I know what your favorite entertainer, athlete, or publicly-noted successful person has told you about their hard work. Many a noted celebrity espouses their work ethic as if that alone is the reason for all their accomplishments.
If you worked as hard as I do, you’d be successful like me, too!
Listen, I’m not here to say that Celebrity X doesn’t work hard or that they’re misleading you by touting their work ethic. Most of the time, I think they truly believe that their hard work is the main reason for their success. They’re not hiding anything from you.
The thing is, Celebrity X is good at what he or she is good at, and not quite an expert at explaining how and why their success actually happened.
Here’s the idea of this article:
Hard work is not an achievement.
Hard work itself is not anything to hang your hat on or to be celebrated.
Athletes have said to me, “Dre, I work hard and practice often, but I’m not getting in my team’s games.”
Or, “I work hard in team practices and train hard on my game — but when I get in a game, nobody’s giving me the ball.”
Or, “As hard as I’m working, I feel like I deserve an opportunity.”
These athletes are not attempting to mislead me, either. They truly believe they deserve an opportunity because of how hard they’ve been working.
But, anyone who thinks this way is thinking wrong.
Let me address all of the hard workers right now, for the record: I believe you.
I believe that you work hard in practice.
I believe that you put a lot of time and effort and energy into sharpening your game.
I believe that, if you were given a chance, that you would make the most of it.
I 100% believe everything that you say.
I know you work hard.
But here’s the thing: a lot of people besides you work hard, too. Some of them are good at what they do; some aren’t. Some of them will get a chance; some won’t.
For You to “make it,” though, whatever “making it” means for you, you’ll need more than hard work to get there.
Rapper Cardi B won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album of The Year. There was immediate backlash, as many rap fans, myself included, didn’t feel that Cardi had made the best rap album of the year. Unlike me, though, many of those fans took to social media to make their opinions known, which apparently caught Cardi B’s attention.
Cardi took to social media the next day and defended her Grammy victory, explaining how hard she had worked on her album: the long hours in the studio, recording while pregnant, how exhausting the whole process was and all the effort she had put into making her album (which was a better album than I’d expected from Cardi B, honestly — but still not the best rap album of the year).
Cardi B’s defense told me that she believed her hard work had made her deserving of winning. Many Cardi fans, who felt she did deserve Rap Album Of The Year, gave Cardi the requisite social media round of applause, which Cardi was sure to broadcast.
This argument — I worked hard, so I deserve it — makes no sense, whether from Cardi, you, me or anyone else.
I think it’s safe to assume that any musician who wins an award worked hard in creating their album.
What about the other nominees who didn’t win? They didn’t work hard on their albums? What about the struggling artists who no one knows and whose name didn’t even get mentioned for a Grammy nomination — are they not working hard?
There’s some rapper out there whose only album sales were to his aunt and his girlfriend’s mom. And he’s working just as hard as the famous guys. Despite all that work, this unknown artist may never become known.
Working hard doesn’t make you deserving of anything.
I’ve mentioned Cardi B as an example for two reasons.
One, because hers was a recent situation that was fresh in my mind.
Two, because words from celebrities like Cadi have 10X the impact on people as words from a non-celebrity. The cleberity’s influence matters.
There are a bunch of impressionable people out there, young and old, who listen to and look up to someone like Cardi B or anyone who is publicly noted for their success.
People respect and admire success — which, in American culture reads as “money and/or attention.”
When you’re in such a public position, people are more inclined to accept your opinions as their opinions, your ideas as their truths, your quotes as their mission statements.
When you’re famous, people don’t understand that you’re a normal person just like them, who just happens to be more known. Because of your success, the halo effect is enacted: people ascribe skills, talents and knowledge to you that you in fact don’t possess, just because of your notoriety in that one area that made you famous in the first place.
Cardi espoused her work ethic as if that alone entitled her to success, and a lot of people believed her.
Here’s the main point: hard work is available to everyone, and many, many people engage with it. You’re going to need more than that to get your shot at success.
Cardi B needed more than hard work (timing, luck, a ready-and-willing public) to get to where she is and to come out ahead in comparison to other, just-as-hard-working musicians. While Cardi may not be able to articulate exactly what that more was/is, it exists nonetheless.
When a publicly successful person explains their success by sharing that they work so hard — I showed up early, I stayed late — I don’t think they’re lying to the world.
I believe that they really did work hard. I often believe that they believe their hard work was the differentiating factor in their success. It’s also true, though, that a whole lot of other people, who have not approached superstar levels of success, could do all the same hard work and still not succeed.
Here’s another thing I believe: some people who make it to success know that there were certain circumstances that, combined with their hard work, helped them on their path immensely. Despite knowing this, many still default to the hard work response/defense.
Because touting our hard work as the key to our achievements makes us look like superheroes to the mere mortals.
How many people have you heard admit that luck or timing or knowing the right person played a bigger role in their success than their own personal effort?
My parents were in the right place at the right time…
I went to the right schools…
I knew the right person who put me on…
… Then I worked hard to take that fortuitous opportunity and run with it.
I doubt that you’ve heard any of this very often.
We don’t like to credit luck and happenstance with our success because we feel, unconsciously, maybe, that these admissions diminish our self-image of greatness.
We can hear the peanut gallery shrieking,
You just got lucky!
You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth!
You had a connection that no one else had!
You were just in the right place at the right time!
Understand: every single person — successful and not — has lucky breaks.
We’ve all had some fortuitous turns, some twists of fate that worked in our favor and paved the way for our success. The main difference between success and failure, for all of us, is not if they happen — it’s if we make anything out of them or not.
Many of us also have a hard time seeing good luck for what it is (though we are quick to identify and label bad luck).
So, we default to the thing that’s apparently available to everyone: hard work.
Hard work is a requirement for success, but you’re going to need more than that to achieve. And you damn sure and get no awards for working hard, unlike what Cardi B would like to have you think.
Hard work is a basic given.
Meaning: hard work is required at the professional level of anything. No one coaches professionals on effort.
If you don’t understand the day-to-day effort level that will be required of you as a pro, you’re not gonna be around for long at the pro level.
When everybody is just as good as you, such as in the pros, working hard alone won’t separate you from the others.
Hard work does NOT beat talent.
Maybe your friends told you this falsehood. Maybe your sports coaches preached it to you for motivation. Perhaps you heard the quote attributed to a famously successful person.
When the talent gap is big enough, no amount of hard work can close it.
I know: there are a myriad of stories that you can cite right now of the people who, according to them, “made it” despite not being very talented.
They’re not lying about themselves. They did work hard — but it was more than hard work that made it happen. Maybe they’re aware of this; maybe they’re not. But no one makes it on hard work alone.
Hard work is the easiest element to point out when we succeed, because everybody understands the concept. Anyone can do it, it’s motivating and inspiring to tell the stories of people who did so much with hard work as their only tool, and you can use the idea of hard work on damn near anyone in our productivity-obsessed culture to move them to action.
Hard work without talent and skill is just hard work.
It does not create success. Hard work plus nothing else equals… hard work.
Hard work, plus talent, plus skill? That equals success.
Maybe, if you work really hard with no talent and no skill, you could become mediocre if you’re lucky.
If you’ve been working hard, but you feel you’re not where you expected to be…
There are four possibilities.
A) You are working hard on the wrong things.
Everything ain’t for everybody. Just because someone else did it, it doesn’t mean you need to be doing it. Your path is your path. Maybe you’re working on something that, even at your best, just isn’t going to produce much of a result… for you.
B) Maybe you’re not working as hard as you think you are.
This one happens to people who do all their hard work in a vacuum.
With nothing and no one to compare yourself to, you have no points of reference to compare your work to. This is where a trainer or coach or mentor or any second set of eyes giving you feedback on what you’re doing helps, so you can fine tune your efforts.
Airplanes and their pilots are taking feedback and course-corrections the for the entire duration of flights, for good reason: one degree off, and a plane destined for Los Angeles could end up in San Diego.
That computer system that connects and course-corrects planes is always looking at where the plane is, where the plane is going, and sharing feedback.
You need your own feedback loop from someone who’s as objective as the an airplane’s computers.
Who is looking at your hard work and adjusting your technique or critiquing your strategy?
Don’t do your work in a vacuum. Let it be seen, reviewed, and improved.
C) Maybe you just don’t have as much talent or skill as you thought you had.
Maybe you already knew this, and your lack of results is just confirming what you already knew. Your lack of results are going to keep giving you signals until you finally get the message.
D) Maybe there just isn’t much to be had from this thing that you’re doing, no matter how hard you work.
This is about choice. If you’re looking to make a lot of money, for example, movie stars earn higher salaries than school teachers.
If you choose unwisely where to invest your efforts, there’s a limit on how much success and ROI you generate from a certain line of work.
You can work hard on it, but so what? Who cares?
That’s not a rhetorical question: if you work really hard to produce at the thing you do, who would care? Why do they care? What would they give to have it?
Creating is great— just make sure that you’re creating something that people want and will make an exchange for that suits your desires.
It’s not just working hard. It’s working hard on things that will produce the results that you want.
Before you start climbing up a ladder, make sure it’s leaning against the right building.
If you find yourself in a poor ROI environment or job, redirect that energy somewhere else. As Jay-Z said in one of his songs, nothing wrong with my aim, just gotta change the target.
Please, continue to show up and work hard. Every professional has to.
Hard work is your membership fee to the professional ranks. Skill, talent, politics, luck and timing? They’re your secret password to join the club.
Now, get back to work.
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