23 April 2009

Don't work too hard

Yesterday, I was judged for working hard.

The judger, let's call her T, is a student in a different scientific field with whom I have frequent contact. T and I are both defending our Masters theses next week, and we've previously discussed our writing progress with each other. We have very different personality types---I am more confrontational, more explicit and more organized while T seems more laid-back and free-flowing. Yesterday, as I was taking a break from another marathon session in my lab, we had the following exchange:

T: "When is your thesis due?"
R: "Well, I handed in a draft to my committee already, but it still needs a lot of work."
T: "Oh." ::judging vibes:: "They told me to hand in my thesis a week before my defense, so I did that."
R: "Yeah, I did that too, but I'm going to continue working on it."
T: "Oh."

I may be overly sensitive, but I'm pretty sure the judging vibes I felt were real: I was weird for continuing to work on my thesis after I'd submitted it to my committee. Why would I do that extra work, if it wasn't going to be determining my grade?

I work my butt off because if I don't, I feel like I haven't done enough; I'm proud of what I can accomplish when I work really hard. I'm tired of being the odd one for spending hours in lab improving a research method or agonizing over a section of my thesis. I'm so looking forward to going to a school where hard work isn't some bizarre behavior, but is instead seen as an admirable quality. I'm not working hard so that I can be patted on the head by others, but I do care about how I'm perceived, and I'm tired of the subtle judgments that come from friends who mean well but just don't understand.

One of my least favorite phrases is "don't work too hard." I get it all the time---from my parents, from friends, from strangers selling me sandwiches at the deli. I've started to respond with something like "I work hard, but it's because I want to;" I'm hoping this kind of response will make them think about what they're really saying with that phrase. Do they mean "don't achieve at your full potential"? "what you're doing isn't that important"? "don't take pride in your work"? "just be adequate"?

I know most people who use "don't work too hard" are at worst spouting meaningless phrases and at best trying to give me good advice. You know what? I don't want your advice. I want to work hard and be respected for it!

Grad school, here I come!


  1. I think it's unhealthy to go to an extreme, say, >65 hours a week. It can dissipate one's energy quickly.

    My principle is to work hard during 9-6 and try to forget research during the rest of the time.

  2. good for you, i'm glad you're able to work hard... if it were me i'd be worried i'm missing out on other things in life such as a boyfriend! i too am in grad school in a scientific field (so i'm not a moron!) however, for what's it's worth i believe our society has become too obsessed with hard work and doesn't know how to "smell the roses" think the life depicted in movies such as chocolat or under the tuscan sun. Those slow by gone days were people enjoyed life. i would go back to those in a second! my idea of hard work is to spend hours in the kitchen making a fancy cake or taking a 4 hour hike in the forest... not sitting in a lab! But i appreciate your willingness to work - good for you! (and i genuinely mean it... whatever makes you happy)

  3. I couldn't agree more with the "Don't work too hard" saying. My father in law seems to slip that little comment in every time I leave his company. I don't know if he is serious or if he is making a cut at my job. :/

  4. People say "don't work too hard," because working too hard is usually a sign that somebody is avoiding friends, family, or something else important in their lives.

  5. dont work too hard means they are making a crack or joke at your expense to join the freemasons or another organization. these people get off on saying that in order to spark your interest, all they want you to do is be under them so they can teach you a lesson that you already know. its stupid.

  6. Work hard - yes. But take breaks and don't let yourself get exhausted. There is a difference between working hard and working too hard.