No one wakes up in the morning and thinks “You know what I want to do today? I want to do all the hard work in the world. That would be really enjoyable!”. Hard work is, no surprise here, hard. A lot of us don’t shy from the idea of hard work but even then it gets compounded by some keen and clever falsehoods we’ve come to believe about it. It all bogs down around us until we’re not even sure which way’s up anymore or if we were even on the right track in the first place. This seemed like the place we were supposed to be, but now everything is hard and messy and disheartening.
There are so many things that inform our efforts that even the most hardworking of us can lose track of things. So in my estimation, there are a few things we have to remember about the hard work in our lives.
1. Ease is not your friend
I want to be careful with what I’m saying here. I’m not saying we’re never allowed to have things be easy. That’s not what I’m after. If something part of our big picture comes to us easy, great! Don’t let me stop you. I’m not advocating that you should do everything the hard way or you’re not actually trying. That’s not it. What I’m warning against is the temptation to use ease as a way to measure if our work is actually worth it. I’m just going to tell you now, it’s not.
Ease is a terrible measurement of an endeavor’s worth.
If you judge all your undertakings by how easy they are you will finish a lot of things quickly, but they will never amount to much. The big things worth doing never come easily. Think of the best things that have come in your life and recall that few of them just happened to you easy peasy.
They required effort and dedication on your part. They required showing up consistently. They required sticking with it even when you didn’t want to or it would have just been easier to quit. If ease were our measuring stick, we would have no college graduates, no parents, no married couples, no businesses built from the ground up, no art, no new discoveries. Ease is lovely, but it is not the stuff of life. Life is not easy and neither is the work required to live it.
2. Hard work hurts
Anyone who’s ever tried for something big knows just how true this is, but we all need reminding of it. Hard work means effort and effort often means some pain.
Think of it in terms of trying to climb a ladder when you’re already hanging on the very last rung. That’s your starting place. If you are on that very last ladder rung, holding on with all your might, you need to know the honest truth: It is going to take a borderline herculean effort to raise yourself to the next one. You don’t just float to the top. You struggle and strain and heave until you can drag yourself to the next rung. And then the next. And the next. And the next.
Putting in the effort is always more exhausting than doing nothing.
The exhaustion of effort is why so many people choose to stay where they are and dangle. It’s easier to do that than hurt. So if you’re working hard and it’s hurting like building a new muscle, that’s a fairly good indication that the work is good. It means you’re growing stronger.
Yes, hard work is going to hurt, but the same way working a muscle into strength brings pain and then results, so does the same process for your big life endeavors.
3. Hard work is the constant, not the rarity
So many people are so poorly served by the intake of media in today’s world. It’s just a total and absolute mess. You can easily waste an hour scrolling through an endless chain of content, carefully curated to appeal to your sense of wonder and desire. It’s plenty of fun sure, but what happens when that stream of desirable content collides with our own sense of effort?
It’s not easy to remember, but social media (and a shocking number of in-person interactions) are only a highlight reel. They only show what they want you to see: the success, the fun, the good times, the ease. They don’t show the mistakes, disappointments, frustrations, heartbreaks, let downs, and shortcomings. They don’t show you losing their temper or giving up. When you strip all the unpleasantness away you’re left with a lovely image to look at, but an image that gives you the wrong idea of hard work.
Hard work is so much more of an ongoing process and it will refuse to only come around when it’s convenient. It’s not a highlight reel, it’s a constant. It’s all fine and good to look at the people around you to learn what works and what might help you improve. There’s nothing wrong with learning from the success of other people, but we have to stop it there. Otherwise, we run the risk of buying into the falsehood that our life’s endeavors will be constant highs with rare moments of hard work. The reality is far more often the opposite.
At the end of the day, the things we’re working for will all look vastly different, but the ways we have to work for them tend to boil down to the same basic concept that’s gone unchanged throughout human history. If you want something, you have to work for it, plain and simple. The things you strive for will not just fall in your lap. You have to work for them and you have to work for them constantly and through a lot of struggle and straining. We have to remember in the moments of doubt that the hard work isn’t just getting us there, but it’s making us into the person we want to be when we do get there. In that respect, hard work’s not such a bad thing to consider after all.
Let’s find some joy,