Tag Archives: work ethic

Work as a crutch

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how I’d realised that I had been using music a way of hiding my true emotions. I also wrote one about having a strong work ethic, which I attributed to my upbringing.

Maybe I’ve been looking at things wrongly, and the first post holds a clue to the second. Just as music helped me deal with my emotions when I was a teenager and beyond, what if work did the same?

Thinking about it, why would I be so happy doing 80-plus hours a week if not to avoid thinking about things, or to avoid being at home? Why did I spend summers in a different country to my parents? Was it to learn how to be independent and to sample different ways of life, as has been discussed at length at home? Or was it to enable me to deal with (rather, that should be avoid) what I now know are negative influences?

When I was older, and married, I used to put in long weeks, often working 15 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week. When I realised that was physically bad for me (and, to a lesser extent, my relationship) I did something about it. (Admittedly it was my ex who pointed out how that level of work was affecting our marriage and my health.) But was I working ridiculous hours in those days because I was subconsciously unhappy in my relationship?

Is this just a version of the fight or flight response, where throwing yourself into work becomes “flight”? Did I really develop a powerful work ethic through the example my parents set, or did I develop it in order to spend less time at home? As I get older, I’m tending to think it is the latter.

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Where does a work ethic come from?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I’ve Become My Parents.”, I thought I’d try to explain how their example and my upbringing has imbued me with a strong work ethic.  They definitely worked hard all their lives, and now they are both retired they seem to be working harder than ever.  OK, so they’re not doing as much physical work as before, but they’re involved in so many activities, volunteer groups, committees etc they tire me out!

I’ve always believed that a good day’s work deserves a good day’s pay, and that if you want something you need to earn it.  So when I was 12 or 13 or so, and I wanted a particular jacket, I decided to find a job before or after school so I could buy it.  (My parents didn’t have the money for it, and in those days, it wasn’t unusual for youngsters of my age to be delivering papers, or milk, or working on a farm, or something like that – one of the benefits of growing up in a rural farming community I guess.)  I got myself a job delivering milk for 2 hours every morning, before school, and at the weekends I’d do an additional couple of hours to boost my pay packet.  When I’d finally earned enough to buy the much coveted jacket – another revelation.  I decided that as it had taken me x number of days or weeks to earn the money,  I didn’t want to spend it on the jacket – in my eyes, it just wasn’t worth it.  I can’t remember what I bought instead, but it was a very good lesson to learn at a relatively young age, one that I’ve remembered over the years.

Around the time I was 13 or 14, my parents bought a “new” house.  It was an old farmhouse with an acre of land, and it was all dreadfully neglected.  The first two months before we moved in Dad would pick me up from school and we’d go to the house.  We’d spend the weekend scraping wallpaper and paint, burning some of it to keep warm (it was mid-winter in Scotland) and making food on a camping gas stove.  We’d go home again on a Sunday evening to get ready for the next school week. Once we’d actually moved in, there was always work to do and as a teenager I did my share – wallpaper stripping, painting, decorating, working in the garden etc.  My regular chores were to keep the fires stocked with wood and coal, and to keep the anthracite boiler for our central heating topped up – otherwise we all got cold.

When I was 14 or 15 I decided I wanted to see a bit more of Norway, so prevailed on Mum to contact her family and friends to see if any had jobs for the following summer: a response came back offering me a couple of months working on a farm in the same part of the country my grandfather came from, so I jumped at it.  Early mornings, late finishes, lots of fresh air and lots of hard work ensued – and I loved it!  The following year, I worked in a petrol station back in Scotland.

I had a number of weekend / holiday jobs for the rest of my teens and into my college years.  I worked in petrol stations in the UK and Norway, more farms, a fish factory and the world’s northernmost nightclub in northern Norway (weekdays in the factory, weekends in the nightclub), and had a combined barman / handyman job for my college years, sometimes doing 80 hour weeks during the holidays.

All of these can be tied back to the example set by my parents, and the fact that if I wanted something I had to earn it.  Those formative years definitely imprinted a real work ethic on me, one I continue to have today.  I don’t really have the energy or  inclination to buy a house in the same condition as my parents bought, but I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to learn so many DIY skills etc while helping them out.