I want to try word this a bit more elegantly, fancy, etc.

Basically that is a reply to a co-worker who said to me in an email saying "Too much work to do!" and I want to reply to that in an intelligent way.

I was thinking about something along the line of "You only have so much as you decided to have." but that doesn't sound right at all.

Any English experts out there can help?

  • 2
    Is it too late for her to change her mind, or do you also want to imply that she could just as easily decide not to have so much work? I remember a few occasions on which my dad was complaining about having too much work to do, and I replied "The work you're doing right now doesn't need to be done!" – Brilliand Jun 4 '14 at 17:48
  • "do you also want to imply that she could just as easily decide not to have so much work?" This part is actually a bit closer to what I'm trying to say. But it is required work, just not necessarily need to be done at 11pm at night. – AC417 Jun 4 '14 at 17:51
  • If the work she's doing today will save her work tomorrow, then I suggest just letting her do it. Give her a call when she's run out of required work. :) – Brilliand Jun 4 '14 at 17:58
  • If you want to be sympathetic while saying this, my two standard observations on the topic are the traditional "Remember, the reward for doing a good job is that people ask you to do it again", or my own catchphrase: "If it was easy, they wouldn't need someone like us." (Or "like you" if you think "us" would sound contrived or self-congratulatory.) – keshlam Jun 5 '14 at 17:29

There are a few common idioms or sayings that fit the situation rather well, though they do not mean exactly “having so much [work] because you chose it yourself”.

There’s “You made your bed (– now lie in it/you are going to have to lie in it)”, which means that the person you’re talking to has created their own mess, so now it’s their own responsibility to fix it.

Similarly metaphorical is “You reap what you sow”, which compares the bad situation to a field—if you sow bad seeds, you’ll reap bad grain; likewise, if you ‘sow’ a bad situation for yourself, you’ll have to ‘reap’ the consequences, no better.

More direct and pragmatic, “You asked for it!” is used to indicate that someone should not be complaining about their current situation, since it is only what they themselves asked for in the first place.

Even more direct is “You brought this on yourself”, which does not mince words and simply says that the person addressed caused their own misery themselves.

Note: All of these could be considered somewhat rude—their intention is to be blunt. If you wish to be softer and more polite about it, I don’t think there’s a fixed expression available that fits. Instead, I would just phrase it in a natural, but polite, way; something like, “I’m sorry to hear you’re so caught up in work—but you mustn’t forget that you did ask for quite a heavy workload, so you really only got what you asked for”.

An idiom that is a bit less rude would be Be careful what you wish for—you might get it (or it may come true, or lest it come true; there are several variants), which quite properly warns someone not to want or ask for something without first thinking through what actually getting it will entail.

  • I like the first one. It seems to be more neutral than the other three, and certainly sounds more intelligent :) – AC417 Jun 4 '14 at 16:29
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    I don't know the context for this dialog but just to reiterate @Janus's warning. Telling someone who is complaining about their workload any of these things is seen to be pretty rude. The idiom "you made your bed" is no more neutral and perhaps even more cold than some of the other ones in this post. If you don't mean to offend this person, I would advise not saying anything at all. – pavja2 Jun 4 '14 at 18:38
  • Noted. Although do not worry about being rude or not in this occasion. We usually just say whatever to each other and are both ok with it. – AC417 Jun 4 '14 at 19:10

You could say "You bit off more than you can chew.", which means he tried to do more than he was able to.


Logically speaking, "You bit off more than you can chew" is the correct answer. But conversationally, you might hurt the addressee's feelings. Maybe he/she was just looking for your sympathy. Or maybe he/she wanted to politely decline your invitation. Context, context, context.

Maybe "you can't win them all" would be (if somewhat imprecise) a more sympathetic version.

  • It was a friendly chatter that came up. I felt like giving her a witty response, but thanks for the input. – AC417 Jun 4 '14 at 17:33

I'd just say "That was your own choice." No fancy idioms needed.


"Well, that's what you committed to"

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It's a bit more curt, but the expression You dug your own grave could be applied here - it expresses that they've gotten themselves into the situation that they are in now.

Though it's usually a much more severe expression than the other answers have suggested, if the situation IS that dire, it could be warranted.

I'd also like to add that this expression, along with the others suggested, imply that you are not going to offer the co-worker any help in getting out of this situation. So I suggest only using these expressions if you want to imply that as well, or else explicitly state that you'll be helping them even though they've gotten into this situation by their own actions.


I'd say, "You got too big for your britches!"

  • While this does convey the idea of having more than you can handle with the resources at hand, I don't think it fits - it's almost always used in a context where your self-importance has exceeded what's appropriate, as opposed to where your workload is just too high. – Jaydles Jun 4 '14 at 19:09

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