Hard work. There’s no way around no it, no short cuts and no secrets. You’ve just got to do it. But how? Can it be learned? Is there a secret method? Is it just for the passionate or those with the inborn innate ability?
I argue that it can be learned, and whilst initially difficult, can be gotten to grips with. I believe it’s in our DNA.
Humans aren’t special – we’re just animals. The structure of our day is no different from that of a Cat, a Bird, a Dog or a Snake; we wake up, we attempt to survive, we go to sleep. In a broad stroke that is structure of all life. Where we differ is that where other animals hunt or graze, we earn to survive. We earn a living through work.
A predator’s hunt results in failure six times out of seven. Many of them starve to death, or are killed by the defences of their prey. The successful among them are the ones who combine genetic gifts with persistence and an ability to learn from failure. On the other side of the tracks survival is no different; herbivores lives are marred by brutal journeys across unforgiving landscapes where elemental shift and tenacious predators capitalise on any and all mistakes. The ones who live combine genetic gifts with persistence and an ability to learn from failure.
Crocodiles must earn their right to snatch Zebra from the river banks. Zebra must earn their right to cross unscathed.
They must work to survive.
That is the nature of life. To be alive is to work and the hard working have the best chance to survive.
In our own lives we put down the spear and now hunt green paper. With it we buy our food, our warmth, our shelter and our safety. We buy our lives. Like our animal kin, the ones among us with the best advantage are the ones who put in the hours, exposing themselves to failure, challenge and the opportunities to learn – like our animal kin, we are no different.
But, what about passion? Animals don’t have passion.
Passion is an illusion. Like our identity it is often ambiguous. A mess of conflicting instinct, impulse and desire. Revenge is a good example of this, or lust in a marriage.
Passion is capricious and hugely subject to context, but the demands of life are not. Passion is a whispering impulse to the few that is largely denied to the many, the result of random chance more than some secret to living. An author doesn’t write novels because he’s found his passion; he does so because that’s simply what he is. Story craft isn’t a calling; it’s a compulsion that he has the privilege of being able to graft a survival off the back of; an act of sheer luck. But any study of the lives of artists, creators and inventors reveals their lives were defined more by stretches of forceful work and slog rather than endless days of creative bliss. The passion is just icing on a life of suffering through difficult work. A life of putting in the hours.
The differences between a life of passion and a life without are scarcely noticeable beyond the minutia. Work is ninety nine percent of it. The woodsman and the wordsmith are brothers of the same cloth.
Existing within a human society, your survival hinges on your ability to contribute and see returns from the world wide economy. In short you need to contribute to the flow of money – earning and spending.
Like the indifferent cycles of organic matter states that exists in the natural world, we exist in an artificial cycle of economics – where human effort (like animal effort) is the engine, where the ones with true grit stand the best chance at the dice game.
Realizing we’re lazy
Humans are inclined to spend as little energy as possible. Like cats basking in the sun; It’s efficient living. One need only take a trip to Rio to see this happening on a Metropolitan level. Relaxation is one of the most joyous affirmations of life – it’s the part without struggle, where we celebrate our mastery over the natural law of suffering before we return once more to carve a living off rocks. The Caipirinha on the beach, before the office cubicle.
Realizing this inherent inclination towards laziness is imperative. Without threats like starvation and death on your heels, what motivation do you truly have towards work? In all likelihood you’ve worked at a level far below your capability due to the general ease of modern life, resulting in a brain that is neurologically trained to take it easy.
Lazy by design.
But navigating the quagmire of dissonance and procrastination to a structure of hard work can be difficult and challenging. How can someone who is lazy become someone who is not? Are we set in stone?
Admitting you are lazy is the first step. If you labour under the illusion of working hard, your state is not going to change. There is nothing broken to fix. You must take the blow to the ego and admit that you aren’t quite as hard working as you want to be, in fact – you don’t really want to be hard working, you want to take it easy. Laziness isn’t a demerit badge for the weak, but instead a unalterable condition of being human – like cowardice or insecurity. We are none of us perfect beings, and the ego investment you hold on working hard has its roots more in Protestant cultural influence then it does some inborn belief.
After admitting that to yourself you now stand on the foundation on which you can build. Whilst I always argue self-development is an act of excavation rather than construction, I believe that like a foolhardy cub learns to become a wildebeest slaying lioness – we can all learn to enhance the skills through which we express what we are. Hard work is the umbrella which covers all of those skills – talent is as ever irrelevant, because it was never up to us anyway.
In any labour related endeavour, procrastination is bound to arise. This is inevitable and natural, after all – does your very survival rest of what you’re attempting to do? Do you really need to work hard past a certain point? In our world, it is highly unlikely. In most people’s situations, their lives are perfectly fine, with their survival very much locked down. They are simply cursed with an itching dissatisfaction that they lack the work ethic to cure.
But how do you beat procrastination?
Whilst countless people have written about this, I understand procrastination to simply be an expression of avoidance, stemming from a lack of faith in one’s ability. We don’t start to write because we don’t know what to write. We don’t start that business because we don’t know how to start a business.
Part of this comes down to the goals people set themselves. If you set yourself the goal of starting a business, then you’re immediately going to receive psychological feedback on how you have no business trying that, you don’t know what you’re doing and of course, your mother never liked you anyway.
But setting your goal as working hard? Then things become more palatable. You focus on working hard for an allotted amount of time, improving your work ethic on whatever the task is onto which you’re channeling that work – after all, you can’t work hard at nothing.
Procrastination also has to do with how we view the future – is it a threat bearing down on us? A ticking clock counting to zero?
Or is it a challenge? An exciting challenge at that?
A challenge that has you thinking ‘I want to see what will happen if I do this.’ Excitement at the prospect of viewing your actualised work. It’s a trick athletes such as The All Blacks have used to great success; after all, the physiological expressions of pre-performance anxiety and excitement are essentially identical.
Be aware of your own language and swat procrastination away with simple curiosity, and an embrace of excitement.
But all this just gets you over the first hurdle. What’s next?
Continue to Part 2…