Hard work - what is it, exactly?
We’ve been having an extended discussion over the weekend about what ‘hard work’ means, and what it has to do with financial and career success. “We” meaning my husband, a couple of our young mentees, and I.
I think it’s a mistake to tell young people that hard work is everything. It isn’t!
Working hard in the wrong manner won’t really get anyone anywhere. If hard work was the secret to success, there would be a lot of very wealthy ditch diggers and demolition crews, am I right?
I worked much harder as a nanny than I do today. The mom of “my” kids once fell asleep at the table with her face in her mashed potatoes, so I think any parent or caregiver would agree that chasing kids around is quite hard work indeed.
My hubby and I both come from a blue-collar background. We were taught the inherent dignity of busting your butt all day. Sitting around with soft hands and no practical skills is embarrassing where we come from. In fact I know I could never have fallen in love with a man who couldn’t use tools.
My man can design a satellite, sharpen a chainsaw, build a battle bot, change the oil in a semi, debug code, and run a skidder. Which of these skills are ‘hard work’?
I can’t do any of those things - or at least I haven’t tried so far - but I can put on a conference for 200 attendees, carry a sleeping child to bed, cook dinner for 20, type 100 words per minute, sew a Halloween costume, balance quarterly financial reports, build a chair, and fight five dudes with my hands duct-taped together. Some of these things at the same time.
One of the first things you learn as an administrative assistant is that you’re expected to do things that people who earn 3-4x your wage abjectly cannot do.
There is a double bind, because the better you are at your job, the less likely you are to get promoted. If you aren’t great at the detail work and EQ necessary for the position, then it’s assumed you’re more or less useless. On the other hand, the better you are at it, the more people panic at the thought of trying to replace you.
I have felt like I do basically the same work that I did at entry level, other than obvious technological changes like moving toward paperless reports. Yet at one point I earned $7/hour for this stuff, with no benefits, and I was excited to get it.
What I think about ‘hard work’ is that it depends on what is hard for the individual.
It’s hard to work for a low wage and face all the issues that go with that: a long commute, roommates, juggling bills, unreliable transportation, an apartment/house/neighborhood with a lot of issues, no obvious solutions for problems that could easily be solved with more cash than you have. Or may ever have.
It’s hard to put your spirit into tasks that nobody appreciates.
It’s hard to wait on people who are mean and rude, and it’s hard to have a mean boss.
Obviously it’s hard to be on your feet all day and do labor that is physically challenging. It can be fun, too, though. There is a lot to be said for being able to see visual progress on something that you worked on all day, or to be able to drive by and point it out to your friends. “I helped build that.”
Does ‘hard work’ lead to success?
Not alone, though, and not out of context.
If I just do 100 burpees in my living room, I’ll be sweating, but then what?
I think the key isn’t so much ‘hard work’ in terms of exertion. I think it’s a combination of focus, accountability, and persistence. It’s not really ‘hard work,’ it’s emotional commitment and follow-through toward the desired outcome.
That state of being invested in the outcome quickly leads to a strategic perspective. This is where success comes from - in understanding why things are done in a certain way. That is the birth of motivation. Someone who cares that things are done properly is someone who will see ways to streamline the process, guide others, expand into new areas, and all the rest.
The truth is, doing this isn’t usually hard at all.
A master of a field can walk in, take one look at something, say one sentence, and save ten million dollars. That person will be successful, but that contribution wasn’t hard. It was just the product of attention and decades of experience.
We spent a bit of time listing off factors that contribute to career success that don’t have anything to do with hard work. There are probably hundreds, but these were the basic dozen:
Personal work ethic
Choice of field
Who you know
Talent/unusual insight or ability
I happen to know someone who literally ran away to join the circus as a roadie for Cirque du Soleil. She had three items off this list: location, timing, and choice of field. They came to her town, she went, she said “take me with you,” and she went home to get her bag. That’s it. Didn’t see her for a year.
I happen to know someone else who had at least eight items off this list, who got fired and was out of work for a year. What he was missing was work ethic, coachability, strategy, probably talent, and eventually reputation as well. When he started messing up, he Couldn’t Be Told and he blew up his career. Did he work long hours at a difficult job? Sure, until I had to get him a cardboard box to carry his stuff out to his car.
Of the thousands of people I have met over the years, socially or through work or hobbies, the most chill have been 1. Martial arts people and 2. Astronauts. They never blink. Something has changed in their brains and they react with mild intrigue in situations where other people would panic. Hand either of them a wrench and see what they do.
Hard work is valuable for its own sake. When we’re mentoring less experienced people, though, let’s not attack their characters and imply that they are lazy, but rather show them how much more interesting life is when there is something challenging and worthwhile enough to deserve that hard work. If we can’t find it, let’s make it ourselves.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies