The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.
– Oprah Winfrey
Hard work — yet another dirty word.
Hard Work Defined
My definition of hard work is that which challenges you.
And why is challenge important? Why not just do what’s easiest?
Most people will do what’s easiest and avoid hard work — and that’s precisely why you should do the opposite. The superficial opportunities of life will be attacked by hordes of people seeking what’s easy. The much tougher challenges will usually see a lot less competition and a lot more opportunity.
There’s an African gold mine two miles deep. It cost tens of millions of dollars to construct, but it’s one of the most lucrative gold mines ever. These miners tackled a very challenging problem with a lot of hard work, but ultimately it’s paying off.
I remember when I was developing the PC game Dweep in 1999, I spent four months full-time working to create a design doc that was only five pages long. It was a logic puzzle game, and I found it extremely challenging to get the design just right. After the design was done, everything else took only two more months — programming, artwork, music, sound effects, writing the installer, and launching the game.
I spent all this time intentionally working on design because at the time, I believed this was where I could get the competitive edge I needed. I knew I couldn’t compete on the basis of the game’s technical attributes. Before I started on the game, I surveyed the competition and found a lot of games that I considered “low hanging fruit.” Most of the market was flooded with clones of older games, the kind of stuff that’s easiest to make. And most of my early games were short on design as well, mostly aim-and-shoot arcade games.
It was much, much harder to design an original game with unique gameplay. But it paid off handsomely. Dweep won the Shareware Industry Award in 2000, and an improved version of the game (Dweep Gold) won that same award the following year. As a result of the success of that game, I was interviewed by a reporter for the New York Times, and my interview along with a nice photo appeared in the June 13, 2001 edition (business section). First released on June 1, 1999, Dweep is now beginning its 7th year of sales. It can’t compete with today’s technology. It couldn’t compete on technology when it was first released. But it still competes well on design with the best of the other competitors in its field. I discovered there are a lot of players who prefer a well-designed game with dated graphics than a shallow light show with the latest technology. The long-term success of this game brought home the lesson that hard work does pay.
There’s no way Dweep would have been able to hold out this long if I had taken the easy way out during the design phase. I dug for gold two miles deep, so it was much harder for anyone else to unseat the game from its position in the market. In order to do that, they’d have to outdig me, and very few people are willing to do that because creative game design is excruciatingly difficult. Everyone says they have a cool game idea, but to actually turn it into something workable, fun, and innovative is very hard work. When I look at other games that are successful over a period of 5+ years, I consistently see a willingness to take on hard work that others aren’t willing to tackle. And yet today the market is even more overcrowded with cloned drivel than when I started.
Strong challenge is commonly connected with strong results. Sure you can get lucky every once in a while and find an easy path to success. But will you be able to maintain that success, or is it just a fluke? Will you be able to repeat it? Once other people learn how you did it, will you find yourself overloaded with competition?
When you discipline yourself to do what is hard, you gain access to a realm of results that are denied everyone else. The willingness to do what is difficult is like having a key to a special private treasure room.
The nice thing about hard work is that it’s universal. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in — hard work can be used to achieve positive long-term results regardless of the specifics.
I’m using this same philosophy in building this personal development business. I do a lot of things that are hard. I try to address topics that other people don’t and bypass the low hanging fruit. I strive to explore topics deeply and search for the gold. I do lots of reading and research. I write lengthy articles and give my best ideas away for free, so I’m constantly forced to better my best. I launched this business in October of last year and have been working on it full time for essentially no pay.
Meanwhile I’m working hard in Toastmasters to build my speaking skills (my one-year anniversary was June 2nd). I belong to two different clubs and attend 6-7 meetings per month. I became a club officer about a month after joining, and I was just elected to a second officer position. I’ve given many speeches, all of them for free. I’ve competed in every speech contest since I’ve joined. If I had put all this time into my games business, I’d have a lot more money right now. It’s a lot of hard work, and I’ve probably got at least another year of training before I’m ready to go pro. But I’m willing to pay the price whatever it takes. I’m not going to take the easy path to a shallow position where I will only come crashing back down again. I won’t get up on a stage and spout a bunch of fluffy self-help sound bites that still garner applause and a paycheck but which don’t ultimately help anyone. If it takes years, it takes years.
I’m taking the same approach to writing my book. It’s a lot of hard work. But I want this to be the kind of book that people will still be reading 10 years from now. Writing a book like this is at least 10x harder than the kinds of books I see dominating the psychology section of bookstores today. But most of those books will be off the shelves in a year, and few people will even remember them.
Hard work pays off. When someone tells you otherwise, beware the sales pitch for something “fast and easy” that’s about to come next. The greater your capacity for hard work, the more rewards fall within your grasp. The deeper you can dig, the more treasure you can potentially find.
Being healthy is hard work. Finding and maintaining a successful relationship is hard work. Raising kids is hard work. Getting organized is hard work. Setting goals, making plans to achieve them, and staying on track is hard work. Even being happy is hard work (true happiness that comes from high self-esteem, not the fake kind that comes from denial and escapism).
Hard work goes hand-in-hand with acceptance. One of the things you must accept are those areas of your life that won’t succumb to anything less than hard work. Perhaps you’ve had no luck finding a fulfilling relationship. Maybe the only way it’s going to happen is if you accept you’re going to have to do what you’ve been avoiding. Perhaps you want to lose weight. Maybe it’s time to accept that the path to your goal requires disciplined diet and exercise (both hard work). Perhaps you want to increase your income. Maybe you should accept that the only way it will happen is with a lot of hard work.
Your life will reach a whole new level when you stop avoiding and fearing hard work and simply surrender to it. Make it your ally instead of your enemy. It’s a potent tool to have on your side.
If you want to read another perspective on hard work, here’s an older post about it: