If I have to listen to one more banal ode to “hard work”, I’m going to puke. It’s such a trite tribute that keeps getting heaped on anyone who’s ever become even mildly successful, as though it was somehow this unique aspect of their achievement.
The first rebuke to this reflexive compliment should always be to point out the survivorship bias. The world is full of people who work very hard, in that literal, long-hours sort of way, and yet only a tiny minority of those end up with fawning fans celebrating that oh-so-hard work.
But, I think, more interesting is that the world is also full of successful people who don’t work very hard at all, again, in that literal, long-hours, no-vacations, self-flagellation sort of way everyone is so eager to cheer for (at least in the US).
Yet even most of those, who might commonly “just” log 40 hours a week – putting in quality hours to make quality work – seem commonly obligated to celebrate “hard work”. You know what? Fuck hard work.
Effort is not accomplishment. If you repeat the same lesson a hundred times over, you’ll be left behind on the path to insight by the person who advances through a hundred different lessons.
This obsession with “hard work” is founded in a pessimistic view of natural state of humanity being lazy loafers. That unless we constantly reinforce the virtue of “hard work”, we’re all just going to slouch on the couch. Nonsense. The drive for creativity and creation is innate.
The virtuous label of “hard work” is only necessary when you seek to cajole people into doing a lot of what they intrinsically do not want to do. Like exploiting others, hoarding endlessly, growing aimlessly. Chasing alienating goals in service of someone else.
So please, for fuck’s sake, the next time you reach for that tired “hard work” compliment, just stop and think: Why am I celebrating mere effort? Celebrate creativity, insights, breakthroughs, rebellions, anything but mere effort. Effort has gotten enough praise to last a century or two without another serving.
34 thoughts on “Fuck hard work”
The whole “hard work” thing stems from the protestant / puritan work ethic, so it’s been around for quite a while and it’s not just in the US. While I agree that hard work (by whatever definition) isn’t an achievement in itself, you sometimes do have to do things you don’t like to achieve a worthwhile goal. So by the definition of “do things you don’t want to do”, hard work may be worthwhile if it serves a larger, worthwhile purpose. Hard work itself shouldn’t be the goal or something to celebrate, though, as Sisyphus would certainly attest to.
That is a very US-centric point of view. “Hard work” is the dominant work ethic in many Asian cultures who had little to no exposure to protestant/puritan work ethic.
“The whole “hard work” thing stems from the protestant / puritan work ethic”… On what basis do you come to this conclusion? Why lay the blame at this WORLD view at the feet of Christians and specifically Protestants in particular?
Basically what you’re saying is that in the 1600’s, the concept of “hard work” was invented, and that never in human history going back 1000’s of years before this time did people extol the virtues of working hard (i.e. strenuously) to achieve a goal?
There’s NOTHING in the Bible that teaches me to work overtime at the office and neglect time with my family. On the contrary it teaches me to put God first, family second, and my job third. In doing so, I have to work as efficiently and effectively as possible at my job in order to still provide for my family and also be a good husband and father to them.
Work smart not hard. Hard work is the substitute for thinking about a problem carefully and doing it an easier/more efficient way. The smarter and more creative you are the less hard you have to work for the same outcome. (not necessarily money, because money is a product of productivity plus demand so if demand isn’t there, neither is the money no matter how productive you are)
All human prosperity comes from increasing productivity and efficiency, which necessary means working less hard to do the same thing as before.
AI is going to do now, what the industrial revolution did before, taking us from 6 days a week to 5 @ 8 hours. Now AI will take us from 5 to 4 and likely to 3 @ 8 hours or 4 @ 6 hours day.
I am not a native English speaker, but if we are working on hard to solve problems, isn’t this hard work? It doesn’t have to be related to number of hours. And for me the hard days are the fun days, no matter how long they are.
I’m not an English speaker too, but the point seems clear to me. “Hard” here is not about solve hard problems. “Hard” here is mechanical-repetition, over-effort, brute-force, fuzzy-busy and so on… [Sorry for my excess of creativity, I don’t know if those term really exist in English]
I think in this post word “hard” was more related to: hustle or grind, like in this article: https://qz.com/work/1458073/reddit-co-founder-alexis-ohanian-is-taking-a-stand-against-hustle-porn/
Thank you for this article.. I applaud your support for doing what’s supposed to be done for the sake of getting it done. We’re supposed to earn our way to be where we go, or there is nothing there for us. The reasons for completing tasks are inherent, so celebrating existence is redundant for living, the reason why we can work in the first place.
Thank you, and see ya online!
What if we were all JWs and didn’t celebrate anything. Or the opposite and celebrated a bunch of 3-year olds playing soccer like chickens pecking at seeds.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that people (younger generation) stop trying emulate or look for answers in other’s success stories. Them just being able to go out and act intuitively, they’ll find what works and we all will prosper.
We should celebrate just doing things for fuck’s sake and forget about the “hard work” or effort. Everyone wants a cookie for giving it their all. That’s not the point.
I have “worked hard” all weekend and client reply was a terse private “Thanks”, and then done something facile in 15 minutes that received written accolades to ALL and a certificate of appreciation. No correlation!
You can hack at a tree all day with a dull ax and get nowhere with sweat dripping down your brow.
Or you can spend time sharpening that ax and take that tree down with fewer swings.
Which is more celebrated?
Brilliant post – nice work! 👏
Sometimes its the lazy person looking for an easier way that makes the biggest contribution… there is little virtue in hard work for the sake of hard work.
Thanks for the article. I often see the hard work mantra raised as the only way to differentiate yourself and build something. This can create a weird situation where you feel you are not putting the time in to be ‘successful’. I think the issue is comparing yourself to outside expectations and not measures or values that are important to yourself.
DHH, I hear what you are saying. Basically, you are fed up with “hard work” being put on this pedestal as if that was the only thing that gave the person success, and how we tend to extol putting in lots of hours as a good thing when really it’s bad for ourselves and our families. I can see how other important virtues are often minimized such as creativity, ingenuity, teamwork, patience, perseverance, passion, working in your strengths, etc.
However, can you not deny that it does take some real EFFORT at times to accomplish great things? I think of athletes for example and all the many hours they spend training for YEARS to reach a certain level in their sport. There are often times when they are sore and tired and maybe don’t feel like training. But they do the work that is required anyway. Isn’t this what they mean when they say “hard work” (among other things) got them to where they are? That’s the kind of effort that a lot of people aren’t willing to invest and why they don’t go as far, don’t you agree?? I think it’s why people say this a lot.
I’m building a treehouse for my kids. I love working on it! I think I like this better than my day job in fact. But guess what? It’s hot in Texas, and there’s mosquitoes, and splinters, and assembled lumber is heavy… getting across the finish line will require some strenuous effort in addition to my good planning, craftsmanship, creativity, skill with tools, etc. Believe me, my wife isn’t willing to deal with mosquitoes and splinters. Isn’t this what is meant by it took “hard” work (i.e. I am doing the things that others are unwilling to do)?
Just what I needed! Thanks a ton! 🙂
Thank you for this post! It’s great to see so many comments rallying around this idea. I hate when I see people killing themselves working 80 hours a week to chase accolades and this idea they have of what “success” looks like.
What good is it if you don’t actually get to live?
At some point you’re going to hit a wall and your performance will suffer. Sure you’re putting in the hours, but are you producing quality work? Are you accomplishing anything worthwhile? I’m guessing not. It’s more likely you just put your laundry away in the fridge, or some other nonsensical action because you’re fried.
Success is better measured by the pride you have in what you’ve done and a well-balanced life.
Smart work and smart study. 100% agree. Not to mention the definition of success is pretty damn screwed up. Lots of rich people are utter failures in many other aspects of their lives. Especially entertainment celebrities.
I can add Eastern EU to the “hard work” pride movement. Look at the whole communist propaganda. Work hard for your country, for your party! End result? Steal hard from your country hahaha 😉
The longer hours you work the less effective you will be. When I work 4 hours a day I usually complete more stuff than the 8-12 hour days… stay focused is always easier for shorter periods.
So…Fuck hard work!
Agreed with this article.
I think the phrase should be relegated to, “Do the hard work.” rather than “Work hard.” Thinking about someone who wants to be an artist, the easy part is art, that’s their marketable skill, the hard part is getting in front of people, doing art shows, and selling their work. They don’t need enormous hours, but they need to do the work that’s not comfortable, the sales work. That’s what is required to be successful. To be successful at art, you probably have to be good at sales.
In that same example, if you’re doing nothing to sell your art, and all you’re doing is painting 40 hours a week, doubling that to 80 hours won’t net you anything. But if you paint a picture in 8 hours, and start selling for 20 hours every week, it’s quite possible you’ll need to work less than 30 hours a week to make a living because you’re embracing everything that needs to be done, even “the hard work.”
Same with being sleep deprived. Like being sleep deprived is an achievement??!!
Get 8 hours of sleep.
Sometimes I have to leave early because of something and there is always a smartass in the office that asks me: “ah, taking an afternoon off”. As a response I always answer: “No, if you do your work smart, like I do, you can leave when the work is done. Success with doing your work”
Great article, thank you
Working smart is working hard. It takes as much discipline to work smart as it does to put in the hours and work hard.
I also have 234 projects and untransferable data stuck in Basecamp 2, so you can just go fuck yourself.
Serious question here. Why is “hard work” being associated only with working long hours and working weekends?
Working smart is hard work. Slowing yourself down, preparing and planning. That all takes discipline, which takes a lot of hard work.
If I’m pleased with the effort and the work I put to become successful then who are any of you to tell me otherwise.
My credit to hard work and me verbalizing it is not a slight or jab at anyone.
These dudes wrote a book that told us we shouldn’t have meetings.
Why? Because they were successful and didn’t have meetings.
Does that mean I can’t have meetings and be successful?
We each have a story of how we think we got here. Don’t shit on mine because it doesn’t fit your narrative.
Well “hard work” is when I have to unclog the toilet, otherwise I can’t take a dump. I don’t like doing it, but I have to, for the sake of humanity
Clearly, if you need to drop the F-bomb, either your vocabulary is limited, or your intelligence. Please rejoin the adult world.
Stephen Fry made the argument best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM
80/20 rule, find your effort in the 20% of the things that give you that 80% of the benefit. For me, that’s the hard work you should be doing, and find your focus!
Nice article. Made me think how I approach work. Yes, hard work is not quality work. Hard work wouldn’t be the key reason to be successful or to brag about. But..but.. Hard work isn’t inherently bad. passion and commitment to work gets manifested as “hard work”!! Just like you cannot stand hard work on its face value you can out discount hard work on its face value.
Should we work hard? Probably sometimes.
Should working hard be my focus in life? No.
Should I accomplish hard/difficult projects that cause me to stretch? Yes!
Should I use the resources I have to work smarter to accomplish hard/difficult projects? Absolutely!
Should my focus be to prioritize my personal life over my occupation? Yes, Relationships are always more valuable than dollars and good relationships cannot be bought.
Sometimes, you just need to do hardwork. You can always mix smart work within, but it’s hard for reason.
Thank you DHH! Someone needed to say this. A German coworker asked me how we stay sane in the U.S. with so few vacation days. Here in the U.S., we’re so used to grinding out long hours and feeling guilty when we take vacations that we think everybody operates this way.
Long hours does not equal effectiveness. It equals burnout.
This essay reminds me of my favorite line from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Audrey Griswold: He worked really hard, Grandma.
Clark’s Father in Law: So do washing machines.
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