There’s been a bit of a “feel-good” movement lately when it comes to work. A heavy emphasis on fulfillment and passion and a lot of rhetoric surrounding the elusive “work-life balance” have created a bit of a sense that maybe, just maybe, work as we know it, is going out of style.
A large portion of the blame for this line of thinking is placed squarely on the shoulders of Millennials. With this new-fangled thinking that your job should be a place that you enjoy going to each day and each task that you undertake should speak in at least some small way to your soul, has earned Generation Y a bit of a soft reputation.
One of the biggest offenders of the “work should be fun!!!” ideology is —ironically—creative agencies. The sheer number of job postings that boast ping-pong tables, 24-hour barista access, and astroturf is overwhelming. And while there is a direct link between play and creativity, putting a swing in a conference room isn’t necessarily going to guarantee an overflowing font of inspiration.It seems that no matter what your industry or profession is (with, of course, some exceptions), the notion that work is work has gotten a bit diluted over the past few years.
Hard Work is Hard
In a recent interview with ESPN, Chicago Cubs pitcher Anthony Rizzo recounted an experience that had, unwittingly, made a big impact on his career. While visiting the White House following the Cubs’, 2016 World Series victory, Rizzo noticed a small sign in the Oval Office that read:
Hard work is hard.
According to Rizzo, that notion really “stuck with him” and he has been keeping it in mind during his off-season training, to prepare for future success.
While simple in its sentiment, those four words have a lot of professional baggage. Yes, hard work is hard. Very hard. Mind numbingly hard. So hard that it pushes many entrepreneurs to give up and even more would-be entrepreneurs to never get started in the first place.
There is a sort of bell curve to working. The initial start-up phase, where the ideas are flowing, the excitement is high, and everything is new and full of promise. During this phase, you are putting your plans in place to conquer the mountain and while dreaming of the view from the top, you fall in love with your idea of how the journey will progress.
After all, you are doing what you love, what you are passionate about. You are talented, you are motivated, you are going to make it! Success and accolades will rain down on you from on high, while the Gods of Industry & Forward Progress smile upon you.
The next phase is when all of the planning is complete, the wheels are ready to be set in motion, and the work begins. You’ve reached the top of your mountain and instead of looking out on the shining seas of a job well done, it’s the swamp of minutiae that stretches out as far as the eye can see. With nothing but the tiny golden flag of the finish line on the far-flung horizon.
You see, hard work is hard.
Ideologies Roll Downhill
There is a lot of murmurings in not only media but around corporate meeting tables as well, that the ones to blame for all of this are the Millennials. How many times have you heard the Gen Y-ers called “soft,” “lazy,” or “difficult to motivate”?
But are Millennials truly to blame? Or is there more to the softening of work’s edges than at first it may seem? Generation X had their own part to play in creating the hard work-hating monster that they love to bemoan, as did the Baby Boomers.
Let’s backtrack and look at this in a historical context.
The Baby Boomers start out feeling the repercussions of the Great Depression from their parents—the Silent Generation—the uncertainty and violence of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. They come of age and begin to have families of their own during the height of an economic rebound.
Swearing that their children shall not have the same extreme-saving mentality imparted upon them, they place a huge valuation on materials goods and monetary success and stability.
Generation X feels the push-pull of their parents. They have been raised on a diet of consumerism and fierce parental motivation but as they reach adulthood and begin to have families of their own, the previous generation begins to tire and the messaging changes.
Enter, the Millennial.
Once Gen-Y enters the workforce, the message is far from clear. You have to be successful, but your job shouldn’t rule your life. Passion is greater than monetary success, but your passion is only valid if it’s marketable.
You are a consumer. You are a brand. You are a beautiful and unique little snowflake whose worth should not be determined by consumer goods. But if you don’t have the right stuff, maybe you’re not really special enough.
The way that we view shifts with the part that work plays in not only our own lives but in a greater historical context, as well.
Why We Work
Work is a more complicated notion than we give it credit for. All too often we attempt to reduce the phenomenon of work to you either “live to work, or work to live.” This oversimplification has some very heavy subtext: the two cannot go hand in hand.
When it all boils down to it, we have a job to pay for our life. This is not a chicken and egg scenario, this is a simple fact. If we were all independently wealthy, it doesn’t mean that we would loaf around and do nothing, it simply means that we wouldn’t go to work.
One day, someone had the bright idea to marry those two lines of thinking, and the idea caught on.
The philosophy goes something like this:
“If I didn’t HAVE to work, then what would I do? That is my true passion and therefore, my real purpose. Now, if I can find a way to earn a living from said purpose, then all of my life’s troubles will be over and I will never have another unhappy day in my life.”
Much like the sentiment expressed in a piece previously posted on the importance of finding your passion, perhaps we have missed the plot just a bit.
Work is work. If you happen to work in a field that also fuels your passion, it doesn’t mean that there is less work. If anything, one could argue that the daily BS chores that have to be done in order to maintain any modicum of success become that much harder to bear because of the thought that this is your passion, —it shouldn’t be work!!!No matter how much we love what it is that we do, we can never fully extract ourselves from the day-to-day tedium required to build a successful career out of our passion.
You can love your significant other with all of the emotion that your body is capable of mustering, but they will still drive you to near madness with their inability to place their used pajamas anywhere else but behind the bathroom door. So it is with achieving your dream job.
We must all endure the day-to-day busywork in order to reap any sort of rewards from our efforts.
Why We Hate Hard Work
By its very definition, hard work is the opposite of fun. It’s not glamorous; it’s uninspiring and grueling. These are not exactly the ingredients for an ultra-sexy professional experience.
In order to avoid the day-to-day technicalities that must be worked through to achieve our various professional end goals, we employ all sorts of excuses and systems.
The easiest, and most common for a business owner or independent contractor is to claim non-expertise. It would be more efficient, more cost-effective to contract out the hard work to someone who knows, who does this very thing for a living.
There are some instances when this makes sense. If you are looking to create a professional commercial for your business and have never held a camera in your life, it is a worthwhile investment to hire a professional videographer.
Trustworthy experts in their field can oftentimes save time and money by directing your efforts towards what your needs are exactly, rather than you trying to determine that on your own.
However, there is a difference between consulting with an expert because a project is so far outside your realm of knowledge and experience that it would take more time and money to learn to do it yourself and outsourcing your monthly expense paperwork because you just “don’t have the time.”
The other popular thought process is procrastination. Many creatives in particular, subscribe to the notion that they “work best under pressure.” This usually equates out to an inability to focus on a single task, unless all outside influences are eliminated, i.e. when a project deadline looms so close that it bulldozes anything else that you may have had on your desk at the time.
While it can be helpful to have outside “noise” removed from a project, invoking the sort of single-mindedness that can help bolster a good idea to a great result, the trade-off is that there is no time allotted for further review or revisions. This handicaps the end result from the start.
Small tasks are easily circumvented because they do not immediately equate to a payoff or a detriment. If you fail to account for every expense you incurred this week, it’s not likely that your business with either tank or thrive as an immediate result.
The absence of an immediate reward or consequence makes it easy to push the busy work off to someone else, or sidestep it altogether.
How Hard Work Helps
As unglamorous as hard work may seem, it’s often the humble vehicle to a greater end. By investing our time and attentions to the tiny pieces that make up our profession, we are effectively learning the individual cogs that set our success in motion.
Setting aside the time to put into the hard work that is needed to achieve an end goal is a way of continuing our own education. As rote as our jobs may become, there is always something to be learned from the process.
Each new development becomes a new opportunity to learn to do things in a new, more efficient, more effective way. If we didn’t take the time to perform the same tasks in each new and unique scenario, we may miss out on a chance to learn something new and adjust our future efforts.The very nature of applying the same set of tasks to a new scenario opens us up to discovery. You may have offered a certain product or service the same way since you started your business, but once a single client asks for a variation, thereby forcing you to rethink your entire strategy, you are suddenly presented with the opportunity to revise and streamline.
This could, potentially, spin off into not only a new system but possibly a new product altogether.
While the potential for new discovery is certainly present through the execution of everyday rote tasks, the true value lies in the foundation building that occurs simultaneously.
According to Malcom Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any given task. By practicing the same small details over and over, you are honing your skills, and sharpening your skill set, building a solid foundation for future innovations.
While these two outcomes are being built concurrently from the practice of hard work, the unseen benefit is the increase in confidence that a certain level of expertise brings to a business owner or freelancer. After all, what better way is there to learn the ins and outs of your craft than to train yourself on each and every detail that goes into it?
How We Bridge the Gap
The first step to reaping the long-term benefits of hard work comes with adjusting our view of it entirely. Instead of looking at the dreaded details as the mud that we must slog through to reach our respective finish lines, we can start to reframe that mud as cement.
The building blocks of a successful career are talent, skills, and character. The technical knowledge that allows us to marry those three things together to form a successful career is the cement.
You can paint a picture that causes the viewer to weep with uncontrolled emotion on sight, you can sell it to the most influential collector in town, but unless you knew all of the exact steps to pricing your work appropriately, you will starve.
Part of what makes hard work so completely unbearable is it’s sheer volume. The ratio of sordid details to each shiny new commission is arguably 3:1. The overwhelming amount of crap that must be done in order to bring an exciting project to life is enough to make anyone give up before they start.
Unless that person knows how to break it down and use it to their advantage.
After you’ve reconciled your thoughts on work as a whole, take some time to consider how you work. Are you the type of person who can take projects on small pieces, slowly building a little each day until you knit together a final picture? Or do you need to have a definitive end goal in site at all times and to just knock out everything that is required in one fell swoop?
Organizing the minutiae is an essential step to conquering it completely. By creating a timeline and grouping tasks in a way that works with your unique working style, that long list of “to-dos” is suddenly much more likely to see as a list of “to-dones”.
Additionally, parceling tasks out into a timeline and/or grouping them by similarity can help you to see where it may be beneficial to bring in another set of hands. After all, the only thing worse than a seemingly insurmountable to-do list is a snowballing one.It’s all fine and good to tackle your daily tasks in a useful and efficient manner one time, but where the benefits really come in is with developing systems and rituals.
Science tells us that a new habit can be developed in 21-66 days. So, by creating a system around how you accomplish the details of your work on a daily basis and repeat that system for 1-2 months, we can remove the feeling of being bogged down by mindless tasks.
If you incorporate something as a rote part of your routine, you stop questioning it or even really considering it at all. Those tasks simply become second nature.
Hard work is hard. It’s not ideal that we have to invest large amounts time and energy into the absolute dregs of our jobs, but the silver lining is that it is enormously beneficial in the long run.
Perhaps if we shifted our perspective just a little bit, from dreading or typecasting hard work as being the threat that our lives are constantly under, we can start recognizing its many benefits.
Hard work is not a badge of courage, nor is it an indicator that your life is somehow off-kilter or less meaningful. Hard work is a vehicle for further growth and development. It’s by sticking with it and learning as much as we can throughout the process that we can fully reap the rewards of our efforts.
What tasks do you dread doing at your work everyday? Let us know in the comments below.