The Myth of “Hard Work”

I want to talk about the myth of hard work.

Wait. That doesn’t sound right. Hard work is real. The myth is the idea that working hard – specifically if you work hard enough you will succeed. This is treated with the certainty of mathematical principles.

It’s even framed in simplistic turns of phrase, “All you need to do…” is one that comes up often. This is the sort of pablum that gets touted as “self-help.” As if it were remotely helpful!

Show me an example of someone pulling themselves up from their bootstraps and I’ll show you a confirmation bias. No one wants to put it down to luck, and to be fair, hard work is an important part of the equation.

Opportunity shows up in Overalls

Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it shows up dressed in overalls, looking like hard work.” Of course it does. But it’s not a guarantee.

People often look at hard work as if it’s a contract they enter in with the universe. If I work hard enough, I will reap the rewards. Now, maybe that’s a useful thing to believe and maybe it’s not, but regardless, you must admit you don’t have as much so much as a handshake to document the validity of this agreement.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard

This is not to say you shouldn’t work hard. This is just to say that hard work doesn’t guarantee you shit. It’s the best chance you have, but it’s not a guarantee.

There’s an oft repeated meme that, on their deathbed, nobody ever wishes they’d spent more time at the office.

So if you’re killing yourself, deep-sixing your relationships, working every hour god sends, keep in mind: You’ve got no guarantee.

Working longer hours doesn’t make success get here any faster.

Pushing yourself ever-harder won’t make you exponentially more successful

And ‘paying your dues’ doesn’t buy you stardom.

Feeling Lost? Don’t worry.

Once you accept that ‘working hard’ and ‘hustling’ isn’t some kind of quid pro quo you have with the universe, you can start doing the things you were going to do after you got done paying your dues.

You can enjoy the finer things of life, like a glass of wine on the back porch after supper. You can prepare and eat good meals because the time it takes to do that is no longer threatening your imaginary “billable hours”. Same goes with hobbies, spending time with friends, or even just doing nothing.

I know, right?

When you come to terms with the idea that the success you’re sweating so hard for is more of a gamble than a sure thing, perhaps you can bring yourself to enjoy the process of work more.

Another completely bizarre premise, I know. Isn’t work just a means to an end? Well, sure, maybe, if the end was to get paid. But the other stuff? The glory? The recognition? The quote-unquote “success”? No guarantees, baby.

So make sure you let yourself enjoy the work— and everything else too. There’s no guarantee you’ll have time later.

Your Turn

Do you think working hard is its own guarantee? Tell me what you think.


3 thoughts on “The Myth of “Hard Work””

  1. The time we spend relaxing is just as productive, on the whole, as the time we spend working. There are two kinds of work: visible and invisible. Sitting and staring out the window, relaxing your brain so it can create and solve problems is as important as the time you spend doing visible work. 
    Working hard when you’re digging a hole is good. Working smart is better. Working hard when you’re exercising is also good.
    Putting in more hours does not mean working hard.

    1.  @spinhead You know, Joel, I know that you actually walk the walk, but most people, I find *say* they know that leisure is important, but when you talk about what they’re actually doing *right* *now*, it’s some version of “Well, I just have to work really hard for a few more years, but it’ll all pay off in the end.” 
      Hence the post 🙂

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