Stop Judging My Work with Your Lens

I work on Saturdays at our cowork space alone. It’s a quiet time for me, and a special time for me to be creative. I truly love it. I get to explore my mind as I create all of the content our two companies need from me. This way I work isn’t an accident. My partner and I designed my calendar with this in mind.

I work from 8:30 to 6 pm each day, Monday through Saturday. And sometimes I work a little bit on Sunday as we are pivoting our work due to the pandemic. My work week totals 60 to 65 hours a week. My partner works about that much, too. It’s what running 2 companies simultaneously takes. You may read those hours and then apply what you think about my work week through a lens of what you believe, what you think you need, how you grew up, what your boss requires, and a million other reasons why you may think I should or should not work that much. You may even believe those hours are too little, not too much. I’m not sure.

Yet, if you make any determination as to how many hours I work based on what you do and how many hours you work, then you are using a lens to judge me. I’ll explain what I mean with a quick story.

The other day I was at our cowork space on the weekend, and another cowork member was there. It’s rare that she is there. On the next Monday I saw her in the kitchen, and she said “you’re usually here on the weekends right?” I said, “Yeah, I was the one who started 2 companies, and that’s what it takes! I love what I do so it’s a lot of fun to come in on the weekends and focus on the creative aspect of my work.” She then said, “I hope you take off time for yourself away from work sometimes.” Hmmm. Now why did she say that? It could be that she was worried about me. Except that I don’t know her very well. She doesn’t know what I do or how much I actually work, except that I work pretty consistently on Saturdays. I don’t think she was truly worried (and I told her I had just taken a full day off the previous week to go hiking by myself). You might also ask, why was she there on the weekend? Turns out she was pre-planning her work because she was going to be out during the July 4th holiday. She was in a time period when she was having to work more due to her upcoming change in needs, lifestyle, etc. This is a common phenomenon with entrepreneurs. The bucks stops with them so they have to work to make up for time they will be off later.

My main point with this story is that she had a belief (or a lens) by which she was making a quick judgment about whether I was working too much or not. Why did she hope I was taking time off? Since she is not intimately involved in my work, and knows nothing about it I can only assume the lens she was using to make a judgment about my work was based on what she would want her own work to look like. Of course, I’m not totally sure that is the case – but I do know that she made some determination and judgment about my work based on her own belief system about work, whatever that is.

And this is not the first time I’ve been judged for my work schedule. Many people have beliefs about my work. My partner and I lead a lot of entrepreneurs, and many have voiced opinions about work. And it’s baffling to hear so many opinions about my work from other people that are not intimately acquainted with my work. It’s hard to determine why people feel the freedom to make those judgments, whether they even know they are doing it, or what basis they are using to make the judgment. In fact, you have a lens on work, too, and you use it as a measuring stick for other people’s work. How can your work be an accurate way to make a proper assessment on someone else’s work? You have no idea what someone else’s needs are, their calling to their work, how many companies they own, if they are in a period of extreme busyness, whether they are about to lose their business, or whether they have just received a huge project that will take a 3-month heavy commitment to finish. And there are millions of other filters we use to apply our own belief systems to other people’s work. It’s really amazing when you think about how wrong that assessment will always be. You can never know why, how, when, or what other people’s work should look like based on your own experiences. Work is so deeply personal and reflective of very intimate and special circumstances in each person’s life that a blanket judgment will most decidedly always be wrong.

However, most people have always felt the need & freedom to make quick side judgments on work based upon their own lens and without knowing the context. It’s intriguing to me, and it’s why I wanted to write about it.

There are many avenues to explore here. I have many questions. First, what is work to you? Is an artist who makes paintings for a living that has to work 65 hours a week to sustain their family working too much when they also paint for enjoyment on Sunday? Is that work, or pleasure? Are they the same thing? Recently I met an industrial designer who owns his own company, and creates industrial design products for clients as his living. But he said he always has a side project he is designing and playing around with on the weekends on his time off. He said it keeps him sharp. Is he working too much? I also piddle and play in my 1 acre yard that has a lot of trees, land, and a good bit of foliage to subdue. I do that on Sundays during the summer as good hard work that makes me sweat and toil and gain a huge sense of accomplishment. Is that work? Or not? Does it matter if I enjoyed it or not? And is it too much? What if you ‘take off work’ and go play golf – is that considered work? What if I enjoy the creative parts of my work as much as you love golf – are we then equal as far as how much time you want me to take off compared to how much time you play golf? What if I take a day off to go hike, but you work 12 hours that day – which one did it wrong? If we worked on a rice farm in rural China, would they ask me if I was going to take some time off for myself?

I’m probably becoming annoying by reiterating here; my point is that you can’t know the answers to these questions for someone else. In fact, I believe you should stop commenting on someone else’s work unless you are intimately familiar with their work, it has immediate and personal impacts on you, or their choice to work or not work could harm or help you. Your view of work (however you define that) is not my view of work. And your definition of what my family needs me to do as you apply your own intimate lens of work will most certainly not work for my schedule. So why do people do this? I have a few theories:

  1. One theory is, I think it has to do with their own insecurities of what they feel about their own work. Maybe they wonder if they work enough? Or if they are successful enough? Or if they should work like you? Or work like someone else? Or do they need to please their Mother or Father? Or their spouse? I’m getting into psychology here, but these are real deep questions as to why people do this.
  2. Another theory is that the culture of the American individual (and the Western world in general) is one of pleasure. Seemingly, our culture does not equate pleasure to work. Pleasure is wholly separate from the concept of work. In a sense, pleasure is a right that we demand from our world, our work, and our employers (and even ourselves).
  3. Another theory is based upon the concept of retirement that we have all grown up with in Western culture (retirement is truly a human-created phenomenon). I believe this is partially a leftover perception from the Industrial Age when our grandparents worked in factories for 40 years then retired with a pension. That is an old way to perceive our work in this century. I’m not saying what we have is better, I’m just saying we are applying old lenses from how we grew up or how we perceived our grandparents and parents.
  4. Another theory is based upon the lens of vacation in the Western world. This is tied to our right to pleasure from #2 above. Vacation is something you have to do at Disneyland in a bucket that is separate from work. ‘Time off’ means leaving work behind (which is almost impossible for entrepreneurs that have successful growing businesses). Shut it off, pretend it does not exist and it will be here when you get back. Vacation, or the illusory feelings a vacation is meant to create, becomes a priority for many in the Western world, and it is a lens to see the rest of the world through.

Of course, work can be out of balance. People need rest and work can impede that rest if entrepreneurs are not careful. The other side is also true. Many people don’t work enough. They rest too much (here you are hearing my own lens judge those people!). For sure, these concepts are a whole article unto themselves, but I just want to put that in here as a definite part of this important discussion. In this article, I’m only seeking to discuss the lens with which we all judge other people’s work.

You may or may not be interested in my perspective of my own work. Just in case you wanted to judge my work you would need to keep these things in mind (and I would need to know this about you if I were to judge your work with my lenses). Here are some thoughts on work you may not know (in case you are someone that is judging my work with your lens):

  1. My work used to be chaotic, out of control, and a source of stress and fear for me. I couldn’t wrangle it, I didn’t know how to get it all done. Now it is extremely ordered (something an ADHD entrepreneur needs), in place, and all laid out perfectly on a calendar.
  2. I get A LOT OF EFFECTIVE WORK done. My partner and I run 2 companies in the time it takes other entrepreneurs we lead to run 1 company. I regularly finish my work day and exclaim “I got tons done! I killed it!” This is a phrase my partner hears me exclaim pretty regularly.
  3. Because of our planning around our calendars, we know what we are doing 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months from now. It shifts and changes, of course, but we generally understand what the future looks like, so it feels fully within our control.
  4. I have two companies, so I have two different email addresses. I regularly have 10 to 30 (ten to thirty) unread emails at any one point in time combined for both companies. That’s all. The rest are going to the people and places they are meant to go.
  5. Since I have full control over my calendar, I do my best work when it is best for my mind. My Saturdays are quiet, calming, creative, and allow me to produce some of my best work (I’m writing this blog post on a Saturday).

Thank you for journeying with me on something that has baffled me for a while. I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but there are some interesting things going on with how other people feel a right to judge another person’s calendar and work. There is so much to learn here, and something that would take a lot of truth and transparency to sort through between people.

Will you let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts as to my view on work, or how you view work? It would help me greatly.

Jason is the Founder of Thriveal and the Chief Innovative Officer of his CPA firm, Blumer & Associates. He is the co-host of the Thrivecast and The Businessology Show and speaks and writes frequently for CPAs and creatives, his firm’s chosen niche. Jason loves to watch documentaries on just about anything. He lives in Greenville, SC with his wife and their three children.

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