Do We Really Get Only Three?

I posted this image by Liz and Mollie on Facebook and LinkedIn a few weeks ago, and I was fascinated by the resulting conversation. I thought people might laugh knowingly, and say something like, “Yeah, adulting is hard.” Instead, most people responded by listing their top three. Many included comments such as, “When my kids are older, I’ll have time for friends again,” or “Hobbies sound like a nice idea, but I have too much work, and I don’t even know what I’d do anyway.”

I felt sad reading these responses. I shared this graphic because it captures how adulthood feels for many of us, yet I don’t believe it has to be this way. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that people should be picking just three.

From my own experience as an employee and through my work as a consultant, I can see how much workplace culture influences employees’ happiness, satisfaction, and ability to lead full and meaningful lives. According to this article in the Harvard Business Review, when people work too much, even at jobs they enjoy, it eventually becomes counterproductive. People get sick, miss more work, and are more likely to quit.

I believe a shift is possible if workplaces can…

  • Gain clarity on their values and use them to set more realistic and intentional priorities.
  • See mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing as a foundation for organizational and employee success.
  • Provide professional development that builds on strengths, rather than focuses on weaknesses.


Emotional exhaustion eats up a lot of energy. Yes, people are tired from working too many hours, but many are spending extra energy processing work when they’re not actually working! How many of us have spent hours venting to friends and family after a stressful day at work? How often are we doing that, and how many extra hours of our day does that eat up?

It is tiring to be in a workplace that doesn’t see human capital as an asset worth protecting. 


Before I started my own business, I briefly worked at an organization that valued productivity more than people. I had been in the job for about 4 months and already I could see the toll that the never-ending workload was taking on my team. It obviously took time to do the work, and it also took time to decompress after repeatedly being asked to do too much.

I remember a conversation with my boss in which I asked her to prioritize the many tasks my team was being asked to do because we didn’t have capacity to do all of them. Her answer demonstrated a sad truth about the organization’s values: “If you’re not working your team at least 60 hours a week, we’re not ready to have that conversation.”

I replied, “Then I’ll pick. As long as you continue to pay us nonprofit salaries to work 40 hours per week, that’s the max I’m going to ask of my team.” I left six months later after nearly drowning in the organization’s culture of burnout.

We need to stop sending this message to staff, “If you aren’t exhausted, you don’t have enough to do.” If we value and respect our people and we want to keep them around, we need to support them in leading full lives. Adulthood doesn’t have to feel so limiting.

We can also start talking differently to ourselves. Some of our Strengths may lead us to think we need to do more work — but do we actually need to work harder, or smarter, or just less? What’s the cost to our mental and physical health when we work too much? What toll does that take on our relationships?

As a CliftonStrengths coach, I help people address these issues in a way that feels personalized, thoughtful, and action-focused. Interested in learning more?


Click here to learn about a Strengths session for teams


click here to learn about individual coaching 

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