I may end up staying in a dead-end position – since that is what the boss wants! But if my focus is on the Real Job, then I need to be regularly reviewing the big picture to see if there should be any top-level changes that I should be making – either within the Shell or outside of the Shell.
But “regularly reviewing the big picture” requires thinking and risk-taking. Both of which are management-level functions. Most people shy away from these very fruitful tasks.
There are three distinct pathways by which self-exertion can be converted into money:
- Working – it is the act of exchanging my self-exertion via my skill sets with someone who has agreed to pay me for my work product. My exertion is converted to cash on a clear and predictable schedule. I get paid every Friday at a rate of $X an hour.
- Selling – means “selling myself and my skills” by making connections with people who want to buy my skills. This is also known as “looking for a job”. My Selling effort (really networking) is converted into cash in a much less predictable way than my Working effort. I don’t get paid every Friday for my personal networking efforts – but, statistically speaking, those efforts do pay off handsomely in the long run because they make it possible to find better Working connections.
- Learning – means developing my mind and my body to create useful career skills. This kind of effort is converted into cash in a way that is similar to the Selling effort. Statistically speaking, people who invest their energy in Learning (and other areas of personal development) get an excellent return on their efforts. But, as with Selling, the payoff only happens in the long-term.
Rational balance and long-term planning
Is it fair for me to call my labor “honest” if I decline to rationally balance my exertion efforts over all three of the exertion pathways?
When the “boss” is the boss, he will only want me to exert in the Working pathway. He might also want me to exert in the Learning pathway – but it will only be in a way that he narrowly instructs me. He will definitely not want me to exert in the Selling pathway.
But the Selling and Learning pathways are absolutely necessary for a person to maximize their earning potential. Here’s a thought experiment to prove it:
- Person A – has a good job. He works 40 hours a week and another 10 hours overtime. So he takes home a nice paycheck every Friday.
- Person B – has a good job. He works 40 hours a week – but then he spends another 10 hours of his own (unpaid) time every week in Selling and Learning efforts.
Who is going to be better off in the long run – Person A or Person B? If you are unsure, then ask yourself: “How would a successful person answer this question”?
People dislike the Selling
and Learning pathways
People don’t like to admit that they dislike the Selling and Learning exertion pathways. There could be many different reasons for this “disliking to admit to disliking”. Lets take a look at two of them:
- Irrational Fears – It reminds us that we are driven by irrational fears. And these fears cause us to make poorer than necessary economic decisions and poorer than necessary time-management decisions.
- False Economic Beliefs – It challenges a belief which lies at the heart of the happy self-image. This is the belief that “I am making (fairly) reasonable and rational decisions which are in my own best interests.”
Once a person starts a job, the tendency is to stay there until things become intolerable – or until there is a clear indication that a better position is (more or less) easily available. This is commonly observed phenomenon. Of course, though, this inflexibility is often driven by a dislike of Selling and Learning.
Can a person rightly claim to have a good work ethic (i.e., living a life of “Honest Labor” in pursuit of the Real Job) if he is unwilling to strategically engage himself in the full range of Exertion Pathways?
Get help and get active
So how about you? Are you living a life of honest labor?
If your own answer (to yourself) is “Yes” – then good for you. You will, most likely become successful in your endeavors as you continue on in your lifestyle of keeping up reasonable pressure on the boundaries of your comfort zone. We sincerely wish you the best in your journey.
But what if your answer (to yourself) is “No”? Get Help Get Active is looking for people who can voluntarily say three things about themselves:
- Financial Struggle – I am struggling financially,
- Low Self-Exertion – In my own opinion, part of the problem is that I don’t make a reasonable effort in one (or more) of the three Exertion Pathways, and
- Desire To Change – I want to change, but it seems really difficult.
Change is possible. Get help and get active!