Common work-life myths that you need to stop believing

By Tracy Brower

You’ve probably heard many tips on the best way to be fulfilled in your working and professional life. Many voices and experts will try and tell you what the secret formula is (and I include myself in that).

Some of these insights are valuable, but some are just noise. The noise can, unfortunately, create myths that hamper your work-life progress rather than help it. Here are some common ones that I’ve come across (and that you should stop believing).


There is a perception that work is drudgery. But even if your day-to-day job doesn’t make you excited to wake up in the morning, work is still a valuable part of your life. At best, work should be fulfilling, and you should keep our expectations high for the role it plays in your life. At a minimum, work is a means to important ends–whether that’s providing for your family, or paying for activities that allow you to grow and enjoy life. There’s no reason to see work as a negative experience.


Many work-life discussions also point to the necessity of sacrifice. Popular lore tells you that you can’t have everything. If you want to advance in your career, you need to accept that you will spend less time with your friends and family.

There is some truth to this narrative. However, it misses the point that it is possible to have everything that you want in life, just not at the same time. As we move through life, our priorities change. Some periods will be busier than others. When you’re starting your career, you might find it more challenging to juggle your job responsibilities with your personal and family obligations. But as you progress in your career, you have more power and resources to enlist help. What I’m trying to say is that you need to enjoy where you are now. Understand that you can have it all over time–even if it’s not all at once.


Fundamentally, work is a part of a full life. When life is stressful, you might think that all you want to do is relax on an island for the rest of your life. But this might not hold up for the longer term (after all, how much relaxing can one person really do?) In a fascinating series of studies, people were asked whether they would still work if they won the lottery. The proportion of people saying “yes” varied over the years between about 66% and 80%. But overall, people regularly report that they want to continue working, even if they don’t have any financial incentive to do so.


Out of all the misconceptions that can damage teams and relationships, scarcity–the idea that there isn’t enough good work to go around–is up there. It’s true that we’re often in competition for the role we want against others who are interviewing. But it’s also true that there are plenty of great jobs available. We’re in one of the tightest labor markets in history, which means that there are plenty of opportunities that employees can take to progress in their careers. Once you start to embrace an abundance mind-set, you’ll see that it’s much more rewarding to lift people up than pull them down.


One of the most damaging myths is the idea that there is a “perfect” job or career–and that whatever we have today isn’t enough.

There’s nothing wrong with striving for something better, but you need to be satisfied with what you have to be happy. If not, no amount of achievement will ever be enough. Try to think of your current role is an opportunity for learning and growth, whether you’re in your dream job, or are working toward a better opportunity.


Our popular culture also fosters the idea that some work is inherently more valuable than others. I call BS. All work has dignity and value, no matter what kind of work it is. Recently, I was talking to a client who believed the most critical work of their organization happened in the field with needy clients. But they were inadvertently devaluing the efforts of everyone else in the office that was supporting the field agents. This isn’t great for employee morale or productivity. Even if the work isn’t closely connected to the end user or customer, it’s just as important and valuable.

Getting entangled in the myths of work-life can be disorienting and disheartening, but the realities are much more straightforward and meaningful: Work and life are part of a whole experience. No job is better or more valuable than the other. All work–no matter what kind–has importance and dignity.

Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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