Subscribe to Inc. magazine
OWNER'S MANUAL

Most Contentious 4-Letter Words in the Office?

Try bringing up these two words at your next meeting: One of the most surprising--and polarizing--debates may ensue.
Advertisement

Behold, two surprisingly polarizing words in the office:

"Hard work."

Whenever I write about how success is often based on outworking other people--both in terms of effort and in terms of hours spent--some readers respond with righteous indignation.

"What about work-life balance?" many ask. "That's stupid: Work smarter, not harder," others proclaim. "Get a clue. Hard work has nothing to do with it," they say.

Yeah, well, bullshit. You can't have it both ways.

Hard Work, Well, Works

On the one hand we celebrate people who have worked incredibly hard and achieved incredible success. They're icons.

Take successful entrepreneurs. Bill Gates evidently never slept, never changed clothes, never did anything but code and maneuver and strategize. In an industry filled with incredibly smart people--where smart was and is commonplace--he rose to the top by also working incredibly hard.

In fact the common theme of almost every tale of entrepreneurial success is a person who worked countless 18 to 24-hour days. Replace the names and their stories sound almost identical. Even Tim Ferriss, the lord of the 4-hour workweek manor, stays incredibly busy with all his projects. (Of course to Tim it doesn't feel like work.)

Or take successful people in other professions. Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, has worked 100-hour weeks for over 20 years. In a company filled with incredibly driven people--where incredible drive is commonplace--he rose to the top by also working incredibly hard.

Marissa Mayer used to sleep under her desk at Google. Tim Cook still wants to be first in, last out.

Or take sports. Forget practice and conditioning and everything else; Peyton Manning probably spends more time just watching film than the rest of us spend at work. In a sport filled with incredibly talented athletes--where incredible athletic talent is commonplace--he'll be in the Hall of Fame because he also works incredibly hard.

Hard work has clearly paid off for all of them. Yet somehow people think hard work won't work for them.

Maybe that's because of the whole "work smarter" thing?

Maybe not not. Successful people already work smarter. They don't work mindlessly or inefficiently or ineffectively.

Where success is concerned working smarter is a given. Extremely successful people work smarter and they work harder.

Their effort is heroic, their payoff is often legendary, and we celebrate them for it.

Focus on What You Can Control

"Wait," you say. "Luck plays a big part in success. So does timing. So do a lot of other factors."

This time you're right.

But you can't control luck. You can't always control timing. You can't always control all those other factors.

You can always control how hard you work.

Everyone defines success differently, as well they should. (Before you go virtual-postal and say your personal definition of success has everything to do with balance and personal relationships and nothing to do with mastering the business world, read this. I'm with you. And I think that's great.)

But if you happen to define success by traditional measures like professional achievement and fortune and fame, hard work is the great equalizer.

You may not be smarter than everyone else. You may not be as talented. You may not have the same great connections, the same great environment, or the same great education.

If you're on the downside of advantage you may have none of those things.

But you can always rely on your courage and effort and perseverance. You can always substitute effort for skill and experience, secure in the knowledge that, over time, incredible effort will always breed skill and experience.

You can always, always, always work harder than everyone else. Hard work can be your difference.

Make "hard work" your favorite words--whether at work or at home or in your marriage or wherever your definition of success leads you--and you may not accomplish everything, but you will accomplish a lot more.

Last updated: Mar 13, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: