The modern myth series – hard work

Two opposed expressions around hard work:

  • The harder I work the luckier I get.
  • If you work too hard you don’t have time and clarity to earn money.

Which one is right or wrong? Both?

Multitasking and getting busy is one of the diseases of the 21st century, very often confused with hard work.

Hard work is pointed as the way to stand out, gain comfort, quality of life, economical independence and security. That myth survived till our days and it’s not uncommon to hear “work hard if you want to succeed”. It’s also a question of “status” and recognition; how often you hear the expression “he’s a hard worker” in personal or professional conversations. Hard work is also an expression used by managers during the appraisal processes with their subordinates, to distinguish or praise dedication and commitment. There’s a big difference between hard work and being busy, but often the concepts are mixed up or a bit bounded. I’m so busy = I’m such an hard worker. Is that so?

I’m not apologist of laziness but I’ve seen and lived with that obsession that hard work will save your position and grant you job stability, security, progress. It doesn’t. Neither of those. Working hard is no guarantee at all that you won’t be fired, that you’ll earn extra money or get things done. The point is, what does that hard work creates? Reports no one will read? Presentations no one will care about? Market studies to remain on the drawer? A house that you’ll sell due to divorce? A big station wagon when you don’t have kids around you anymore?

Getting busy in itself doesn’t mean doing the right thing, finishing tasks or accomplishing anything at all. Means you don’t have the time to focus. To think. To re-think and to question yourself. To see where you’re heading and what is around you. To enjoy the ride. To discover there might be other ways, solutions, alternatives or gains than initially expected.

I’m being a bit bold here but the intention is to be provocative. I consider myself an hard worker. Thou, I spend at least 30 minutes of my daily time in meditation, 1 hour doing sports, 30 minutes reading and 30 minutes writing. Many might say that’s a waste, none of those activities aren’t work or work related. So I can’t consider myself an hard worker? Wat is hard work then? There were times that it was pretty much clear, a long lasting day in a production line or in the fields. I had those days as well. Just out of curiosity I decided to check the internet, and this is one of the common definition of hard worker:

Cambridge dictionary: always putting a lot of effort and care into work: hardworking people/families/citizensThe staff working on the unit are hard-working and have very little time to sit at a desk.

OK times have changed and now there are more and more people sitting at a desk, and also those had adopted the term hard workers. Just in nowadays hardwork is normally associated with peripheral concepts. Multitasking, flexible, resilient, stress-resistant, efficient, productive. All of those concepts thou, are more related to being busy than properly hard work.

To support the hard work concept and benefit, there’s the 10.000 hour rule (if you practice any activity for 10.000 hours you’ll master it and will become a world expert). Let’s say you divide that by half, with 5.000 hours you will still be in a good position in the ranking according to that rule.

Again it’s a theory and as in any other field, you’ll find supporters and critics. But the point is, none of the so called busy people (and in some case hard workers) are dedicating the vast majority of their time on consistent practice of one activity but getting busy with all sort of things that come their way, most of them not on their own plan or willingness but responding to all sort of requests. So hard work isn’t working hard at something like it has been in the past, but moved to “getting busy” or even worse, being perceived as a busy person. Current environment (workload, pressure, competition, performance, newcomers) challenge us to be able to respond and have capabilities to show we got what it takes to remain in the game.

Funny thing is at least in the corporate world, when you ask any of those colleagues who always say they are very busy, most likely they will have difficulties to tell you in detail what are they busy with. Ever noticed? If not, just try that one.

Or if you want to be honest with yourself, what are you busy with? How do you spend your day? What are you creating, solving, building, participating or preparing. The tasks and activities you go along the day, do they contribute for that vision directly or indirectly? Or you just have to do what you’re doing? No one has to, unless they have a gun pointed to their head. You can always question yourself and your habits, truths or routines.

Working hard can eventually increase your income, but I’ve rarely seen anyone becoming rich by working too hard.

Yes it can help to pay an extra toy, project or dream, but remember, money it’s a bi-product. If there’s no passion or vision in what you’re busy with, doing it only for the money won’t be a long-lasting satisfaction.

For sure, Gates, Jobs or Zuckerberg worked very hard till they reach the summit. Elon Musk has probably the longest days and is a very busy person. But they’ve been busy or are working on a passion, a vision, a dream, a burning desire. That’s the difference. Work hard with a clear purpose or meaning other than money itself and you won’t call it hard work at all. It’s hard when you don’t see the purpose on it.

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