I got out of school thinking I should know more than I did, be more effective than I was, bring about more real change than was possible, sooner than was reasonable. In short, I set myself up for failure. When I succeeded, I felt great about myself. When I failed, I felt terrible about myself. I feel into the work-as-worth trap, and it took me ten years to climb out. So I understand this pit. Now I'm able to help other men recognize the trap and figure out their own way to freedom.
Just because work-as-worth can be a trap, it does not mean work has no worth. It does. Your job and effort you put into it are very worthwhile. Your role as provider through your work is extremely valuable. However, your job, while valuable, does not constitute your total value as a person. Your job is not worth your relationships; it is not worth your health; it is not worth your sense of self. Work itself is worthwhile, but men can sometimes translate that into thinking their job is everything they are and have.
That was the box Jerry put himself in.
The owner of a successful construction company, he'd taken great pride in having his name on the front door. Before the housing market cratered, Jerry had taken a big risk and gobbled up several development sites. He'd taken risks like this before and had always come out ahead. In fact, that was one of the things he'd loved best about his business - turning other people's failures into personal successes. So he had no context for his own failure when the bottom fell out of both the housing market and his bank account. Jerry narrowly avoided bankruptcy but was left with a shuttered business and a few remaining assets. He and his wife went back to living in the smaller house they'd bought decades earlier and had been renting out. All of that work, all of that time, all the things he'd sacrificed for were gone. And with the business gone, Jerry lost sight of himself. If you'd asked him what he did, he would have no answer.
What you do cannot be the measure of who you are. Accomplishments come in all areas of life, not just in the world of work. I know men whose businesses are thriving, but their families are not. Their health is not. Their sense of peace and contentment is not. As men, we are workers, yes, but we are also fathers and brothers and sons. We are community leaders and soccer coaches. We are church deacons and neighbors. Is your job important? Yes. But I contend that your work is more important for how you do it than for what it is. How you do your work defines your character as a man, and character should really be how horns are measured.
The above is excerpted from chapter 5 in Battles Men Face: Strategies to Win the War Within by Dr. Gregory Jantz.