The Myth of Working Hard and How it Keeps You Playing Small

Much of my day is spent talking with women about how worn out they get;

  • How they are tired of hitting their head up against road blocks, brick walls and glass ceilings,

  • How they are exhausted from striving for greatness and high achievement,

  • How they are worn out trying to have it all - you know, "perfect house, perfect family, cook like a master chef and constant messages to look good naked".

I'm exhausted just thinking about it! 

I guess we need to accept a little of the blame though because we're frequently recovering perfectionists who try and do everything really, really well. That small voice that comes from somewhere near your shoulder that squeaks messages of guilt, fear and shame about not measuring up unless you simply work a little harder.  It takes one to know one. That voice is/was a constant refrain for me for many years. I blame my protestant work ethic but truly, from what I've seen, that voice is non-denominational.

But maybe, just maybe, we've got it all wrong. Maybe there is another way.

Perhaps our society's reliance on and addiction to working hard, actually compounds inefficiency, makes us miss out on opportunities for improvement, or simply hides real problems. 

It's a bit like doing more and more cardio at the gym to help you lose weight.  Yes, for some people it works. But we now know that there are a range of other (sometimes more) effective strategies to lose weight that also provide significant health benefits, that don't cause as much inflammation and critically, don't leave us feeling worn out. 

If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

I'm even a little sick of very senior and seemingly successful men and women at industry conferences and events telling young professionals and women's audiences, to work harder and that hard work is all it takes.   Perhaps this is because they had to work hard as young people and it appears to be human nature to want others to walk in our own footsteps, do the hard yards just like we did in order to achieve a measure of success.

So today I'm taking a stand. I know it's controversial, but I'm calling bullish*t on this.

Working harder simply wears you out. Working harder is probably a key contributor in women leaning out. Remember how women tend to lose ambition after just two years?  Remember too how we report to feeling more stressed than men?

From a purely business sense, working harder disguises inefficiency, stifles innovation and it gets in the way of you getting ahead.   No-one promotes the stressed out, flustered and exhausted person doing all the hard work up the back of the office with their head down to avoid trouble.  And somehow many of the men in our lives know this innately.

So what can you do instead?

  • Work smarter, not harder,
  • Ask why; what is it that we're trying to achieve and is there not another way?
  • Stop being busy, start being strategic,
  • Leverage your expertise, not your time,
  • Learn to use the language of value,
  • Switch off to anyone (other than maybe your PT) who exhorts you to work harder,
  • Create your own game plan that nourishes you and sees you flourish.

After all, business and society in general doesn't need more people working hard. We need more people making a bigger difference. And you might just start seeing that you achieve far greater success than you thought possible - than when you simply worked hard.

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution


In fact, these tactics are part and parcel of getting ahead and are some of the corner stones of The Ambition Revolution Schemer Mode.  In case you aren't sure what Schemer Mode is - click here for an extract from my latest white paper entitled Feminine Ambition - How to Tackle It, Tame it and See if Flourish - which in itself is an extract from my up coming book - Step Up, Speak Out, Take Charge - a woman's guide to getting ahead in your career.

Like this?  Try another article

My mission in life is to help women to play a much bigger game – change the world if you will – and do so with big ideas, big vision and big, audacious bucket loads of confidence.
— Amanda Blesing
  • I am the creator of The Ambition Revolution – the science and art of amping smart and savvy.
  • I mentor busy professionals to ensure they remain strategic, agile and focused on the bigger game.
  • I also work with organisations who are trying to increase the profile of women in leadership, but struggling to do so
Feel like your leadership journey has stalled? Email to set up a 30 min one on one to learn more. Helping clients shift from feeling invisible to becoming invincible in just 12 months