I come from Japan, where they value hard work and diligence more than Americans do. I have been to a number of countries but I haven’t seen a culture with more rigorous work ethic than Japan. But I say that with mixed feelings because I don’t believe that all that hard work makes people happier. If that were true, Japanese should have been the happiest, most fulfilled people on earth, which they are not.
The myth of hard work lies in the carrot-at-the-end-of-the-stick mentality. The idea that achieving leads to happiness. Accomplishments and meeting goals being valued above all else.
But life is what happens on the way. An achievement is just a point on your history line, not a segment. The issue with this mentality is that you live under pressure to incorporate any and all best practices in your pursuit of achievements.
I’m a guitar player so I stop and look at articles and videos with headlines like “5 licks that every guitarist must know.” But while I applaud the writer for being bold, that kind of blanket statement ignores all contexts. And the most important context is you.
For example, people have different learning styles. When you are an aural learner, reading books may not be the most effective or fun way to learn. Or another example is how my business coach Tom Volkar had me go through a “marketing eagerness” assessment. It was simply a list of business marketing tactics, from social media to networking, where I rated them in terms of how eager I was to engage in those activities. For many years I tried to work the marketing machine by incorporating bits and pieces of advices I read online — only to peter out in frustration.
The simple truth is that if you don’t love what you do while trying to achieve your goals, you are not being as effective as you can, if at all. If the work feels hard then maybe you’re not going about it the right way.
There is no one path to success, and all who claim so are either lying or being misled themselves. For every best practice or rule there are exceptions. Good work ethic comes out of loving what you do, instead of having to enforce it in the name of “getting there” as quickly and efficiently as you can.
So hard work and achievements are outcomes, not methods. If you’re having to drive yourself very hard (a bit of drive is always involved, because Resistance stands in the way of anything worthwhile in life — says Steven Pressfield) and it feels straining, you haven’t found your way. Don’t get me wrong, challenges and some frustrations are normal and integral parts of any pursuits. Good games are full of them and we keep going back for more. But if it feels like a back-breaking hard work, it’s bound to be neither effective nor sustainable. It’s OK to take a break and re-evaluate.
In short, I abandoned my faith in hard work. Instead I believe in loving what I do. I do have a good work ethic, I do work hard but it doesn’t feel hard. I enjoy a sense of progress, of course, but I don’t think about whether I am getting there as fast as possible.
Work in a way that works for you. Then the journey to get there becomes the reward, and the end result will just be an icing on a cake.