Yesterday I wrote a blog post on “workism”. In short, I wrote about how work has essentially become a religion — something that we all preach every day. Working hard has become a status symbol and something that we use to show our viability in society. If we say that we have been busy working all day, it makes us sound like we have been doing something meaningful. However, I feel that it is necessary to make the distinction between working hard, and working on something meaningful. Contrary to public belief, they are not analogous — they are very different things. Working hard means that you are doing a lot of work; working on something meaningful means that what you are doing is impactful. Not all work is meaningful.
I think that it is incredibly important to work as hard as you can and work to your best possible standard. Every single situation gives you an opportunity to be your best self — to try hard and do a good job. The truth is that you will be the same tomorrow unless you improve today, and so if you are presented with a task to do, you should do it to the best of your ability. As you continue to do more tasks, you will realize you will get better at doing them and you will be able to do them faster. Most successful people have worked as hard as they possibly could. They have remained completely focused on their work and devoted their life to achieving a certain vision.
Work on the Right Thing
But there are a lot of caveats to add here. Successful people do not just work hard all of the time. For every successful person there are dozens of people who work incredibly hard and have not reached a high level of success. There are a few things to note about working hard. The first is that in order to become successful, you need to be working on something meaningful. If you are working hard on something that adds no value to your life, you are going in the wrong direction — you will never be successful. Successful people have realized that and understand that they have to pick the right thing to work on. They have to choose something which they care deeply about and are willing to work hard toward.
If you work on the wrong thing, you are less likely to reach the finish line. When times get tough and you are struggling, it can be very easy to give up when you are working on the wrong thing; you don’t feel attached to the work you are doing. If you are working on the right thing, though, you are more likely to persevere when you hit major obstacles and work toward achieving a successful outcome. You want to continue working because you care deeply about what you are working on. Working hard is not a substitute for working on something meaningful. It is also worth noting that the people who are successful reached their level of success because it is easier to work on something you care about. You are more likely to have more insightful thoughts and generate new ideas which other people would not be able to do. If you are working on something you don’t care about, then it is more difficult to feel that invested in the success of a project or goal — it means very little to you.
Work With the Right People
In addition to working on the right thing, you also need to be working with the right people. You need to be working with people who convey the same values as you and who care just as much — if not more — about achieving a certain goal or vision. By working with the right people, you are more likely to be able to stick around when you face obstacles, and you will also find it easier to generate new ideas. If you all feel invested in a project, then you will be more likely to achieve your desired outcome. Most of society’s greatest inventions were created by people working in small teams — suffice to say, working with great people is important. If you work with great people, the habits they cultivate will soon become part of your character. If they are hard working, you will want to work harder so you can fit in. If they are principled, you will want to be more principled so you can stand with them. Conversely, if you work with the wrong people, you are more likely to have arguments and develop the negative characteristics which they hold. In sum, work with the right people, work on the right thing, and work as hard as you can.
Don't Work Too Hard
Successful people also understand that working hard does not mean working 100 hours a week. Indeed, most successful people work significantly less than that — they often work normal work weeks. If you work too much then it becomes more difficult to generate new ideas. It becomes more difficult for you to focus because you have been working too hard. Unfortunately, the current perception of work is that you should be working as much as possible, as I wrote in my last essay. However, this could not be further from the truth. People who say they work every day, weekend, and stay up late every night are often lying — it is a type of signaling to show that they are productive. This is a dangerous image because it makes other people feel left behind and encourages them to create new work routines which may affect their health. Working 100 hours a week is not healthy. So, even when you are working hard, you should only be working hard for a certain amount of time — spend the rest on your interests, with family, or doing something else that you enjoy.
Another thing that I have observed is that people who are successful often start to work on a new idea as soon as they have it. They realize that they only have a limited amount of time left in the world and so getting started on something immediately is the best use of your time. Most great ideas get lost because people say that they will think about it tomorrow, and they never do. They lose the spark of inspiration that initially got them excited about that idea. If you don’t start working on a new idea as soon as you have it — even if all that means taking a few notes in your notebook — then it is very likely that you will lose that idea.
You should be impatient with new ideas and relentlessly pursue them. If you notice a problem, solve it as quickly as you can. If you have a new idea on how to improve a project you have been working on, take a note of it and take five minutes to think about your idea. This does not mean that you should let new ideas interrupt your schedule or sleep, but rather that you should try to pursue ideas as soon as you have them. Some of my best ideas have came in the evenings and I have started taking a note of them and compounding on the idea. I also find that if you get started on something in the evening, then you are more likely to work hard on it the next day — you have already started it so you have something to show for your progress.
Working hard is different from working on something that is meaningful. You should always spend your time working on projects that provide you with a lot of value. One of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues was industry, which he valued highly because he realized the shortness of time. Stoics such as Seneca would often remark on the amount of time that we have left. One famous quote by Seneca was “You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” He realized that a lot of us spent our time as if we were immortal — as if we had an infinite supply of time. However, we do not, and so the time that we do have should be spent working on things that provide us with real value — that allow us to be our best selves. In the long-run, working on meaningful things will make us feel happier and allow us to reflect on how great our life has been.
Work hard on meaningful things with great people. Start as soon as you get a spark of inspiration. Don’t work 100 hours a week. Be always engaged in thoughtful tasks.