Enculturation Influences Chronic Stress at Work

I’ve been exploring the concept of enculturation as it applies to how I thought about work. 

Enculturation is the process by which you acquire values and beliefs from those closest to you while you are growing up (my simplified interpretation). When it comes to work, there are lots of different values and beliefs. Some people believe that you should love what you do, some believe work is really hard, etc. Whatever our parents, caregivers, teachers or other close figures in our life taught us, we believe to be true. Our child brains just suck it all in and never question whether it’s true or helpful. Monkey see, monkey do.

I never questioned these beliefs until I found myself a burned out workaholic with chronic stress and stress-induced illnesses.

I found my stress-inducing beliefs by taking pen to paper every time I felt a really strong emotion like annoyance, frustration, anger, urgency, etc.  I paused and recognized that I was feeling a strong emotion. I named it. I accepted and allowed the emotion. I got really curious about it and then I noted what I was thinking that led me to that emotion. I looked for patterns. I kept asking why until I got to the belief. I then questioned the helpfulness and validity of that belief.

Here were some of the beliefs I was enculturated with:

  • People at work can’t be trusted
  • Managers/bosses don’t care about you
  • Work takes priority over everything; including family and fun
  • Work is hard
  • Work requires sacrifice
  • There’s never enough time
  • You are only worthy when you are achieving
  • You are only worthy when you are perfect
  • Idleness is laziness and laziness is a big freaking no no
  • Service before self

Can you see how these beliefs would lead to chronic stress at work? Mistrust, time scarcity, and pressure to be worthy are the perfect ingredients for chronic stress. Chronic stress is the root cause of burnout.

The great news is that none of these beliefs were actually true. I was able to really dig deep to find evidence of trust, time abundance, and find that my self worth had nothing to do with my achievements. I got really aware of my patterns and redirected my thoughts every time I caught myself thinking these things.

I highly encourage you to grab a notebook and investigate what you were enculturated with as a child. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did those closest to you talk about work? 
  • What did they say about bosses and coworkers? 
  • Did they work long hours? 
  • Did they say things like “I’m crazy busy” or “I’m so far behind”? 
  • Did they encourage you to make mistakes or punish you for them? 
  • What place did fun have in your lives? 
  • How did they talk about time?
  • Did they sacrifice their well-being for work?
  • Did they worry incessantly about what other people thought?

This practice has changed my life. When I first started paying attention, I would have said I was an 8 on a chronic stress scale of 1-10. Now I’d say I was a 2. I can’t even explain to you how much better I feel.

You can change your life too. Dig deep. Find the beliefs you were enculturated with and question their validity and helpfulness.

PS. I help people stop overworking. I went from 80 hours a week to 30. I can help you do it too. It’s just a matter of reprogramming some inefficient work habits. Get to know me here.