Inspiration vs Perspiration

by  Deb Costello  |  Workplace Issues

“Why do you work so hard?” I used to ask my dad that question. He was on the road a lot when I was a kid. I wished that he was home more often. He told me he had to work. I say that to my kids now when they want to do something and I cannot. I have to work.

I have to work. I really do. As teachers, my husband and I both work to keep the fridge stocked and the roof repaired. Our growing sons need cleats and books and piano lessons. But I work for myself too. I need the satisfaction of my job. Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my kids, but I also need the challenge of work. By the end of summer vacation I am chomping at the bit to work. I need to work, AND I want to work. It is who I am.

I believe in what I do. I am inspired by my school’s mission, by our goals, our values. I helped write these goals, conceive this mission. And so I work for them, as hard as I can. I think about how I can do my job better. I design curriculum that I think will connect with today’s teenagers. I attend all the training I can find, read everything I can lay my hands on. I love my job and know I am blessed to be working in a profession I love. I do not take this for granted.

But I know this is not the same for everyone. Most people have to work to survive. People need to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Work is not optional, and it is just work. It is hard. It wears us down and makes us long for Saturday. It is work. We do it because we must, but do we love work? Are we inspired to excel, to learn, to grow? Do we ache to go back after a long vacation?

You are a leader in your work whether you have that title or not. People see you do your job. Do you do it joyfully or are you working for the weekend? Do you do your best or are you just checking the boxes? Look around you. Can you help create and be a part of a culture, a company that changes how it thinks about the work? What if hard work wasn’t really work at all? And if it’s not work, is it really hard?

Inspiration or perspiration?

Why do you work so hard?

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What People Are Saying

Mila Araujo  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

This is a great post and truly does represent two very different types of workers. I knew someone once who said that they “hated working” and I couldn’t believe the statement. I knew this person well, and from everything I saw, they worked hard. When I got to the bottom of it, the reality was, they perceived work as some kind of punch card chore – where exactly as you describe – the person is there to sweat it out and take home some pay. Not because they want to be there, or love to be there, simply because it just was a means to an end. The funny thing about this person was that they spent a great deal of time training in the gym, and writing. There was a high level of dedication to these things, and so I asked them if they hate work, why do they do all of that? They didn’t consider these things work – even though the writing was compensated… In their mind work was a bad word, only used to describe the perspire option. For them, it only described the aspect of their work they truly did not connect with…The reality is, anyone can love working, the key is to be paid for what you love, to be interested in what you are doing- and perhaps even have goals that you see accomplished regularly, no matter how small. If you love what you are doing – you actually end up just being and creating and “working” and I believe this is just an extension of natural behavior. I work hard, and I love it. Thanks for writing this up in this manner. Very nice post. :)

Deborah Costello  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thanks Mia for your thoughtful response. It is so easy to be sucked into a culture of perspiration, and I keep reminding myself that I can choose to be inspired and to inspire instead. This too can be a challenge, but one I feel is so worth taking on. Hope your work inspires you!

Craig Juengling  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

After having worked in health care for 22 years, I left to pursue a real passion to help others through Executive Coaching. I am blessed, I love what I do. Yes, I fret about money, getting new clients and whether I am making a difference in the world. But for the first time in a long time, the teaching, coaching, speaking bring real joy to me. I just hope (sometimes I really do know when my clients’ celebrate victories large and small) that I leave the world and workplace a better one.


Deborah Costello  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thank you Craig for sharing your story. I think it is exceptionally brave to take a risk and leave what you know to pursue a dream. I think that people can be inspiring in whatever they do. To do your work well, with passion and commitment, joy and compassion, these seem so key. It is exciting to see you find all those things in a new position. When you bring your inspiration to the table, so many others seem to follow! Thank you for your thoughts! I am inspired!

Bob  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

I wouldn’t say you work hard- you get 3 months off every year and work 8-3 mon-fri. That’s a cake walk and the reason most teachers only make about 50k a year.

Brigid  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Bob, the perception that teachers only work when they are with students is incredibly wrong. Teachers work prior to the school day starting and the majority of teachers will not finish work until 5 or 6 each evening. Add to that weekends, evenings, part of the school holidays for the supervision and management of extracurricular activities. Professional development is required but not often funded within the school week. Historically, teaching has been seen as a nurturing role, traditionally associated with women and as a result, under renumerated.

Deborah, great post. I’ve found that so many teachers teach because of their vocation for it rather than it just being a job.

Deb Costello  |  07 Apr 2011  | 


Thank you for your kind words. I do agree that most teachers I know work very hard, and much longer hours than the school days. I never intended this post to be a conversation about education or any other profession in particular, but only to convey that as leaders we have an opportunity to lead ourselves effectively and as a result, affect the culture of the workplace. I do love my job. It is fulfilling in a way that no about of money can replace. I hope you feel the same way about your job.
I hope all of us can find something to love about our work and to convey that joy to those around us.

I appreciate your support and willingness to chime in.

Deb Costello  |  06 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Hi Bob,

Correct me if I am wrong, but I actually think we’ve talked before on twitter, an exchange of course frustratingly limited to 140 characters at a time. I am really happy that you decided to join our converstaion at leadchange.

Perhaps maybe we should talk about what it means to work hard. In your comment you equate hard work with simply putting in long hours. I think hard work can include long hours, but that is not the whole idea. I could dig a hole from 8-3 Monday-Friday for 9 months and I think you would agree that I am working hard for that amount of time. I may or may not earn $50,000 for that task, but that is not the point. That work is hard and I am more than willing to give props to all those that work hard in this way.

I could also work hard at another job, say writing a novel from 8-3, Monday-Friday for 9 months. This is not physical work, but it is hard work in another sense. It is intellectually challenging and requires meticulous attention to detail. Again I give props to those who work hard in this way.

I hope my post suggested that if you are working really hard, that you think about whether you could change how you think about work. When the work is something you love, something you can commit to because it is something you believe in and support, it makes the quality of our work better and the negatives easier to deal with. And because most of us work collaboratively or at least cooperatively, this change in focus is witnessed by others and contributes to the overall culture of the workplace.

In the end I have a suspicion that one thing you enjoy is stirring the pot. I can leap to the defense of myself and teachers as a whole, but just as I hardly know you, you hardly know me, and unless you have actually been a teacher, I think the debate is pointless.

I will mention only this. The future of education and our youth lies in the hands of those teachers you distain. Perhaps you will consider that as you tear them down, showing even the best of them equal disrespect. If we do nothing to build them up, nothing to repair the damage done by sweeping, callous statements, we leave our educational system and our youth with nothing but broken pieces.

I thank you for you comments, for all criticism is an opportunity to learn.

Susan Mazza  |  07 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Excellent Deb. The bottom line is we ALWAYS have a choice about how we relate to our work. I too have to work to provide for my family. I have had jobs I didn’t love. But I have always chosen to find something about my work I love and focus as much as possible there while seeking something that is a better fit. For me, as long as there are people and something to learn I can love whatever I must do for the moment. Now I am in the fortunate position to do work I absolutely love. But it didn’t just happen – I had to work hard to get here and continue to have to work hard to make my whole life work. Some of the things I have to do to be in business still feel like work. sometimes it is even painfully hard. Yet more and more of what I do doesn’t feel like work at all. Some people say I am lucky. I say I just chose well.

Deb Costello  |  07 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thank you for your thoughts Susan. We all know those people that are negative and bring everyone down with their words and deeds. The challenge is to be a different kind of person, one that lifts everyone up with behavior worth emulating. I also think that when you lead yourself in this way, you end up having even more choices, and it is choices that I am truly grateful for.

Susan Mazza  |  07 Apr 2011  |  Reply

For me, the real issue you are pointing to is this: we have to break our obsession as a culture with the belief that hard work equals lots of hours and that hours worked equal value contributed.

With all due respect Bob that’s like saying just because someone shows up to an office from 7am to 7pm and never takes vacation that means they are working hard. Some employees, regardless of their profession do the minimum necessary. I’ve seen highly paid people sit at their desks pretending to work into the evening and leave as soon as the boss walked out the door to be perceived as working hard. I worked for someone who worked weekends and never took more than a day or two off – we later found out he was defrauding the company. I also know people who make huge incomes and choose to take 3 months of the year off.

And while I am not a teacher, I do know lots of them. Not one of them “works” only 8-3 – The teachers I have coached and the teachers who have taught my daughter are professionals who work very hard to make a difference for our kids and never stop learning and growing on or off the clock.

Our systems – not our education system, our government, nor the corporations that drive our economy – will never transform until we start addressing the beliefs that keep them stuck. I think this is one of those beliefs.

Deb Costello  |  07 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Perhaps this is an issue of quantity vs. quality. In education we are thinking hard about whether the things we do create healthy, productive citizens or stressed out, worried kids. Homework is one example. How much is too much and is it work of value or just work?

Business might think about this too. Are your workers most productive, innovative, and efficient when they are exhausted. Of course not. Just as we need a new metric to measure effective teaching, perhaps we need a new metric to measure effective work in our own workplaces. We need to measure more than just hours of work in order to assess value. It assumes that every person does exactly the same amount of work in each unit of time, a concept that is clearly false.

Randy Bosch  |  12 May 2011  |  Reply

Inspiration is not a “one off” event, it catalyzes the future. That requires perseverence. As Newt said,”Perseverence is the hard work you do arter you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Deborah Costello  |  12 May 2011  |  Reply

Hi Randy,

Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I agree that inspiration is ongoing and requires perseverance. Perhaps I should not have made this sound so much like an either this or that scenario. Certainly my intention is always that we persevere. My thought was that we should persevere in a direction that is satisfying and fulfilling, one that builds us and our communities. In this way our work is less simple perspiration and more simply inspiring. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.”

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