We work so hard because of belonging

I was listening to a podcast recently about how our habits at work actually cause worse health outcomes than second-hand smoke. And I started to wonder: Why is the case? Why do we work in such a way that we die sooner, get sick more, and live miserable lives?

The answer was simple: belonging.

One of the stories on the podcast was by a young financial analyst talking about being an intern at a big firm. He talked about keeping a pillow under his desk and working 36 – 48 hour days. And at first I thought he worked this hard because of money—and of course that was one of the factors—but the more I listened to him the more I realized that what he talked about wasn’t what he hoped to earn, but about the culture of work that surrounded him.

He had joined a tribe where this was the entrance rite, and who was he to question the mythos? And I realized how true this is for all of us. We have the rites and rituals of our families; how we are and aren’t supposed to talk about money or sex. We have the rites and rituals of our towns and churches; playing out the same roles again and again—jock, geek, outcast. Like a slowly looping version of The Breakfast Club playing out in our lives.

We fight wars and discriminate against those unlike us, all in the name of belonging to the people we have chosen to tribe with.

The good news is that once we see how these rites and ties bind us, we can decide how we want to relate to them. Whether or not the rituals serve us and whether this tribe lives the values it espouses. And over time—and with much practice—we realize that we can belong to tribe of one, a tribe that references our own deep wisdom and compassion.

This is the path of true self-leadership. And though it’s not an easy one to walk, it’s better than treating ourselves like the plow horses on someone else’s farm.