The myth that hard work is always rewarded, and it eventually leads to success, is embedded into most people's minds. If you put in the work you will reap the benefits sooner or later. And if you didn't succeed, it was because you didn't work as hard as you thought.
It's something that sounds true, since it has been repeated over the years, decades, centuries. There are plenty of sayings in different languages that repeat and emphasise this myth.
Besides, it gives a feeling of personal control. You, and only you, are the creator of your own luck. In Finnish a person like that is known as oman onnensa seppä, the blacksmith of your own fortune. You know, the mythical self-made person.
But it's not true.
I know the following will upset many, maybe even you. I totally understand it.
If you consider yourself a success, you don't want to hear it hasn't been all because of your hard work and perseverance. You consider it a personal criticism if someone dares to suggest your success is not all your own doing.
If you aren't successful, you still have learned early on that your hard work will pay back one day. It's in your whole being. You believe it, because that's what everyone has always told you. Unlearning is painful.
I'm sorry for upsetting you like this. I hope you will hear me out nevertheless.
The cult of hard work
Making people believe hard work is important and the path to success is an idea that serves the already rich and powerful. It keeps the poor people keep working hard (and for cheap) for the powerful ones. It prevents people from falling into the pit of hopelessness while they are knee deep in never ending servitude.
The strong belief in hard work is a great way to keep people occupied, distracted and obedient. It's no surprise the greatest dictators have always been into keeping their subordinates in hard work. When you work hard, you won't have the energy to even think about changing things.
It does sound like a cult. People worship hard work, and those who are perceived to work hard. In this cult you believe that hard work can fix anything, cure any disease and make you a better person.
If you work hard, fight a good fight, you can overcome a cancer ravaging your body. If you work hard you can fix any problem in your life. If you work hard, you can become a superhuman, benevolent and intelligent. And those who don't work hard won't survive, won't have good lives and won't be good people.
Sure, sometimes things require hard work. Like unlearning harmful ideas, thoughts and words. And treatments for illnesses are often hard work on both, the patient and the healthcare worker. Nope, I'm not saying hard work is completely useless.
We, the residents of this planet called Earth, are facing many problems that could be solved by working less. Many problems, that were brought upon by this cult of hard work. Everything from personal stress to climate change could get better, if everyone just worked less.
It's luck, not hard work
A couple of years ago a team of Italian researchers made a computer simulation of financial success. In the simulation they tested how people, given the same amount of capital, would succeed depending on random things happening to them.
It turned out that only very few of their sims would become very rich. Not because they worked harder or were more talented, but because they turned out to be more lucky.
The Italians aren't the only ones who have studied and concluded that it isn't hard work but luck that makes people successful. Or at least hard work alone doesn't lead to success.
It makes sense. Think about every person who works in a sweatshop or all the people who are forced to work in imprisonment with very little or without any reward. You wouldn't say they aren't working hard, but you hardly would call them successes either.
Wouldn't the idea that hard work is what leads to success mean that all the underpaid and overworked people of the world would be wildly successful?
This is the point where all the excuses come in: Maybe they didn't work so hard. Maybe the work and its results are giving them the feeling of success. Maybe they don't deserve the success somehow.
It's all just excuses. To keep the myth of a successful hard worker alive.
"I don't believe in luck!"
Before you start to whine about how you don't believe in luck, let's define what luck is: Luck is the random stuff that happens, over which you have none or very little control.
You might think that you must and can control everything in your life and work, but life doesn't work that way. There are too many things that happen due to other people, the nature in general, climate change, and the fact that the universe just happens to be the way it is. You cannot control how the world spins round and round the sun and its own axel, can you?
I'm sure you don't believe you can control everything and everyone around you. So, if you don't believe that, you must believe in luck.
Take the current pandemic, for example. Many people have lost their jobs or businesses due to the pandemic closing things up, making people stay at home, and buy less stuff.
Pandemic doesn't seem like something a single person could have prevented, though perhaps using masks, maintaining safe distances and refraining from travelling so fucking much from the beginning might have helped. Either way, at a larger scale, you or I didn't have much control over it happening. Unlucky for us.
Most of all, unlucky for the people who have lost their health, lives, jobs or businesses due to this whole mess.
Meanwhile, the most rich people are getting even more rich. It doesn't seem like it had anything to do with hard work, since people working hard are losing their already limited income.
On top of that, many of the hard workers are just plain exploited. In video game industry, business booms, but contractors are barely above the poverty line. It's not that they don't work hard, it's just that their hard work isn't rewarded. And on top of that, the other workers and bosses are reaping the benefits of their hard work.
Sure, not all success is material and not all success is financial. But we do live in this capitalistic world. In capitalism, without at least moderate financial success many things, sometimes even basic stuff like proper healthcare or education, can be out of your reach. It's hard to feel successful when you are freezing at winter because you don't have a home or your stomach is gurgling due to hunger. Success is complicated.
Hard work is hard on your mind and body
Hard work, while for some may be rewarding as is, can also lead to burnouts and physical ailments. The hard working athletes who get injured are such a recurring news that it seems like an industry norm. People working hard are burning out and becoming incapable of continuing their hard work.
You may not be working quite as hard as you think you are. Some researches suggest that people are actually productive only less than three hours of a full eight hour working day. This doesn't mean you are lazy and useless. It's just because your mind and body are limited.
Those who have ever been routinely exercising know that continuously hard workouts are not very effective. You must give rest and time for your muscles to grow and your body to become stronger. Working out hard daily basis is a surefire way to injuries, and it does't make your muscles grow faster.
The same way as with physical exercise, learning new and remaining (or becoming more) productive requires rest and time. Your brain cobbles energy. This means your work doesn't have to be physical to be hard on your body.
Whatever type of work you do, you can't endlessly sustain productivity. Sooner or later you will need to take a break and replenish the energy you've lost. Lot of research says productivity isn't only decreased, but can become negative when the work time is increased.
Working hard, long days could actually make you less productive. The next time someone brags about how they work over 40 hours a week on their business or how they haven't had a vacation for the past 10 years, remember they probably aren't as productive as they think they are. Quite the contrary.
You are more likely to be able to get more done by doing less. Being busy prevents accomplishments.
Take a break, don't break down
It appears that work exhaustion, stress and burnouts have increased quite a lot in recent years. Whether it's because due to the fact that people are acknowledging the problem more or if work has became more exhausting, is an ongoing debate. Either way, people are burning out at work.
These burnouts are not only expensive for the exhausted employees. They cost shitloads both in healthcare and for the employers. It should make employers question the idea of overworking their employees.
Finding the right balance, and accepting the fact that hard work isn't necessarily synonymous to success (including success in said work) is important. Burning out is expensive for you, your employers, your business and the society. Hard work doesn't lead straight to success and can even hinder it. And an eight hour workday is most parts unproductive waste of everyone's time.
Everything suggests that working less, taking breaks and spending more time in leisure is good for both people, their productivity, and the society at large. Yet most of us are still stuck in thinking that hard work is something desirable and honourable.
Maybe hard work isn't quite worth it. Maybe it's just a way to keep you busy in making money for those already rich. Maybe, if you put in the hard work you won't automatically reap the benefits. Maybe your hard work is counter effective, and only makes you less and less productive, creative and successful.
Work less to accomplish more.
I'm Mervi Eskelinen
I'm an artist, nerd and creative business wizard, dedicated to help you build the business of your dreams, market your creativity, and find a meaningful way to support your lifestyle.