Illustration: Zach McCullough

Hard Work: What's It Good For?

A meme has been floating around for some time now about hard work – and how it is overrated. I’ve come across a number of “How I Work” articles by prominent entrepreneurs that talk about the merits of “sometimes” heading into the office, watching lots of television, and questioning the need for a 40-hour workweek.
Many of these articles profile people who have built multi-million dollar businesses – companies that required a 24/7 work ethic during the start-up phase. No doubt, in the early days, these same folks had rigorous schedules, spent long nights overcoming major technical challenges, and developed loyal communities – user by user – through ceaseless efforts.
 
So why all this talk about chilling out from those who must have worked tirelessly to get where they are? Something doesn’t add up. This trendy new approach to work seems absent of the ambition and relentless drive necessary to make ideas happen.
 
Certainly, it’s possible that these successful entrepreneurs have started to coast a bit – and with millions of customers, it is their prerogative to do so. I’m also aware that as we get older, start families, and settle down, it’s natural to think about how to work smarter. A 24/7 schedule isn’t sustainable forever. But I still can’t help but wonder if these entrepreneurs are sharing the right message?So why all this talk about chilling out from those who must have worked tirelessly to get where they are? Something doesn’t add up. The push towards tremendous achievements – the determination we see in visionaries ranging from Steve Jobs to your everyday start-up founder who quits her day job to pursue a dream – is what drives bold entrepreneurial pursuits. Such journeys, I have found, require incredible amounts of sheer energy, focus, and time.
 
Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don’t happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the “99% perspiration” that has become this site’s namesake.
 
Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outliers when he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success.Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage.  Hard work is always the baseline of great achievements. And I don’t think these successful entrepreneurs-turned-naysayers have defied the odds through casual effort.They have either chosen not to share this part of their past or have forgotten the drive that started it all. Perhaps their new take on work is akin to an adult’s take on grades or playground politics in elementary school – in retrospect, you wonder why you stressed so much.
 
One lesson here is to question the nuggets of wisdom we take away from success stories. Retrospective insight is a dangerous thing: it can taint advice. Hindsight becomes biased based on the luxuries one enjoys from his or her hard work – four-day weeks among them. Needless to say, once a ball is rolling, it’s easier to keep it going.
 
That said, a contrarian perspective is always valuable when it makes us rethink the status quo of normal working hours, meetings, and traditions of the daily grind that we’re all liable to fall into without measuring the outcome and remembering our intentions.
 
I agree that lots of energy is misappropriated. And I agree that we must preserve the sanctity of our minds, creative stimulation, and always strive for balance. But I think it is dangerous to gloss over the merits of tried-and-true persistence. The importance of hard work is a timeless truth. Rather than fight it, let’s roll up our sleeves and run with it.

 
How About You?

Could you have arrived at your current success without hard work? Do you think hindsight clouds our perspective on how we could have done things more efficiently in the past?

More insights on: Career Development, Perseverance

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making ideas Happen.
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