Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Hard Work Is Misunderstood

Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. And it’s spawned all kinds of weird behaviours.

Being the last to leave the office became a badge of honor. It’s become cool to rock t-shirts saying, “I’m not lucky, it’s called hustle.” And Apple thought it was a good idea to run an ad for one of its shows where someone said “I rarely get to see my kids. That’s a risk you have to take.”

You know what that person was doing when he was away from his children? Building an app that shows you what a futon from Ikea would look like in your living room. Riveting stuff.

Although the gospel of working yourself into the ground started in Silicon Valley, seemingly every working stiff has bought into it. 

If you want success hard enough, no amount of work is too much.

A few years back, a pregnant Lyft driver even took on a ride as her newborn was already on its way out and pulling on the steering wheel.

Much of the allure of hard work is probably that it’s available to everyone. You can’t change your looks, you can’t increase your smarts, and you can’t improve your luck. But you can change your work ethic.

There’s just two problems with this path to success.

Firstly, you can’t outwork everyone. Especially not the people who are willing to work for less money than you.

Kids from Phnom Penh, Cambodia get up at dawn and work until dusk to pull aluminium out of trash heaps. Earning about two bucks a day.

Think you can outwork children prepared to eke out a living by sorting through a toxic landfill?

Not only can’t you outwork the competition, romanticizing work is dumb. 

Working longer hours doesn’t mean you get more shit done. It just means you work longer hours.

A 2014 report by economist John Pencavel shows that more work doesn’t necessarily yield better results. In fact, working overtime often has the opposite effect: lower productivity thanks to fatigue and stress.

Delivering quality work is difficult. Much more difficult than screwing together widgets, chiming in on Slack, or holding meetings that should have been an email.

Quality work demands focus. Lots of it.

If your work is fueled by brainpower, computer scientist Cal Newport says your productivity will screech to a halt after about four hours. Any longer and you’re running on fumes. 

At which point you can only reliably do mind-numbingly boring tasks like shuffling papers and pulling levers. 

So scrolling through memes and cat videos isn’t silly procrastination, it’s your brain telling you it needs a breather.

Want to plow through your fatigue anyway?

You’ll likely produce mediocre work. Work that’s not good enough to propel you to fame and riches. Although it might earn you an ‘employee of the month’ plaque.

The point is, you can succeed without working yourself to death. Nobody cares about how tough you are. We care about what problems you can solve and how you can brighten our day.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach