Stress, Social Conditioning and the F@!ked Up British Work Ethic

Brick in the wall

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that the word ‘work’ is now synonymous with the word ‘stress’ these days?

Let me explain a little bit my theory as to why.

My mum handed me some of my old school reports a few months ago that she has stashed away in the loft somewhere.

I had to laugh when I read them. I didn’t enjoy studying so chose to entertain myself and my classmates instead.

“Toby didn’t seem to care much about his poor exam result and is obviously bored to tears by this subject” (Maths)

“He is disruptive in class and will only do the bare minimum to scrape by” (Geography)

“If he spent as much time studying as he does acting the classroom clown he might do well in this subject” (History).

“Imaginative and creative, but only when he chooses to be” English Literature.

“He has a great sense of humour, but unfortunately at inappropriate times” (Headmaster’s summary).

I hated the day that report came through the post. My mum would go mad, telling me how lazy and stupid I was, what a failure I will be in life and would then finish it off with the old “Do you know how hard I have to work to pay for your school fees??”

It was bad enough being chastised and put down by the teachers every day, let alone her as well!

I had to put with this from the age of 6 to 18 and for one simple reason; I wanted to enjoy life and have fun. And listening to adults talking about boring subjects in a classroom was not my idea of fun!!

Is that really such a bad thing?

I wasn’t stupid. I was an ‘independent thinker’.

But “independent thinkers’ do not fit in with social conditioning and how to ‘enjoying life’ is not taught in schools.

Do as you are told and we will praise you, put an A+ on your school report so your parents can be proud of you. If you don’t do as we say, we will do everything we can to put you down and crush your spirit.

But despite this opposition that I faced all my life, I am glad I rebelled. I am glad I lived my life by my own rules and didn’t conform. But it wasn’t easy when the people you love, admire and respect put you down for doing so.

Although we don’t realise it, social condition determines 99% of the way we think and live. You may think you are a free person and you can make your own mind up about things, but you can’t and you don’t.

Everything from the work you do, your political beliefs, the way you treat others, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the food you eat, the place you live, the relationships you have, your family life, your religious beliefs and most predominantly the person you believe yourself to be are all conditioned by the society in which you were brought up in.

Social conditioning is a way in which we learn to live harmoniously with one another by creating certain acceptable or non-acceptable boundaries so that we can all ‘live on the same page’ so to speak. This can be a very good thing, as we all have guidelines on how we should act in social situations, such as standing and waiting in queues, opening doors for people or saying please and thank you when it is appropriate. But there is also a negative side.

And that is, we end up living our lives like a herd of lost sheep. We lose our ability to think independently and end up doing whatever everyone else does just because we think it is the norm. We fail to notice things in society that are changing for the worse, but because everyone around us is going along with it, we do the same and just follow. Nazi Germany is a prime example of how social conditioning can override our rational thoughts and make us act in the cruellest, heartless and most inhumane manner.

The reason why I bring this to your attention today is related to the modern work ethic which I see as completely out of control and utter madness.

Most people I know who regard themselves as “successful” are now working about 10-12 hours a day and often without a proper lunch break.
Not only that, but many of them then take their work home with them in the evenings and also spend time working at the weekends. These days it is not unusual for people to be in contact with the office during their annual vacations which I can just about understand if you run your own business, but if you are an employee…. really?

Many of my friends, especially those in the corporate world also tell me how they feel pressured by their work colleagues to put in extra unpaid hours every week and are made to feel guilty if they don’t.

Not only that but being overworked and having a stressful job is regarded as being normal these days and that if you aren’t stressed, then obviously you aren’t working hard enough. It is almost as though people are proud to say they are stressed like they are some sort of brave hero who should be commended for the sacrifices that they are making.

“Hey, I’m working really hard everyone! Look at me! I’m sacrificing my happiness, health and family life so that some idiot above me who is even more unhappy and unhealthy than I am might pat me on the back and say “well done”.

That’s what it boils down to! There is no difference here to a needy child at school desperate to get attention, praise and gold star from the teacher. We are socially conditioned from our school days to accept this and then carry it on into our adult working life.

As a result, many people are sacrificing their health, their happiness, their friends and their families for companies that would replace them in a week if they dropped down dead tomorrow.

Doctors estimate that more than 70% of GP visits are now stress related. It affects both your physical and psychological health, leads to alcohol addiction, prescription and recreational drug addiction, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, anxiety, insomnia, depression, cancer, arthritis, headaches, migraines, digestive disorders….and a thousand and one other serious illnesses that I don’t have the space to write about in this short article.

Listen. Work to live, to eat, to have a roof over your head and to live a simple and happy life. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, because if you ever visit their house and open up their bathroom cabinet you will find it filled with anti-depressants.

Your career is NOT important. Let me repeat that because you have been socially conditioned to believe it is. YOUR CAREER IS NOT IMPORTANT AND NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT HOW HIGH YOU CLIMB UP THE CAREER LADDER EXCEPT YOU!!

So do not waste your life working all the hours God sends just for a pat on the back form your boss and to ‘fit in’ with the people you work with.

This is not my message, but one from every single victim of “burn out” that I have worked with who has struggled to return to a normal state of health and psychological well-being after years of pushing themselves to the limit.

Think, question, analyse. Think independently. If something in your life is causing you stress and strain, then don’t just sweep it under the carpet and accept it as being ‘the norm’. Ask yourself why and take action to change it. Your life, your physical and psychological health is your responsibility.


Disillusioned with his life and career, Toby Maguire left his career in the City of London in 1997 and moved to Thailand to study meditation, Eastern philosophy and Chinese medicine. 

After 7 years, he then began to work in Health and Wellness resorts worldwide, sharing his knowledge and helping thousands of people overcome stress, anxiety and depression and discover a new, more meaningful life ahead of them.

His contributions to the health and wellness industry have been featured in the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Forbes Magazine and the Huffington Post and his clients have included Formula One racing drivers, Olympic athletes and Hollywood actors.

In you are looking to change yourself, your career or any aspect of your life, then let me help you on your journey.

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