I was sitting in the back of a taxi the other day when the driver received a phone call from his brother.
His brother, also a taxi driver, didn’t want to go to work that particular morning. He’d been receiving calls from customers but turning them down, and now he was calling his older brother to complain about their mother, who was insisting that he go to work. The conversation was loud and heated, as such conversations often are, and ended with my cab driver uttering the words: “Get dressed and go. We don’t say no to work.”
We don’t say no to work.
It’s the mindset I was raised with. We stay humble, we take what is offered to us, we are grateful for every opportunity that comes our way, we don’t say no to work.
Hard work, after all, is what lifted my father up from the slums and into a comfortable middle-class existence.
Hard work, after all, is what allowed me to get to the level of success I did in my career despite the many obstacles that stood in my way.
Hard work, after all, is something that we value as a society, the measure by which we determine whether someone’s success was deserved or not.
We don’t say no to work because we are humble, we are down to earth, we are grateful, and we put other people’s needs before our own.
These are the values I was taught anyway, and for a long time I believed in them, too.
Then, I changed my mind. Because here’s what I else I discovered: What makes you humble, down to earth, and hardworking is also what kills you. The inability to say no. To prioritize your own needs. To maintain a healthy combination of work and life. To ask for a rate that you deserve and can afford to live on. To work to live and not live to work.
According to my cab driver, his brother was lazy, incompetent, and ungrateful. Once, many years ago, I would have agreed with that analysis.
Today, I wonder if he doesn’t just have more defined boundaries.
I know I certainly do. Despite being grateful for it, I say no to work all the time. Proudly so.
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