Hard Work is Not Noble—The Protestant’s Had it All Wrong!

Are Your Personal Beliefs About Wealth and Money Holding You Back? (Mine Were!)

Growing up in New England, my personal beliefs and attitudes about work were shaped—secretly—by long-held Puritanical ideals that seeped into my brain from the well-water I drank as a kid. Sort of. Now I realize that those beliefs weren’t doing me any favors when it came to making more money, getting a better job, and truly living a wealthy life. By reexamining everything I’d ever been taught, learned, or inherited through osmosis about work, I’ve freed myself from some truly inhibiting behaviors.

Hard Work Is in the Blood

My Father’s Work Shed

I grew up what economists would call rural poor—though thankfully I never knew just how little money my parents had until after they had both passed.

Our family was a large “blended” assortment that spread out and twisted and turned and was—frankly a little hard for a kid like me to wrap his head around. So many uncles (some of whom were actually cousins), aunts (at least one of whom was a step-sister-in-law), nieces (who were older than me), brothers (one of which I only recently found out wasn’t biologically related), sisters (who liked to dress me as a girl), and various other offshoots that spread all over the state and beyond!

The defining trait or characteristic I’d always assigned to my entire family was that they were hard-working, decent folks. We have a long history of tough-as-nails ancestors. One of my great-great (maybe another great?) grandfathers was the first settler to build a log cabin in the town in which I grew up. My grandfather was a lumber jack who swung a double-bitted axe and led teams of horses before and after going to France during the First World War to ride in the cavalry. My uncle worked his ass running massive steam-shovels at strip mining operations in the Midwest after fighting off the Japanese in the Pacific During World War II. My father lied about his age, went into the Navy early to fight the Koreans and came out trained as an electrician. He held a variety of jobs from crane operator, log truck driver, self-employed building contractor, cop—you name it, he did it.

Long story short, everybody poured their blood and sweat (though no tears because us tough Downeasters we don’t cry) into everything they did.

And none of my relatives ever got rich—or even remotely wealthy in the monetary sense—with the exception of my brother who graduated with a degree in architecture and has done a lot of secretive work for various government agencies.

We all lived in modest (read that as tiny and run-down) houses on small plots of land, usually not too far from those we grew up on. We might splurge on third-hand pop-up campers, seriously refurbished ATVS, or an annual vacation to the next state over but most of us lived paycheck-to-paycheck.

My Happy Life as a Wage Slave

And I was squarely in that boat too. My first real job was working at a convenience store (run by my sister) for $4.00 per hour. My first real leg up in the world was when I started working at another convenience store (not run by my sister) for $4.25 per hour! But there I was, sweeping floors, hosing down the meat cutting room, slicing bologna and absolutely loving my $100 paychecks! Wow! I had money to buy fast food lunches, put gas in the tank, multiply my Star Wars action figure collection exponentially, and maybe have $20 left over before next payday—if I was lucky.

I just new that if I put my nose to the grindstone, worked extra hard, and did my job better than anyone else, I’d be going places. (And I did, sort of.) I moved from clerk to department manager, to store supervisor, and my first two raises came when the government raised minimum wage. Seven years later I was:

  • Cutting meat
  • Running one department
  • Assisting in the running of another
  • Running a forklift and unloading all the trucks
  • In charge of the store at night (including counting all the tills and locking up!)

And I was making $2.50 more than minimum wage. That was money that I thought was good—I didn’t know any better at the time.

That’s not to say I or any of my family members weren’t happy. In fact, I those of us with the least money had the most fun. But that is to say that all of that hard work—physical, back-breaking stuff in some cases (literally)—didn’t really result in mountains of money or even financial security that we’d all been promised.

And we weren’t alone. As Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks noted in a 2007 edition of Wall Street Journal, most Americans enjoy working–regardless of whether they’re making any real money at it!

“There is no difference at all between those with above- and below-average incomes: Nine in 10 are satisfied (with their jobs), as are people without college degrees. Eighty-seven percent of people who call themselves ‘working class’ are satisfied.”

I realize now that at least some of this contentment stemmed from the fact that I was a powerfully shy introvert and didn’t like the idea of “punching above my weight” because it would add what I deemed unnecessary stress to my life. (Are you an introvert? If so, what type? Learn more about introvert personality traits and how to make them work for you rather than against you.)

Work Hard and Be Rewarded (Maybe)

Has your Puritan work ethic limited your potential income for years? 

You can’t really blame a buckle-shoe-wearing religious refugee for an idea that has held you back all your life, can you? This long-standing Protestant idea that permeates New England that hard work will be rewarded has been interwoven in the collective conscious of so many of us—including most of my family members—that we perceive it as reality. However, as I mentioned above, when I started examining these case studies closely, the hard work didn’t equal financial security.

Now you can argue that the Protestants were talking about hard work resulting in salvation (like your sweat equity would transform into a ticket to heaven)—which is true. But that belief has morphed over centuries to revolve primarily around money. It has been fed by people on both ends of the wealth spectrum:  those on the poor side believing the labor will raise them up, those on the rich end of the spectrum knowing their fortunes are built on the backs of those laborers.

Don’t Let Your Beliefs About Wealth Limit You

I have been questioning this belief for a while now, having worked as a copywriter for almost two decades, writing almost exclusively for internet entrepreneurs building wealth funnels and increasing their passive income while they let all the contractors and freelancers do that actual work. I work for a week on a project, charge $150 or so, they use it to repeatedly sell a product for $500 or more to thousands of people and just rake in the dough.

However, when I read Jen Sincero’s book You’re a Badass at Making Money, it really shook some long-standing ideas I held deeply about money, wealth, my attitude toward rich folks, my kinship with poorer folks, and just how those attitudes all shaped the reality in which I was living.

Sincero helped me recognize the limitations that my ingrained attitude toward wealth had saddled me with. Even decades after leaving that minimum wage job and progressing up the retail management chain far beyond that young boy who was happy with Burger King and Luke Skywalker, I was still laboring under the idea that the only way I could hope to get rich (or at least pad my paycheck to the point of true security) was to put in more hours, do more in the time I had, and somehow hope that somebody would notice and pour money down on me from on high!

Hard work does not equate to wealth—at least not anymore.

My Dad’s office where he ordered materials, invoiced clients, balanced books–the center of his financial world

The wealthiest people in the world do (measurably) less “work” than the average middle class wage earner. Sure, some of them put in tremendous hours, take pride in what they do, and come home exhausted every night but when you line them up against a single mother working two jobs to support her kids while struggling to pay for food, childcare, and medical necessities, the disparity is mind-blowing!

That’s when I decided to finally bury this Puritanical mindset that has held me back and really accept the facts:

  1. I want (and need) to be wealthy to live the type of life I want to live and do the things I want to do.
  2. My time is infinitely more valuable to me than any dollar figure an employer can put on it.
  3. I cannot continue to trade my time for subsistence-level income.
  4. I have valuable experience in areas outside retail that I can leverage to make more money and improve the quality of my life.
  5. I have fueled the drive and desire to hit my financial goals to the point where success is seemingly inevitable.

True to My Roots (But Free from Their Limitations)

Reading all that, you might get the impression that I somehow resent my upbringing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though I’m a powerful introvert and don’t express my feelings as freely with my family members as I would want, I love them all and reflect upon my childhood as warm, happy, fulfilling, and more than I could have ever wished for. My parents especially sacrificed so much for me—more than I knew while they were alive—that I’m forever grateful.

And while I continue on this personal journey on an Introvert’s Guide to a Wealthy Life, there are core values instilled in me via those generations who came before me that I not only hold dear but will leverage to reach my goals. Tenacity, honesty, humility, respect, kindness—these are the traits I choose to hold onto even as I hang up my buckle-shoes and start strutting down the Yellow Brick Road.

An Introvert’s Guide to a Wealthy Life is now available in Kindle, Paperback, and Hardcover editions!