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Success literature going back hundreds of years espouses the benefits of hard work. But why is it that some people seem to feel that “hard work” is a dirty word nowadays?
I define “hard work” as work that is challenging. Both hard work and “working hard” (i.e. putting in the time required to get the job done) are required for success.
A problem occurs when people think of challenging work as painful or uncomfortable. Does challenging work necessarily have to be painful? No, of course not. In fact, a major key to success is to learn to enjoy challenging work AND to enjoy working hard at it.
Why challenging work? Because challenging work, when intelligently chosen, pays off. It’s the work that people of lesser character will avoid. And if you infer that I’m saying people who avoid challenging work have a character flaw, you’re right… and a serious one at that. If you avoid challenging work, you avoid doing what it takes to succeed. To keep your muscles strong or your mind sharp, you need to challenge them. To do only what’s easy will lead to physical and mental flabbiness and very mediocre results, followed by a great deal of time and effort spent justifying why such flabbiness is OK, instead of stepping up and taking on some real challenges.
Tackling challenges builds character, just as lifting weights builds muscle. To avoid challenge is to abandon one’s character development.
Now it’s natural that we’ll tend to avoid what’s painful, so if we see challenge as purely painful, we’ll surely avoid it. But in so doing, we’re avoiding some very important character development, which by its very nature is often tremendously challenging. So we must learn to fall in love with challenge instead of fearing it, just as a bodybuilder can learn to love the pain of doing “one more rep” that tears down muscle fibers, allowing them to grow stronger. If you avoid the pain, you miss out on the growth. This is true both for building muscles and for building character.
While a common philosophy says to go with the flow, the downside to this belief system is that you must yield control of your life to that flow. And that’s fine if you don’t mind living passively and letting life happen to you. If you feel you’re here to ride your life instead of drive it, then you’ll have to accept where the flow takes you and learn to like it. But sometimes the flow doesn’t go in a healthy direction. You can go with the flow and end up in a pretty screwed up situation if you don’t assume more direct control when needed.
On the other hand, there’s the alternative way of looking at life with you as the driving force behind it. You create and control the flow yourself. This is a more challenging way to live but also a much more rewarding one. You aren’t limited to those experiences that can only be gotten passively or painlessly — now you can have much more of what you want by being willing to accept and take on bigger challenges.
If I only went with the perceived easy flow of my life, I’d never have learned to read, write, or type; those were all challenges where I felt I was going against the flow of what was easy and natural. I wouldn’t have gotten any college degrees. I wouldn’t have started my own business. I certainly wouldn’t have developed any software. No way I would have run a marathon — one doesn’t exactly flow into such a thing. And I most certainly wouldn’t be doing any public speaking. This web site wouldn’t exist either; it was definitely an entity created more by drive than by flow.
I do believe there is an underlying flow to life at times, but I see myself as a co-creator in that flow. I can ride the flow when it’s headed where I want to go, or I can get off and blaze my own trail when necessary.
When you step up and learn to see yourself as the driver of your life instead of the passive victim of it, then it becomes a lot easier to take on big challenges and to endure the hardships they sometimes require. You learn to associate more pleasure to the character development you gain than the minor discomforts you experience. You become accustomed to spending more time outside your comfort zone. Hard work is something you look forward to because you know that it will lead to tremendous growth. And you eventually develop the maturity and responsibility to understand that certain goals will never just flow into your life; they’ll only happen if you act as the driving force to bring them to fruition.
When faced with the prospect of saying to yourself, “If I always avoid hard work, I’ll never in my life get to experience X, Y, or Z,” it’s a little easier to embrace the benefits of hard work. What will you miss out on? You’ll probably never run a marathon, marry the mate of your dreams, become a multi-millionaire, make a real difference in the world, etc. You’ll have to settle for only what going with the flow can provide, which is mediocrity. You’ll basically just take up space and die without really having mattered. The world will be pretty much the same had you never existed (chaos theory notwithstanding).
If you want to achieve some really big and interesting goals, you have to learn to fall in love with hard work. Hard work makes the difference. It’s what separates the children from the mature adults. You can keep living as a child and desperately hoping that life will always be easy, but then you’ll be stuck in a child-like world, working on other people’s goals instead of your own, waiting for opportunities to come to you instead of creating your own, and doing work that in the grand scheme of this world just isn’t important.
When you learn to embrace hard work instead of running from it, you gain the ability to execute on your big goals, no matter what it takes to achieve them. You blast through obstacles that stop others who have less resolve. But what is it that gets you to this point? What gets you to embrace hard work?
When you live for a strong purpose, then hard work isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. If your life has no real purpose, then you can avoid hard work, and it won’t matter because you’ve decided that your life itself doesn’t matter anyway. So who cares if you work hard or take the easy road? But if you’ve chosen a significant purpose for your life, it’s going to require hard work to get there — any meaningful purpose will require hard work. You have to admit to yourself then that the only way this purpose is going to be fulfilled is if you embrace hard work. And this is what takes you beyond fear and ego, beyond the sniveling little child who thinks that hard work is something to run away from. When you become driven by a purpose greater than yourself, you embrace hard work out of necessity. That child gets replaced by a mature adult who assumes responsibility for getting the job done, knowing that without total commitment and lots of hard work, it’s never going to happen.
Desire melts adversity.
Show me a person who avoids hard work, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t found their purpose yet. Because anyone who knows their purpose will embrace hard work. They’ll pay the price willingly.
If you don’t know your purpose yet, then in the world of mature human beings, you don’t yet matter. You’re just a piece of flotsam on the flow created by those who do live on purpose. And deep down you already know this, don’t you? If you want to make a difference in the world, then hard work is the price. There are no shortcuts.
Purpose and hard work are buddies. Purpose is the why. Hard work is the how. Purpose is what turns labor into labor of love. It transmutes the pain of hard work into the higher level pleasure of dedication, commitment, resolve, and passion. It turns pain into strength, eventually to the point where you don’t notice the pain as much as you enjoy the strength.
Once again it all comes down to purpose. Create a purpose for your life, and live it each day. And many of the other success habits like hard work and working hard will fall into place automatically. Figure out the why. Why are you here? Why does your life matter? That is the ultimate test of your free will.