EVERY DAY, Anthony Trollope would get out a stop watch and time himself for fifteen minutes. In that fifteen minutes, he would write two-hundred and fifty words; and he would always hit his two-hundred and fifty words. He would repeat this process eight times without pause until he had been writing for two and half hours, and had written two-thousand-five-hundred words. Everyday. Without fail.
This extreme, relentless assault on his imaginative faculties led him to be the author of forty-seven novels and many other volumes of stories and reportage. In the same vein, Steven King writes every day, even on holidays, clocking in two-thousand words, which he describes as “pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.”
Moving away from the writing desk and onto the basketball court; when first entering the league, Michael Jordan spent his off seasons taking hundreds upon hundreds of jump-shots until they were perfect. Never taking a day off, and never taking anything about his game for granted. Similarly, from around the age of seven and eight, the Williams sisters were practicing tennis every day, before and after school; an investment that paid off in two two of the greatest athletes of all time.
In the world of business, Mark Cuban went seven years without a vacation when first attempting entrepreneurship, and stayed up until 2 AM reading about new software. In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ worked 12 -hour days, 7 days a week; which seems extreme until you compare him to Marissa Meyer, who routinely put in 130 hour weeks; and it was Elon Musk who was quoted as saying “You must put in 80- to 100-hour weeks every week. If other people are putting in 40-hour work weeks and you’re putting in 100-hour work weeks, then, even if you’re doing the same thing, you know that you will achieve in four months what it takes them a year to achieve.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is; working hard makes big things happen.
“VOLUME SOLVES ALL PROBLEMS”
Kobe Bryant once commented on how he’d like to be remembered, saying: “To think of me as a person that’s overachieved, that would mean a lot to me. That means I put a lot of work in and squeezed every ounce of juice out of this orange that I could.”
The general idea was that he wanted to be remembered as someone who, through hard work, got the most more out of himself than he should have been capable of; that he used work to transcend his potential.
It’s something we can all relate to; everyone has an idea of their potential and an even clearer idea of how it looks once it’s brought into being. Although these ideas are often fantasies we hold about ourselves, the basic principle of Kobe’s statement remains true:
With hard work, you can actualize yourself.
The problem, however, lies in what exact work to do.
In my article, The Do Nothing Paradox, I wrote about the benefits of taking it easy. I attacked the idea of working hard as a stifle on the spark of creativity, and as an idealized concept brought over from Protestantism and the industrial revolution. And I believe this.
If you want to actualize your goal, a lot of what is going to get you there is allowing your brain room to breath and come up with inventive ways to tackle your problems; and it does this when it’s given time to relax.
But once you have your inventive way, that’s when work comes in. There’s a phrase that gets plastered across Linkedin all the time. “Work smart not hard”. I believe there’s a better phrase.
“Work smart and hard.”
Harness lazy situations to generate intelligent solutions to your problems that you will then apply over intense working hours.
Or more simply, find the solution and apply the absolute shit out of it.
The solution is that potential Kobe saw in himself, and the hard work is what squeezed every drop of it out of him.
Maybe it’s Jordan doing hundreds of jump shots, or Trollope routinely banging out thousands of words; the point is that having a great idea or technique to solve your problem is one thing, but putting countless hours behind it (generally 80-100 per week) is going to give you an extreme edge over your competition, and develop within you an enormous confidence within yourself.
I believe it’s in these opposite poles of cognition; relaxed, zero activity and intense, high endurance activity, that the gold of your own potential is found. More often than not, however, is that people sit in the middle – too little ‘doing nothing’ and too little ‘hard work’.
Without relaxation Leo Tolstoy would never have thought of the characters, intricate plotting, and complex ideas of War and Peace; but without five years of intense labor, he would have never written it. It would have remained that idea that he never actualised, the goal he never knew whether he could have achieved. And the world would have lost once of its greatest novels.
Don’t just exceed your competition through work, exceed yourself through work.
SYSTEMS OF SUCCESS
Motivation speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” Taking this concept to its nth degree, cycling coach Dave Brailsford applied what is called the aggregation of marginal gains to his team.
The idea was a simple one: if they broke down every single component that makes up a successful race, and them by 1%, they would see enormous overall improvement. They did; they ended up winning the Tour de France.
In our own lives, the effects of these 1% improvements are everywhere; but so is inverse. Just as we can make small improvements that add up to a large sum total improvement, so too can we make small errors that when compounded, equal one large misstep.
When we work hard without a sense of direction or structure, we can easily magnify our minor errors to cause disastrous results. When I was younger, I spent hours packed into the gym trying to pack as much muscle on my body as possible. I paid decent attention to my form, but overlooked one simple error; my left collar bone was slightly lower than the other.
This may seem like a fairly harmless postural error, but compounded over hundreds of hours of stress and exposure, it put me in hospital with a potentially fatal blood clot in my vein. Sure, I had gained weight, but I had also almost lost my life, and could never exercise properly again.
This may be an extreme example, but it serves as an example to direct our labor with self-awareness, lest we simply bring about poor results with urgency.
On the flip side of the small improvements, is the essentials that effect the largest proportion of our results. In dating, this would be approaching women; in writing, this would be finishing our stories; in business, this would be having a product or service to sell. These ‘You’re Fucked Without It™’ factors hold the largest sway over our results, and as such, should be where the majority of our efforts lie.
But take one look at the questions posed by lonesome singles, struggling writers, and entrepreneurs; and it’s always some 1% fix – the pickup line, the perfect story structure or the social media marketing hack. Its’s all something that helps; but something that’s completely useless without the ‘You’re Fucked Without It™’ factor.
Again, the focus is on labor directed with self-awareness.
When people set themselves goals, their focus shifts to being about the goal itself, and how important the outcome is to them. When the outcome gets closer, they get excited, when it gets further away, they get deflated.
And it’s a simple reason why.
When we focus on an outcome, we inherently become dependent on it for some form of fulfillment, and we invite anxiety into our lives that is attached to that goal – but the goal itself, and the focus on that goal does not bring itself into being. What brings it into being is a process; a process of consistent hit ‘You’re Fucked Without It’ factors, and a consistent stream of 1% improvements, with minimal 1% missteps.
It is these processes, stretched over many hours labor, that result in our goal, and the intensity of said labor merely brings that goal into being faster.
In dating, this is talking to dozens of women, whilst developing your life and identity for yourself. In business, this is developing a product, whilst building a consumer base and brand. In writing, this is finishing your stories, whilst working on your understanding of structure, character, and theme.
And you do all of this. A lot.
You find the system and you work the shit out of it.
It’s all well and good for me to sit here and reel off line’s of advice on hard work, citing stories about basketball players and CEO’s, but the reality of work is an extremely difficult one to solve. Whilst it is true that hard work helped each of these individuals achieve their goals, what’s also important is that their hard work was successful because it was applied at something that was unique to them. They found their thing and they got really fucking good at it over time.
There’s this saying that 10,000 hours makes a master, that anyone can do anything, and that if I’m not as good as basketball as Michael Jordan, it’s because I’m lazy and lack dedication.
Fuck. That. Shit.
I’m not good at basketball because I don’t really have the capacity as a person to care about things like sports. I really enjoy watching them, sure, but it doesn’t matter to my identity if I lose. I couldn’t care less if I threw a ball at a hoop and missed; in fact, what I would care about was how it made me feel, and what that tells me about who I am, and why my parents suck, and why life isn’t where I want it to be, and what the truth is in my stupid hairless-ape existence.
That is what I care about.
In fact, I don’t even care about that, it’s just I find it hard to care about anything else.
So I spend a lot of time working on that. And the more I work on it, the better results I seem to get, and the more days I let myself be lazy, the more epiphanies I have about it. And so it goes.
Maybe you’re the same. Maybe it’s basketball, business, jerking off or knitting. Maybe it’s writing, maybe it’s yoga. Whatever. The point is that the rewards of hard work don’t just lie within the balance of effort, they’re also directly proportionate to how much we understand who we actually are.*
GET OFF YOUR ASS
These stories of huge volume work ethic serve as reminders that one of the best ways to get what we want is to put in the hours. But too often in our culture, in a desire to idolize huge feats of labor, we lose sight of the self-aware direction of that labor that plays a crucial role.
Michael Jordan wouldn’t have hammered his jump-shots if he hadn’t been aware it was his weakness. Trollope’s incredible work ethic wouldn’t have produced a legacy of fiction that still sells to this day if he hadn’t also directed that work into well structured, emotionally resonant storytelling.
In each element of success and growth, there is the work, and there is the system.
I would never be as confident as I am at chewing through books if I hadn’t read 100 books in 100 days. I would never be as capable in my dating life if I hadn’t spent months going out multiple times per week on my own to hit on girls. It just wouldn’t have happened. But I would never have done those things if I hadn’t been painfully aware of my weaknesses.
Now, it would be easy to look at these stories of Jordan, Trollope and Bezos’ hard work and dismiss them as psychotic, obsessive drive, that leads to a life that’s actually poorly lived – and in many cases, I’d agree – but the lesson in these achievements isn’t that we should focus our lives down to this point, but instead we should take from them the importance of how we choose to allocate our time and effort.
But instead of blindly mimicking their effort, we should understand that hard work isn’t an engine for actualising our desires so much as it is the engine for actualizing ourselves. It is a vehicle that takes us from knowing who we, into becoming who we are. That through self-knowledge, and balancing our effort between inaction and action, finding our system and applying it, we can squeeze out every drop of our potential.
*Yeah, of course, I’d say this. But I missed the basketball shot so what the fuck else was I gonna think about.
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