Why do you work hard?

Most academics work hard, whether it is the amount of hours you spend in the lab or the efficiency and focus with which you dedicate yourself to your work. And having spend the last 2,5 years outside academia, I don't think this is much different for people outside academia. If I look around the company I work for, many people put in more hours than stated on their contract and work hard. 

But lately I've been wondering why we all work so hard? When I was in academia, I worked hard because I wanted to have my own lab one day, and I knew that for that I needed papers and funding. I worked hard for a long-term goal. And even though I liked doing the work, on many days I did not like the work and purely did it because of that long term goal.

Now, being outside academia, I don't have such a clear long-term goal, and I especially didn't have one when I had just transitioned outside academia. I have been working less hard than in academia, or perhaps I should say: I've been less obsessed with the feeling that I have to work hard. But I'm still working more and harder than I technically should. And I'm trying to get a clear view for myself why I do it. Is it because I hope it will get me higher up in the company (yes, I think), is it for external recognition (yes I guess), is it because I like doing the work (yes, on most days), is it because this is the example my parents have given me (yes, both my parents worked hard and outside of their official working hours)?

What about you? Why do you work hard? Or do you like your work so much that it never feels like hard work, but rather like being allowed to play around all day?

More recent discussions on this here, here and here.

7 responses so far

  • Doctor_PMS says:

    In general, I believe I do work hard. But mostly, I still have that "academic guilt" that I could (and I should) be working harder! I'm not sure why, but it seems academia leaves an imprint on you that it's hard to let go, even when you leave. The constant pressure to work on weekends, that you should ALWAYS be writing! It's getting better, but I wonder if this will ever go away...

    • wally says:

      I constantly feel like I should be working hard (and that I could be working harder as well). But I'm pretty sure I both could and should! 🙂

  • Pawel says:

    I think some people are just very intrinsically driven. They always want to do a better job than everybody else, they want to get things right. They stay at work longer because they are impatient to see the results, they love the challenge, and they can feel a faint sense of superiority over their "normal" peers. These are the people who typically do well in the competitive world of academia, and working long hours is a symptom rather than the cause. I discussed that in a blog post http://www.pawelthebiologist.com/40h-work-week-academia/ a couple of days ago.

  • […] Edit: Another cool post, this time from someone who has left the ivory tower, but says that old habits die hard. […]

  • mzspectrum says:

    My wife is a teacher at a very high performing public school in an otherwise crap district. During the year she works harder than me (and I make sure to take care of things so she can, hard to deal with stuff when you can't do appointments during the work day). She has never been in "academia." She has a guilt of not grading papers or prepping lessons.

    It is just an intrinsic motivation to perform.

    I would love to think that academia can imprint this on people, but I honestly don't think it is true.

  • babyattachmode says:

    I'm actually also not so sure this is purely an "academic guilt" thing. I see a lot of colleagues who do not come from academia (marketeers, team leaders, project managers, etc) who still work more and harder than is expected from them on paper.

  • mzspectrum says:

    Other thing though, that I don't see mentioned too much, is how much frustration over things motivates me and a few other scientists I know.

    We work harder at some things because of the way we feel the project has been handled in an unsatisfactory manner by others (others in the field, co-workers, reports/trainees).

    Frustration is really an under-reported motivating factor, and probably is a long-term unhealthy one?

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