Jun 8, 2011

What Is Hard Work?

“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

“Greatness isn’t handed to anyone; it requires a lot of hard work.” – Geoffrey Colvin

“If you’re going to work … work hard.” – Seth Godin

There are lots of inspirational quotes like these out there. “Work hard” is a phrase that gets bandied about all the time. If you want to be successful, work hard. The statement seems pretty intuitive until you dissect it a little. What does “work hard” really mean?

At its core, work is work. Gardening in your backyard is work. Writing an article is work. Negotiating with a customer to win a sale is work. Laying brick is work. Work is work.

“Work hard” really is a stupid statement

For years, I punished myself for not working “hard enough.” I was plenty busy. I had lots of priorities. But if I didn’t see the results I was expecting, I blamed myself for not working hard enough. Finally I realized my attitude towards working hard was misdirected.

Working hard won’t make you successful. Working purposefully will.

There are plenty of distractions around us all the time. Some things are purely entertainment – like almost everything on my iPad. Some things are pressing, but not urgent – busy work that feels good to get done, but may not be the most pressing. And then there’s the purposeful stuff – the work that will lead towards your success.

When you figure out the jobs, projects and activities that actually fulfill your purpose, you can give them the time and attention they deserve. And that’s what I think Seth Godin, Oprah Winfrey and Geoffrey Colvin are alluding to in their quotes. If you want to be successful, work hard on the activities that fulfill your purpose.

Make an effort every day

Working purposefully is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You won’t achieve greatness with a short burst of effort. Rather you’ve got to invest in it every single day.

If your purpose can be fulfilled quickly with minimal effort, it’s just not a big enough purpose. Anyone can invest a little effort, but very few people have the energy or commitment to invest a sustained amount of effort towards a single purpose.

If you’re not willing to make the daily effort, you have to question your purpose. What are you working for? Why is it important to you? What impact will you achieve? If it’s not big enough or meaningful enough, it will be very hard to keep at it day-after-day. Choose your purpose wisely, and give it the attention it deserves. That’s when you’ll achieve success.

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