For better or worse, I grew up in an environment that did not allow for rest, unfinished projects, or a lack of conviction.
I was playing 150 baseball games a year by the time I was 10. They helped set me up for the 60+ basketball games later in the season.
By high school, I was a three-sport athlete, captain of the baseball team, and a 4.0 student. My dad woke me up every morning before 5am so he could take me to school - before anyone else in my class - and arrive at his work - before anyone else in his office.
My upbringing presented itself in all kinds of ways. I've had a lot of success because I'm willing to grind it out. Something inside of me is always churning. I'm never tired. I love to fight.
It has also made me extremely critical of others. Especially my partners in relationships. Perhaps as a method of self-correction, I've tended to surround myself with people who are more creative, whimsical, and in the moment. But it's only been recently that I've been able to truly admire and appreciate this type of personality.
Working hard doesn't necessarily make you important. Being early doesn't guarantee you'll have a good experience. The pendulum of awareness has begun to swing far away from the white-knuckle mentality of previous generations. People are starting to acknowledge some of the inherent struggles with powering through their feelings in the name of earning a paycheck. Even professional athletes are coming forward and talking about the crippling pressure of their roles and the expectations placed on them.
And many people are bothered by this. It offends them in their core.
I can't say why that is exactly. For me personally, I tend to get a chip on my shoulder when I've had to endure something difficult and someone else hasn't had to go through the same thing. I think that gut reaction comes from a place of wishing I never had to go through that hard experience in the first place. It is a response to wanting to be seen and acknowledged for every challenge I've overcome. When the challenges go away, what do I have left to stand on? How will I stay relevant in this new landscape?
I've been able to clear this out by looking at it from a different perspective - is this new wave of information accurate? Are we living lives that are complicated, stressful, and potentially bad for our mental health? Well, yes. Just try having a conversation with your parents or grandparents about their feelings and see how far you get.
Something definitely needs to be changed.
In recent years, we've been witness to a lot of incredibly important movements - many of them revolving around equality. And many of them are started by young people who were tired of the old ways. Many of them making the old guard defensive and outspoken.
In the end, the old way wants to say that young folks aren't tough, can't work through adversity, and don't follow through on anything.
And let's just say that is true for the sake of simplicity. Is that such a bad thing? What good actually comes from those experiences? Yes, I'm resilient. But I've also been in therapy for 12 years and am just recently capable of expressing vulnerability to a partner and building real, intimate relationships. I guess it's up to us as individuals to decide what is more important - spending a lifetime enduring pain in the name of fortitude or finding a way to harmonize our complicated emotional makeup with our professional lives.
How this is all relevant:
My industry is dominated by the young and the creative. Somewhere between boomers and Gen-Z, I am the resident village elder at Hale. A large percentage of the staff are still under 30 years old. Which, according to dooms-dayers on Facebook, should mean that I'm surrounded by lazy and utterly incompetent people.
The truth is, I've worked alongside some of the hardest working people I've ever met in my life at Hale. It has more often been the case that I'm the one reminding an employee to close their laptop for the evening or ask them when they plan to take a vacation than I am complaining about output.
Most of the hardest workers come from digital marketing agencies or were once in-house photographers/producers/etc. The business model for these types of companies hinges on paying employees as little as possible while squeezing them for every drop of creativity. When they land at Hale, I can work on unwinding them in a way that allows for productivity but also rest, time off, and respect.
We've worked hard to establish an environment that is generous and respectful. We take time to debrief every shoot, acknowledge each other for the good work we've done, and communicate in a way that is effective and considerate. It's certainly not perfect - no workplace or relationship is - but we are trying really hard.
There are always going to be people who look for the easy way out. There are also people who outright lie and cheat. But I don't think that is anyone's default. I think, more often than not, this is in response to feeling defensive, undervalued, or not listened to.
My guess is that if I was surrounded by people who didn't work hard, it would have more to do with the environment I was creating than the actual lack of people willing to show their value.
Yes, it takes a little more work these days. People are looking for more than a steady paycheck and a pension after 30 years in the same company. But isn't it time we adjust?