Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Myth of Hard Work

Perhaps this will irk a few readers. That's okay. It's okay to feel irked sometimes ;).

It always bothers me when people write, 'in my opinion' (IMO) or 'in my humble opinion' (IMHO). It just seems redundant. Of course it is your opinion. That goes without saying. Unless you are an attorney speaking on behalf of a client, or a public relations professional on behalf of a company, or Jay Carney, (suppose there are other examples) you saying something is your opinion. You don't have to declare it anymore than to say, 'end of sentence' after you finish a thought.

We get it.

That said, in my opinion...oopsy daisy. Well, for this one, I intentionally declare 'in my opinion' only to defuse the perception that this particular opinion is somehow superior to anyone else's. While I carry quite 'different' views than many folks out there, I try my best not to claim superiority (I do fail at times though, no doubt). I am not righteous. I'm sure CJY will laugh, but if you talked to Ash and others close to me, they would affirm that I try my best not to proclaim my way is the right way. My way is just my way (and I may be quite adamant about that!). Your way is yours. We don't have to agree. In fact, it's more interesting if we don't. There are a thousand and one times when Ash and I are discussing something when I say to her, "It's not that I am better than anyone else, because I am not....". Maybe it's like adding a disclaimer as a preface like, "No offense, but..."

I tease.

I genuinely do not believe that my way is supreme. So that is why in this particular instance I say in my opinion. On to the fun.

Hard work is a bizarre concept is it not? What does it connote? Do you think of manual labor like I do? Do you think of hours studying for an exam? Do you think of long hours behind a desk with laser-like focus?

No matter what you envision when you imagine hard work, I would bet that it is something you aspire toward. And for good reason, no? Isn't Federer the greatest tennis player because he works the hardest? Didn't Barack Obama become President through decades of hard work? Did the pyramids get built by sloths? Those who accomplish the most tend to work the hardest, right? And there's a reward that comes with hard work too. Money. Success. Championships. Etc.

When I first started triathlon I was light years behind my peers. I could barely break 21 minutes in a 5k. But if you peruse the archives of this blog you will see workouts that would make Ryan Hall blush. No rest days. The only way to expedite the process I believed was to outwork the competition. And I did. And I caught up.

In other words, I understand the cause and effect of hard work.

But I don't believe it is the virtue that others make it out to be. Does hard work make you a better father? A better lover? Does hard work keep your dog grinning from ear to ear. Does hard work make you a kinder colleague? A better listener? How does hard work help you listen on the phone for an hour to your ailing sister? How does hard work fix a broken marriage? How does hard work permit you to read the greatest authors of our time? Does hard work allow you time to play with your kids? Does hard work leave you the time to cook a nice dinner?

I sense some skepticism. For instance, if we don't work hard, how will we have food to buy to cook? If we don't work hard how can we afford to pay for our dog's injuries and vaccinations. Isn't viewing marriage as hard work the realistic and correct way to view it? Can't you work hard 'at' being a good lover.

And I think those would be valid points. Again, I get it.

But the panacea that many see as 'hard work' is to me actually a detriment to our lives, not a benefit. Isn't all that we really seek at the end of our life is to be surrounded by those who love and care for us? Do you ever wonder if people dying in bed ever regret not working longer hours in the office? I sense some more skepticism, this time from me!

No, what we don't need is hard work. I know who work the hardest. Every day the Latinos who build the new townhomes next door work their ass off. It's cold. It's bitter, bitterly cold. And they begin at 7AM and often don't finish until 6:30 P.M. From what I can gather, they get a 45 minute lunch. And it's punishing work too. They don't barely make $10 an hour.

Perhaps they're outliers but let's look at the opposite side of the pendulum. Every single day I witness 'pump and dump' stock pickers. I can list you tickers of stocks that jump (mostly OTC) from .02-.10. Doesn't sound like much but imagine you have $10k invested and bought at .02 and sold at .10. You would now have $50k. Not bad for a day's 'hard work', eh? These people provide no benefit to the company. No benefit to anyone but themselves and they don't work, they gamble. It's coordinated gambling and people become millionaires in a matter of days. It happens. Point is, they don't work hard.

I was once passed on the bike during my first triathlon by a guy with a triathlon bike, disc wheel, aero helmet and he had to be 20 pounds overweight. He passed me not because he worked harder, but because he could afford better gear.

Anyway, I should try to avoid the anecdotes as they may detract from my greater thesis. It's not that I think that hard work can't be an asset. It can. It is. You are much more likely to be a financial success if you work hard at something than if you do not. You are much more likely to shoot 80% free throws if you practice three hours a day instead of 20 minutes. Hard work will help you accomplish these ideas that we seek.

But why do we rely on 'hard work' as the preeminent value? Isn't kindness more important? Isn't being a loving father or a gentler husband more valuable? Isn't having compassion and taking time to listen to others more important than long hours in the office? You can say these things aren't mutually exclusive, but I can attest from experience that too much hard work in one too many things will leave you empty in other areas. There's just not enough time in the day to use another cliche'.

It's also funny that we say, 'everything in moderation'. But not work. Work must be hard. It's even 'work hard, play hard' for Millennial's as we are coined. I say fuck that.

We need balance. Work is just a way to provide for us and our families because we live in a capitalistic society. Partially why I lean anarchistic philosophically is because I don't believe in the structure of the current world. I don't believe in the 9 to 5, the 5 day workweek. The 2 paid weeks of vacation. Fuck that. That's someone else's vision. Not mine.

I say work as hard as you need to (some say that this is because I don't have a passion as my career) and spend the rest of your time doing what you wish. For me, I know when I am old and gray (or in my case bald!) I will desire no grand legacy. I want to amass a fortune of memories not necessarily of wealth. I want to be well-loved because I did well-love. I want to be admired because I do admire. I want to be the best all-around human being I can be. And I cannot be the best while mired in hard work.

I very much respect and admire those who work tenaciously day after day in their respective fields. Truly I do. Partially I think that this is ingrained in me from such a young age (in all of us I imagine) but partially because I envy their 'success'. Whether that be riches, nice homes, fancy cars, prestige, or what have you.

But I can respect someone else's lifestyle (and their opinions) and not adopt them myself. I do not believe that hard work will help me excel as a person in my life. It may make me a damn fast triathlete. It may make me 6 figures before I turn 30. But those should be means to an end. Not the end itself. 

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although there is much merit in working hard at what you get paid to do, to make it your primary focus is sheer folly. I think a balance of work/play/relationships/giving back to your community and world must be part of the entire mix. If that balance is off kilter, and hard work at the office is what your focus is, huge regrets will follow. Those that are the happiness realize that it is not our material wealth that cause it.

Anonymous said...

There is a deep satisfaction that can come from working hard, feeling like you have accompliahed something. But that sense of satisfaction also needs to come from giving your best to your relationships, to your fellow man, and your body and health. A wise man learns this early. Sadly, too many of us become wise too late.

Anonymous said...

"I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun..." Thomas A. Edison

My dear friend Conor,

Your maturation and evolution continues I see ... my compliments dear friend.

By the way when we say "in my opinion" this reminds others as well as ourselves that we are not the Gods of the one and only truth... there are many I know, and perhaps you do as well, who believe that their's is the "Only Reality" ...these are the self righteous and you will not hear them say "In my opinion" unfortunately... they state there positions as if they were a divine doctrine... those great pontificators.

I pose yet another reality for you to consider ... for discussion's sake, let us call it an "alternate reality"... my reality.

After these 50+ years on this planet I have become rather convicted with my belief with what is important to me ...for me. That being:
--to be healthy, vibrant, enthusiastic and strong
--to have great harmony both with my self as well as with others
-- to contribute to the betterment of those I touch and those who touch me through respect, compassion, and on occasion shining the light in areas they may be of value for them to ponder and consider especially with the good within them and around them
-- to be at peace as with still waters that run deep, and to share my peace with others...seeing myself as Air, all around yet nothing... feeling the barbs and arrows pass by and through me as but a gentle disturbance ...acknowledging them but unharmed, offended or distracted by them...not blocking their paths of self discovery.

I challenge the word "work" and "hard" which you have used here ... if work = employment or the effort expended to acquire financial resources then ok ...I have spent many hours employed ..at times 80 hours per week with 2 hour commutes... yet my young friend I enjoyed those times having a sense of challenge and adventure with them ...if I do have a regret, it was that I did loose balance and it impacted relationships, family and my health...today I am still employed with a 6 figure+ income but I have balance with relationships, my health/fitness, peace of mind, and my contributions to and for others...I am now becoming more and more each day "Air"... everywhere yet nowhere ... much more a warm or occasionally brisk breeze for others and rarely if ever a tempest... there to nurture all

So I ask you a question dear dear friend... how will you both maintain balance and learn to love employment each and every day??

I am very humbled with the progress and maturity you continue to show ... far ahead of me when I was your age some 100 years ago :-)

Give my love to Lady A and my regrets, as I most likely will not make your wedding.

Had I had a son I would have wanted him to be just like you young fellow... keep on your path, it is true with your wisdom and compassion... and questions. For the answers you seek will always gain clarity when you ask wise questions to begin with.

An old friend


Doran said...

Conor,

A great read and very thought provoking. As someone who has a tendency to over-indulge in "hard work" - it is a balance I struggle with daily. Only my wife is a magnetic enough force to shift my focus from working towards goals (athletic, career, etc) to slowing down and enjoying life and striving to be a better, kinder person. While I lack you and CJY's talent for expressing myself, I think you understand my inner workings better than almost anyone. I could use a dose of your attitude, and I think some has worn off on me. Or maybe I'm just getting older. A great bonus of your posts is the exposure to CJY as well, his Air analogy struck me as unique - and very far from the dynamic I seek to have with my environment. I am not nearly as self-reflective as the two of you. One last observation is that working hard is clearly one of your strengths - and most people tend to by default over-value what they are good at, so these ideas are even more powerful coming from you. Many others would embrace this quality and carry on without thought - which I guess is partially your point. Anyway, thanks for a few minutes of respite from the "hard work" today... now back to it.

Anonymous said...

Hard work can certainly contribute to making a fuller and happier life. Jimmy Carter is one who has continued to work hard to contribute to society through his efforts with Habitat for Humanity, and writing his many books, far after his presidency. There are many more examples. The key is finding something that stirs your soul.

ConArtist said...

Some great comments here.

I agree with you. Balance is crucial. So important. Too often the scales are tipped in one direction or another. Yes, chasing spoils doesn't often produce contentment.

Yes, completely. agree. It's wonderful to see tangible results or produce something. Well said.

CJY,

Love your insight. It's true that 'in my opinion' is pretty benign. I just find it redundant. But it does show a level of respect to other opinions I suppose. I really like your list of what is important. I appreciate your sagacious advice here. I will try to love each and every day..employment though will need some work from me lol. I'm humbled by your kind words. They are much appreciated.

Doran,

Excellent feedback. I imagine you are one who works his tail end off. God knows how you are able to work those days and be a triathlete simultaneously...do you sleep??? I'm glad you're in an area though that is perhaps conducive to slowing down, enjoying things and getting that 'air'. Yes, I believe I do work hard in many aspects of my life, I suppose it's just my employment where I lack a bit of focus. I am flattered by your words, thank you as always for sharing them.

Good point. Find something you like and never work a day in your life, isn't that the saying??