Don’t Be The Workhorse

You can't have it all so you might as well have your sanity.


This is a cautionary tale. One as old as time.

A bright future

You land that job that you think will be the perfect fit. As part of the hiring process, they promise you plenty of growth opportunities.

You take them at their word and you work your ass off. You come in early. You work through lunch. You stay late.

In your free time, you read books and industry articles. You watch webinars and TedX talks to supplement your knowledge.

You do everything you can to make their lives easier.

During ‘slow’ times (see: they’re never slow for you), you might get to work on a bit of strategy, but mostly you’re knee deep in the trenches.

That’s okay. You’re learning a lot and, at least at first, you’re invigorated by the new challenges.

Cautiously optimistic

This is about the time your boss gets promoted. After all, the work coming out of your team’s shop has been exceptional and they’ve done a good job leading the team.

You’re pumped for your boss and hope your opportunity for advancement is on the horizon.

There’s talk of your advancement; of course, they need to keep the workhorse engaged.

You’re cautiously optimistic, but you’ve heard that at the first sign of resistance from HR, they didn’t press.

After all, they got theirs and there are more urgent things to worry about than your sanity.

Meanwhile, you’ve proven you can handle the work in the trenches so you take on more: a bit of strategy, some infrastructure, additional training.

You’re anxious to show that you can do the next job up.

They know you can. Hell, you already are, but that doesn’t matter.

Life’s not fair

Even if you were promoted, you’d still be the workhorse.

It’s hard to sustain energy trudging through the trenches. Others will dip their toes in, maybe spend a week or two, but this is your domain now.

With the right amount of cognitive dissonance you can take pride in this fact.

Organizations all over the world extract all they can from their top performers while others coast.

That’s definitely the part that stings the most.

How is it that while you grit your teeth and find a way to exceed expectations – while juggling multiple (big) projects – others ‘accidentally’ (perhaps strategically?) drop the ball enough times to get less work?

And then, when the dust settles, they’ll use their unlimited free time to pursue 2 hour lunches and fun projects that ‘align with their strengths’ while you toil in the trenches.

It’s okay. This is better for the team. Use them for their strengths and you for everything else.

Are you still proud, workhorse?

Budget issues?

How unfortunate. No new hires, no back fills, no promotions.

Fear not, the people with less on their plate will take on more responsibility…

No, that’s not how the real world works. The same culprits absorb more — at the expense of their families, their exercise, and their emotional well-being.

The resentment starts to creep in…

The silent shadow

Now, all of a sudden — or maybe gradually — you’re not the most pleasant person to be around.

There were times when your edges were frayed, but overall, you used to be happy.

Going to work suddenly becomes a chore.

“That’s why they call it work,” you repeat the phrase you’ve heard others, in your position, say time and time again.

But, it didn’t use to be that way.

You’re prideful so you try not to let your work slip, but the anger, the resentment, the frustration… it seeps from your pores.

It fills the room slowly at first. Quietly. Invisible to all but the keen eye.

And then it suffocates you like a silent shadow until you can’t take it anymore.

First, just at the office, but then it seeps into your everyday life.

Every shower. Every quiet car ride. This isn’t what you originally signed up for.

Is it too late?

You loved the work you did. You enjoyed the people you worked with. You were excited to build something impactful.

You didn’t network as much as you used to…

You’d hoped this would be ‘home’ for a sustained period of time.

Now, you find yourself scrolling through LinkedIn and dusting off your contact book.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Of course, they’ll blame it on you and your bad attitude. Why couldn’t you just get ‘over it?’

They would much rather you smile and suffer.

But it didn’t happen all it once… It was a death by countless tiny cuts.

And yeah, it’s usually too late. Make no mistake; you’re the most expendable asset in this scenario.

But who am I to say?

Sometimes there’s redemption to be had.

Either way…

Don’t be the workhorse. It’s not worth it.


This blog started primarily as a marketing blog, but now I write much more about work/life, social psychology, health and happiness. I will also continue to explore top performers (authors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and more) and dissect what we can take away to be top performers in our own work and personal lives.

If that interests you, consider subscribing below: