Am I working hard enough?

Or am I hardly working?

Work is weird. I find so much fulfilment in it and yet it puts me at odds with myself at the same time. Not really surprising when you think about how modern work is full of contradictions. Be good at what you do only to be rewarded with more responsibilities that take you further away from the thing you’re good at. We need autonomy to feel happy in our work, but isolation causes burn out. Give your all to your job, but have a full life outside of work. It’s exhausting.

A new book that articulates the anxieties so many of us are feeling at the moment around our careers is Grace Beverley’s Working Hard, Hardly Working. At 24, she’s the founder and CEO of two hugely successful Gen-Z businesses. Her first book, which debuted at the top of the Sunday Times best-sellers list, is simultaneously a blistering critique of hustle culture and a blueprint for navigating modern careers. This week, I had the honour of interviewing Grace for my podcast, Is This Working? What’s brilliant about having a work crisis when you run a podcast about money, success and careers is that you get to speak to mavericks who impart pearls of wisdom right when you need them the most. 

I wanted to try something different today and share a snippet of that interview here in the newsletter. Below is an excerpted transcript from my interview with Grace, which first aired on Monday. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

Anna Codrea-Rado: Let's start by you telling me how this book, which is a manifesto of sorts for rethinking modern work, came to be?

Grace Beverley: I've always considered myself a very, very hard worker, to the point that I often use it as a coping mechanism. I know that my working habits often aren't healthy and that I've often had really bad boundaries when it comes to work. At the same time, I was feeling like I was lazy and everyone else was working harder than me. And that I could never be unconnected, or could never be resting, otherwise, I wasn’t doing my best and not being where I should be. And then when I started thinking more about it as we came into the pandemic, I really started thinking that actually, it's not just my identity work crisis, it's that of an entire generation.

It doesn't matter whether you're two years into your working life or 30, you are now being affected by the different ideals of work. The different kinds of boundaries, the different ideas of having to be constantly connected, and always have a side hustle, never a hobby. So I started thinking about all of these things and trying to order them. I've been asked a lot for productivity tips and how to manage everything, but I thought I don't want to talk about this without talking about the context and complexities around it. So that really came together in one big explosion of, “Okay, I can't deal with this.” 

How did you have the confidence to stand up and ask, ‘Wait, something isn't right here. Maybe this isn't just me’?

GB: I started my business four and a half years ago now. And I just think that these questions became so desperately needed to be asked – for myself. The way I deal with problems is to read books about how to balance those things or other people's thoughts on them. And I was reading more and more into the ideas of how to be more productive, how to consider myself a harder worker and how to be confident in that. And then, on the other hand, I was reading lots of books about general self-help and self-development. One thing I really noticed was the reason I found it so hard to apply a lot of the advice I was consuming was because I realised that the two different sides didn't necessarily acknowledge the other side's existence.

So you're either constantly trying to work harder, to be more productive, to get that next promotion, to be ambitious, to have your own company – all the stuff on the “work hard” side. And then on the other side, it's how to be better at balancing things, how work doesn't matter, how you can rest. So I thought, Okay, well, I need to pay my bills, I also want to enjoy work. I also am a hard worker who gets a lot of fulfilment from work. And so there's no wonder I can't balance the two if I'm constantly yo-yo-ing between trying to perfect one of them, rather than seeing them as two sides of the same coin. You can't have self-care without productivity, and you can't have productivity without self-care. It wasn't a confidence thing. It was something that needed to be asked for me.

Can you tell me a bit more about that and how you came to view productivity and self-care as two halves of the same whole?

GB: I realised that I was never going to be the most productive person if I didn't rest, and I was never going to be the most rested person if I wasn't productive. It's not fun and relaxing to be sitting in a bath when you have a huge to-do list. Sometimes self-care really is finishing something you started. So I think it was as simple as realising that I just can't have one without the other. And therefore I need to stop thinking about one without the other. Rest has to be considered a concrete and fixed part of my productivity, which also makes my productivity and my work better. 

How would you describe your relationship with your work?

GB: I think my relationship with my work is probably, completely honestly, very codependent. It's often unhealthy. But it's also extremely fulfilling. A lot of the time, it’s what I get up for in the morning and not just because I have to be at work for a meeting. I love my work, I'm incredibly fortunate to have built companies that I can work within and that have fantastic people on board that make it an absolute pleasure to work there every day. And yet at the same time, I often use work as a crutch to get away from things when they're not going so well in other places. That's been because I've always known I can work hard. I'll just disappear; I'll just work hard and then I'll come out the other end and then I'll have forgotten that even happened. That's not healthy. So it's complicated. But it's constantly improving and I think the best thing is now that I have a deeper awareness of exactly what that relationship is.

You went on a deep exploration about work. How have you found actually implementing what you learned into your daily life and into your businesses?

GB: It's been complicated. And it's not been straightforward. I think this idea of self-care and balance can become just another thing that we find really hard to live up to. You've caught me on a week where I have had back-to-back meetings – I'm trying to prepare for the fact that next week is going to be almost all book and we just had a huge restructure at all of the companies. I'm trying to get everything together – I'm hiring people, I'm doing finances, and I'm just really not balancing the balance. I'm not doing that. And that is going to be a true part of working life as well. For me, there's been a lot of learning and unlearning, and then learning again. I understand what my boundaries have to be – and that doesn't mean that I always put them in place. The most important thing for me was recognising what these things were and why I needed them.

To listen to the full interview with Grace Beverley, head over to Apple Podcasts, Acast, Spotify or search “is this working” wherever you get your podcasts. Grace’s book, Working Hard, Hardly Working is out now.