Help! I Don’t Have a Work Ethic.

I am struggling with my work ethic. I have trouble keeping jobs as I easily give up when work becomes challenging or tedious, eventually leading to quitting or getting fired.

Pop culture is telling me that I haven’t found my passion, but that advice seems dubious. I’m sure I can trace this to my upbringing, but I’m more interested in what I can do today to break this cycle and instill a work ethic in myself.

Or do I just need to find work that is more “interesting” to me?



Dear David,

We must congratulate you on being honest with yourself. Many people would direct their energies towards complaining about unfair bosses or miserable work conditions. You show great character by recognizing that your repeated employment failures are attributable to a flaw in you.

We’re also impressed by your skepticism about the message you’ve been receiving from the culture around you.

Furthermore, you have made a clever decision to focus on breaking this cycle rather than spending time and energy tracing it back to your childhood. You recognize that waiting to discover your passion isn’t a feasible plan, in effect answering your own question.

Leaving aside luck, acts of God and genetics, 90% of everything that happens in your life is the result of things you have done or not done.  This is particularly true in our business and financial lives.  Now is a really good time to stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right ones.

What can you do? Think about that sweet spot you are looking for, somewhere between challenging and tedious. It is a moving target, isn’t it? Work that may be too challenging at first can become tedious once we master it. On the other hand, if we avoid challenging work and only do what comes easy to us, it probably will be tedious very quickly. You are in a quixotic quest to find a job that will, like baby bear’s porridge, be just right.

Our society does not promote patience or long-term attention spans. We would ask you to examine your leisure activities. Do you pick up and discard interests and people relatively frequently? Do you listen to twenty-five minute symphonies or three-minute songs? Is this tendency in you truly confined to your work life or is it part of a larger picture?

You haven’t given us a clue as to what work you do, but we would advise you to turn your attention from yourself to the people you are serving, be they customers or employers.  Start trying to take pride in honoring those relationships with your very best performance.

We don’t know any mothers who relish being woken up by infants at 2 am (and sometimes 3 am and 4 am), but they get up night after night because they love their babies. Their own discomfort is secondary. You too, need to focus less on your own feelings and more on your responsibilities. Quitting or slacking off so you are fired are selfish activities.  Look into yourself to see if you have any other hidden selfish tendencies you can work on eliminating.

We encourage you to work on better being able to tolerate discomfort and boredom outside the workplace. Set a timer for reading or listening to music with no distractions and each week increase the time a bit.  We’d be guessing if we said that you are someone who spends more time each week watching a screen than reading a book, but make sure you do twice as much reading as watching each week then gradually increase that ratio.  Perhaps some of your new reading regimen can contribute to increasing your skills thus making you a more valuable employee. Train yourself to stay in one place and simply think.  Make a schedule for your day and stick to it. Listen to lectures and reduce any time spent on gaming apps which are designed to move quickly and keep you constantly entertained.

We confess to being interested in why your letter didn’t refer to what we’d expect would be the inevitable financial stress of serial unemployment, David.  This leads us to wonder whether you don’t really need the money your jobs pay you.  If so, that would make it harder to find meaning in your work. A paycheck that means something to one adds greatly to the meaningfulness of the activity that produces that paycheck.  If this is your fortunate situation, you might consider devoting your pay to someone or some organization that really does need it. In a roundabout sort of way, this could help you.

In any event, try to move your focus off yourself. Add volunteer work, helping neighbors and as many other activities as you can.  Don’t lay the burden on your job to be the only place to find meaning and interest in your life.

May you have steady employment in 2019,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

13 thoughts on “Help! I Don’t Have a Work Ethic.”

  1. Lord, help me with my unbelief…. I fear of being in the limelight and rejection because I am good at serving; not great. I need a kickstart for calling people (I’m in sales).

  2. My Teacher, good advice, as always.
    I stopped my TV service last July and since then I’ve been able to do a lot of reading. It’s amazing how many books you can read or on line courses you can take from Hillsdale College, when you have 6 hours free every night.
    I retired in 2010 after working for 55 years. I was never fired from a job and only quit when a better position became available. I tell my children & grandchildren, when you’re working for someone else, act as though it was your business.

  3. These are all really good advises, comments too.
    I especially appreciate the advice about regularly donating money to good causes, especially if person doesn’t have a family to provide for (and thus lacking motivation to go to everyday work). Knowing that other people depend on your input can be just what it takes to make the all difference.

  4. This is gold:

    90% of everything that happens in your life is the result of things you have done or not done.

    1. “…90% of everything that happens in your life is the result of things you have done or not done.”

      Dear Pete Belford,
      I like to think of this truth as wisdom from “Buried Treasure,” and the book bearing this name is a book worth reading many times!
      Sincerely, LJ

  5. As usual….
    Great answer.
    I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s screen time and pop culture.
    I frequently get into arguments with parents over the fact that I limit screen time and screen content when they are allowed to view the screen. ” Listen to lectures and reduce any time spent on gaming apps ” – these two items are major problems. The quick fix of screen time is resulting in shortened attention time of todays youth and now adults (as you have alluded to) and a lack of self motivation.
    Thanks for all that you do and hopefully David finds his way.

      1. Actually there is a very cogent book, Manfred Spitzer, Digitale Demenz [Digital Dementia], which discusses the long-term hazards of imposing computers, smart phones and other digital devices on our children. Spitzer goes so far as to say that protracted use of digital media can destroy brain functions. In any case digital devices alter perception of reality; use of digital media catalyzes attention disorders and loss of reality perception, stress, depression and tendency to violence (garbage in, garbage out). The text is abundantly documented with over 30 pages of notes and references. Regrettably, the book is available in German with a Spanish translation. I hope the English translation is next

  6. How I treasure the wise advice that you (pl.) have given David! It takes a humble and honest person growing in wisdom to recognize that ‘I myself am responsible for the majority of failures that occur in my life.’ My late son-in-law had a work ethic like the one David professes. When he lost a job it was never his fault, it was always because the boss there was an [*expletive deleted*]. But work is not only about making a buck, it is about serving others. And the Rabbi teaches us that serving others is also serving God.

    Targeted introspection and self-analysis can save the day. Facing a problem with procrastination, I read a psychotherapist’s view of those who procrastinate. People with chronic, overwhelming problems in life suffer from chronic, deep-rooted fears. Likewise, those who procrastinate suffer from assaults to their self-esteem for whatever reason, or fear doing an inadequate job. Perfectionism is a curse, for the perfect is the enemy of the good. But then the procrastinators get involved so very late in the game, only to realize what they could have accomplished gleefully and to great satisfaction, had they only applied themselves earlier to the task at hand.

  7. Dear Rabbi and Susan,
    Your answer to David, who found work either “challenging or tedious,” showed that you have far more patience and tact than I do! I particularly liked your suggestion that he donate his time, (perhaps in a soup kitchen). Having held several jobs while in highschool and then in college and then as an adult having run my own businesses (all involving sales) for nearly fifty years, I can honestly say that I never had a job or ran a business where I didn’t find joy and satisfaction in the experience. The overcoming of the challenges were rewarding and fun in themselves and earning money for the pleasure was icing on the cake. By the way, how many of those on our southern border trying to migrate to America would love the chance to trade places with David? I guess some people need to ask themselves, “Why are they working?”

    I do have a personal concern and that is that I have three grown children and seven grandchildren and so far none have expressed an interest in the sales “profession.” I don’t know for sure but I suspect that the reason is that most of the high school and college teachers don’t realize that it is an honorable profession which, by the way, can be quite lucrative.

    Also, once I started having some success in sales, friends and acquaintances said that I was “lucky” or was in the right place at the right time, Etc. I would say to myself that “I’m lucky I’m not lazy!”

    1. Your last paragraph reminds me of Dave Ramsey talking about how no one cared when he sold his first book out of his truck for $10 a copy, but when he started selling millions of that same book for $10 a copy, suddenly he was a “lucky rich person.”

  8. Very insightful. I would suggest adding the hashtags #employment and businesses to reach people setting new year’s goals, but don’t realize that work ethic is a problem for them.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart